Over at A Playful Day, this month’s theme is Creative Identity. It’s an interesting topic for me, and while I usually have thinky-thoughts, save them as a draft and never post them, this one has got me thinking enough to finish a whole post.
I like new things. I like starting new projects, learning new crafts, and often lose interest once I’ve got the hang of them. My house and garage are stuffed with odds and ends for different types of yarn, fabric and other crafts (though not paper. With paper, I end up with more cuts than it does.) In May, being so unwell meant that a lot of my creative activity ground to a halt, but the one thing that never stops is my brain.
It occurred to me in the middle of it all, with beautiful creative posts swirling around me, making me feel completely inadequate and plodding, that craft isn’t actually how I mostly express my creativity. I love making, I love making up my own patterns, I love beautiful things. I have a serious Instagram and Podcast addiction. But actually, I mostly express myself in my day to day work. I love my job (most days) and I’ve spent a lot of time over the last eighteen months expanding its boundaries.
Libraries are wonderful things. Being a librarian gives me the best of all worlds. I work primarily with people, but I get to handle beautiful objects. There’s always a new challenge, whether it’s budgets or difficult people or a new subject that needs an entirely new section of the library. I teach students how to use catalogues and databases, and I get to see their faces when I show them the amazing research world that’s out there. At the moment, I’m coordinating a massive hardware upgrade, designing on a new website for digital manuscripts, consulting on two exhibitions (one of them international) writing three talks and organising an Oxford-wide survey. I firmly believe that this job is what I make of it, and I intend to make everything.
The thing is, it’s hard to show how creative I’m being. There are no beautiful lines of stitching to photograph, there’s no colours to play with, no fun designs to show off. Like craft, there’s a lot of boring grunt work to be done – and it’s the same whether you’re filling in a grant application or chugging through another massively long row of treble crochet. It’s just that at the end of it, it’s hard to set up a good scene to Instagram. But for me, they both satisfy that part of my brain that needs to make. That needs to see the things inside my head become tangible. I think that need is at the root of my creativity, really. I have to keep this swirling mess of my brain occupied somehow, whether it’s in designing a crochet pattern or volunteering for yet another project that I think the library could help with.
And of course, one of these I have to do, while the other is optional. By thinking more consciously about being creative at work, it’s meant that when I get home in the evening, too tired for anything but food and bed, I’ve still been using that part of my brain, and still have that creative buzz.
I realise that I’m incredibly blessed, and certainly a lot of my library work hasn’t been nearly so fulfilling. To be able to honestly stand up and say I love my job is a rare privilege. In the craft world, a lot of the time, work is what you have to do to fund your yarn habit, so I found it hard to see it as creative – it’s not what springs to mind for most people. Then I step back, look at a presentation I put together and realise just how much creativity went into it – I recently spent a whole (Satur)day putting together a Prezi, because I knew to work it had to be exactly the way I saw it in my head. It was hugely hard work, but absolutely worth it. So many people dream of giving up their jobs to ‘do something creative’, but I’m finding my creativity right here.
And don’t get me wrong, I love my crafting. The urge to make doesn’t stop just because I leave the library for the evening. But what’s helped me hugely over the last few weeks is stopping seeing creativity as something I leave at the door when I get to work. Whether it’s using “Cats of the Internet” as my sample research topic, or starting my presentation to Important People with a Terry Pratchett quote, I am immensely fortunate that I don’t have to stop being me to do this job. In the immortal words of the Third Doctor:
[I’m serious about] what I do, just not necessarily the way I do it.
And that has made all the difference. I’ve only been on hiatus from crafting, not from being creative, and these project bags are all just waiting for me to get going again. Watch out, June, here I come!