Creative Constipation

The observant among you will have notice that I have, once more, gone a year without updating this site.
Whilst I can attribute at least some of this inactivity to a general lack of free time, a lot of it comes down to what I have chosen to call ‘creative constipation’, a phrase for which I can only apologise. (but c’mon: the alliteration was too good to ignore!)

This is not an especially new thing for me: over the past couple years, I’ve been growing increasingly… discontent with many aspects of life, most of which are focussed around ‘the job’.
For much of that time, though, I’ve found it difficult to really put my finger on what exactly is wrong. It has been obvious that at least some of it was to do with the kind of work that I’ve been doing (as well as the quantity in which it has sometimes arrived), but I know that’s only a part of it: that there is something far deeper and just that little bit out of touch.

If you can’t define a problem, it’s bloody difficult to work out how you’re going to solve it.

But that changed last month with a week-long trip to the Netherlands for the brilliant CSS Day Conference.

It goes without saying that the conference itself was amazingly good, and was worth the ticket price alone to listen to the inventors of CSS talk for an hour on the early days of CSS, what they thought of more recent developments, and what they’d have done differently in retrospect.

But of the talks, there were four that especially spoke to me: Rachel Nabors spoke about CSS Animations, Ruth John about the Web Audio API, Rachel Andrew about CSS Grids, and Jen Simmons about writing modes and CSS (and a bit of CSS Grid for good measure).
With the exception of all things CSS Grid (which is cool stuff, yo), none of them really had anything to do with the kind of work that I do on a day-to-day basis, but they reminded me that the web can be fun and deeply creative in a way that I’d almost forgotten.

But beyond the conference, while we were in the Netherlands, we visited Museum Speelklok in Utrecht, and the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag.
I’d learned of Museum Speelklok—the museum of self-playing instruments—thanks to Martin Moulin of ridiculous marble machine fame, and we visted Gemeentemuseum because they had two exhibitions running simultaneously: one celebrating the centenary of the birth of De Stijl, and the other a retrospective on the work of Piet Mondriaan (in fact, the largest collection of his work ever exhibited).

Both museums were hugely inspiring: the first as both a musician and a maker, and the second… well, strangely, that inspired me to do some strange things with CSS, but more about that in a future post (suffice to say, I really like neoplasticism).

Between CSSDay and wandering around various museums, I came home from the Netherlands fired up to do some really cool stuff.

And this is where we come back to creative constipation: I wanted to do something creative, I’d spent a few hours here and there sketching up some ideas, I made some free time during which to work on everything. I even started playing with some neoplasticism-inspired CSS hacks.

But then when the time came, when I had a glorious weekend to myself… nothing. All that inspiration and… nothing.

The same applies to making: I started the year with a flurry of electronics projects, I invested in some new kit, and acquired a bulk order of components so I could ‘just build’ when the inspiration struck rather than having to order stuff in first… and yet, with all the time in the world, nothing.
And then music: I have a couple guitars, a recorder, a flute, and a keyboard knocking around the flat. The other week, I found that Korg has released a software version of their Wavestation as an iPad App (and I love me the Wavestation), so I bought it and got a USB–MIDI interface so I could hook my old keyboard up to my iPad … but still, nothing.

I have a surfeit of inspiration, I have sketches and notes of ideas, I have the tools by which I can bring that inspiration and those ideas into reality, I even have the time to do it… and yet, nothing.

I am creatively constipated, and it sucks.

And that, I think, is the crux of everything that has been going on these past two years: with the greatest of respect for those with whom I have been working, a majority of the projects I’ve worked on have felt … samey and uninspiring—the same old stuff dressed in new clothes. Whilst it has been many things, and has given me the opportunity to work with some amazing people (you know who you are ❤️), it has left me feeling creatively unfulfilled and wanting.
If creativity is a muscle, mine has withered and wasted, and leaves me unable to flex it when I want… and it sucks.

Things need to change, and now I’ve gotten to the bottom of ‘why’, I can start thinking about what I need to do to change it. I already have some fairly big plans under way, but top of that list is re-engaging with my creativity.
Some of the things I’m planning scare me, but I think that’s a healthy sign: I’ve lived too comfortably for too long and it’s made me fat and lazy. It’s time to do something different.

This is going to be fun. And scary. But mostly fun.