Monday, December 30, 2013

Balancing practicality and creativity

Those of us who are practical are occasionally accused of "playing it safe," as if there were something unsavory or cowardly about that.  But in a conversation with my engineer husband yesterday, I got some new insight into an aspect of my work that's troubled me for years.

Yesterday a friend asked me why I find it hard to motivate myself to walk 30 minutes a day.  And I had to say -- it's because I need to feel I'm working toward something.  "But isn't health a reasonable goal to work toward?" she asked.  And I realized in talking with her about it that, no, it's not enough; I need to have something tangible to show for my time -- it's just part of how I'm made.

And then my husband mentioned today in passing that engineers aren't the sort of folks who go out on a limb, try weird things, take bizarre risks, think hugely outside the box: they're eminently practical.  If they do those things, it's only just enough to solve a problem, to arrive at a product -- preferably as quickly and inexpensively as possible.   And I realized: I am a child of two engineers!  I have engineering in my genes -- which not only explains why I get restless just doing exercise for the sake of exercise, but also clarifies a number of other characteristics.  I am wired to ... produce.

Which explains why I'm so productive: something in me is always driving toward that.  But it also explains why my work is ... well ... safe.  I'm always exploring and experimenting with my art, but I never really push that hard at the boundaries; never go off the deep end, never (and I've always faulted myself for this) come up with anything daringly original.  I'm always trying to improve, but I'm rarely inventing: what creativity I have is always tempered by practical considerations.  Will it sell?  Can I finish this in a timely fashion?  Will it say what I want it to say?  What's the most effective word/color/shape to use to get my point across?  What's the least amount of verbiage/paint/film/money I need to expend to communicate effectively?

It's not that I'm looking for an excuse for how I am.  It's more that I've come to a clearer understanding of the ways in which my internal priorities affect my external behaviors.  It's great, actually, to realize that I value reliability, efficiency and competence every bit as much as I value creativity; that that stuff is in my blood.  It's sort of like another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.  So what if I've always got a life preserver handy, somewhere nearby?  In a way, the sense of safety that gives me allows me to be a lot more adventurous!

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