On Creating and Catastrophizing

I originally wrote this for myself with the intention of keeping it private. After re-reading it, I felt like sharing a vulnerable state of mind around the anxiety of creating for creations sake could be valuable to someone else. It might feel a little incoherent at times, and that’s probably why.

I’m craving to create, but I don’t know what to create. I’m feeling limited. Limited by my environment, by my attention and by my tools. In reality, they’re all false reasons to not do something. I’m tired and uninspired but feeling the pull to make. I just don’t know how to get it out of my system. Despite being productive today and working on an idea I had for Fluent, I still have this need to do something creative for myself.

Moments like these come and go, and they aren’t new. I used to feel this way before I found Firstbloom. Like I needed something to do. It goes against the things I’ve been reading about—being still, revelling in boredom and not letting this incessant need to do get in the way of life. But, at the same time, it’s the lack of doing that brings me here. I’m tired of sitting inside, being stuck because the weather makes it harder to be outdoors and enjoy nature. Outdoors making photos, getting inspiration and feeling like life is actually happening. It’s hard to have that feeling when you’re inside all day in the same room, doing the same things. Days bleed together. The pandemic makes it harder to separate moments. It was kind of nice in the beginning, now it’s turning into torture. Combine this with winter and it’s quickly hitting my limits. Remove the variety of having others around, places to go, and the joy sinks.

I want to find peace in the stillness of being bored, but even the monks had hobbies. Being bored is nice, and it’s something I want to get better at embracing. Finding rest in being alone with myself and my thoughts sounds lovely. And it’s not like I’m running from it but rather, I lack something to run towards. Maybe that alone is something to examine, too. Do we really need something to run towards? What does that exertion reward us with? I guess it depends on why you’re running and what you’re running to in the first place. Is it greed or lust? Or, is it an aspiration to improve? In this instance, I think it might be a mix of both. I might be lusting after freedom but aspiring to improve myself in some way. I want to grow and express something in me that I’m struggling to express. I just don’t know what the medium is to do it in.

It often happens that I get stuck in this mode because I have too many concurrent forms of expression taking hold in my mind. I want to be so many things, and yet I’m not taking steps towards them, but the steps I want to take feel hamstrung by my tools. Take music-making for example. I’m placing blame on tooling because I’ve catastrophized the scenario in my head already. Sure, I can install Ableton. However, I’ll open it up, not be able to get the sound I want in my head out, get frustrated, then stop. Despite having made a few “songs” before, this pattern is what’ll trip me up. I’ll get into the swing of things for a few days, maybe months if I’m really lucky, overthink it, then stop doing it. The same used to happen when I started programming. But now that I’ve built so many things and solved a diverse set of problems, I know it’s just a matter of reframing my perspective to solve an issue, not necessarily a lack of skill. Programming doesn’t feel like solving a problem I’ve never come across anymore. Making music presents that challenge to me. I have a sound in mind but how do I produce it? Where do I turn? What foundational knowledge do I need to learn?

This hump is the hardest to get over in learning anything new, and I don’t know why it feels like the wall is so much higher now. Is it because I have less time than I used to? Is it just because my energy is lower in general? Because I’m moving my body less, seeing less of the world and other people? Is my burnout still affecting my ability to feel free in creation? Maybe it’s just been so long since I’ve actually felt this hump that I forgot how high it actually is. Outside of trying to start my own business—which ironically didn’t feel like an insurmountable wall until the very end—I haven’t tried to take up a new skill in close to a decade.

When you’re confronted with the edge of your comfort zone, it’s hard to jump over that line. Even though on the other side is the growth and comfort you’re seeking if you just keep walking and pushing against that resistance. Like anything, eventually, it becomes effortless action. But at the beginning, it’s that build up in your chest and your temples. The tightness of discomfort that your mind is creating in your body. The thoughts of self-doubt, distrust in yourself and a lack of faith in direction. It’s amazing what the mind can do. A psychosomatic experience that’s actively preventing growth. Yet, when you can detach yourself from that experience and notice it for what it is—purely thought—it can dissipate. Getting there, though, is a challenge in and of itself. It takes years of practice to recognize, sit with and let pass. It’s something I’m actively trying to practice now. Writing seems to help and so does having a regular meditation practice. Since, well, that’s what the whole thing is about.

There are some days when the wall feels bigger than others, and I think today is one of those days where looking up, it stands hundreds of feet tall. It’s not just about starting a new skill, it’s about taking any action. It’s all blocked by that wall. Today, it feels like there weren’t any moments of flow in the day. All those moments were behind that wall. The day went by, and I can’t look back on it and think that the minutes spent were minutes lived. While technically they were, and there’s gratitude around the fact that those minutes did happen, it doesn’t feel like they were minutes cashed in on positive-sum activities. There wasn’t any real growth, there were no steps made towards my aspirations and there was nothing produced to be enjoyed by others.

Maybe this is a good reminder to connect with the idea that output != value. You are not the sum of your creations, your value is in your breath and connection to all things. The irony of this ultimately being output is not lost on me, either. And, in some ways, me pressing publish on this is a way to appease the nagging voice in my mind that I need to find flow, I need to create. Today was lost if nothing was added to the world. Today was lost if no steps were taken towards being a better human. I guess you can consider this my contribution to this point in time. I hope it gives you as much as it’s given me. I hope it serves as a reminder to find value in existence and not only intangible things. Beauty and peace are intangible and it’s easy to let them slip because of that.