Something wonderful happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Three people, all independant of each other, mentioned how creative I am. This caught me completely by surprise because I had forgotten that, at one time, I was a bit of an artsy-fartsy type.
Before I go on, I must digress and tell you about the two equal but opposite forces that have dictated the course of events for my life.
Force #1 - I like people
I have a cat named Cazzy. She is not a cat that likes to be held or who likes to curl up in my lap, however she always likes to be close to people. If I'm cooking, she's sleeping on the kitchen windowsill. If I'm watching TV, she's curled up near my feet.
I am like Cazzy. When I was little I was quite happy amusing myself but I liked to be near people. The quiet hum of daily activity comforted me. Silence was creepy. This carried on as I grew up. Most people I know loved to retreat to their rooms when they were angst-filled teens. Sure, sometimes I did that, but for the most part I liked being in the kitchen or the living room and close to the other members of my family. I absolutely adored Christmas at our house when we would have 5 or 6 or 10 extra people staying over and there was madness in every corner.
I have never dreamed about moving out and getting a place of my own. Instead, I wished I had a pack of crazy friends with whom I could rent a house. It would be pure bohemian chaos and I imagined I would love every minute of it. Sadly, I never had the required group of friends. I lived at home until riduculously late in life (25) and only moved out because I had 2 people to go live with. I was sad when they were away, comforted when they were home, and delighted when others came to visit us as well. The more, the merrier, I said.
It's not that I was scared to be by myself. I wasn't worried that I wouldn't be able to handle it or anything. I just prefer to be not alone. I am utterly and completely a people person. I love nothing more than to meet someone interesting and proceed to get to know them bit by bit over beer or coffee or e-mail. I love the easy banter that goes along with working with a close-knit group of people. I love friends of every type: best friends, drinking friends, movie friends, friends who live away but who visit during the holidays, work friends, and yes, even casual elevator friends. Every person I meet and somehow click with is a potential friend. Which takes us to...
Force #2 - People do not always like me
Despite my love of people, I have always had difficulty with friends - I have a tough time making them and an even tougher time keeping them. It's not for lack of trying on my part. I think that maybe people just don't get me. But in grade one, glorious grade one, not only did I have a friend but I had a BEST friend. We did everything together. We climbed the monkey bars together, we sat beside each other, we, uh, did whatever else 6-year-olds do for fun together. Then one day as I was in the bathroom I saw her shoes walk up to the other side of the stall door and stop.
"Nat." she said.
"Yeah." I replied.
"I kinda don't want to be friends anymore, k?"
"What? No!" I cried. But it was too late. Those shiny brown shoes were gone like a flash, taking my ex-best friend with them.
Shortly after that I moved and started the whole cycle again. Ever since I can remember having friends, I can also remember said friends dumping me. It happened in elementary school, high school, the community group I was a member of for 9 years, and a few times in university. I would be part of a fantastic group of people and then one day I would show up and no one would talk to me. Or it would happen more slowly, being excluded from more and more get-togethers until one day the invitations would stop.
The result of all of this is a terrible lack of self-confidence. To this day I have a tough time with friends. I come on too strong, reeking of desperation and full of neediness. At other times I'll push people away and isolate myself, believing there's no possible way these people could actually like me.
I can hear you asking: But Nat, what does all this have to do with creativity? Yes, I'm getting there.
When I left university, my difficulty with friends wasn't an issue. I immediately met a wonderful person, fell madly in love, and moved in with her. For six years, other people came and went but she was always there for me. However, a year and a half ago we broke up and I found myself in the unwanted position of living by myself. There I was, utterly alone. Yes, I had friends, but we only got together 2 or 3 times a month. Outside of work, I was forced to spend the vast majority of my time with only my cats for company. Then a year ago, something happened that made things even worse: I got a promotion at work. At first this seemed like a great thing. It meant more money, more freedom, less stress. But it also meant MUCH less interaction with people. Not only was there no one around during my evenings, but I would hardly see anyone during the day either. Sometimes my phone would ring at three o'clock in the afternoon and when I would answer it, my voice would come out as a croak because I hadn't spoken to anyone since the previous afternoon. For someone who loves people as much as I do, this was torture. I would sit in my cubicle and listen to my colleagues talk to each other about their spouses, their children, their home rennovations, and I would silently plead for someone to just say hi to me or to ask me how my weekend was. Returning home for the day would offer no relief from the crushing loneliness I felt.
But then around six months ago something strange happened. Instead of coming home and watching TV until I fell asleep on the couch, I started noodling around on my piano and my flute more. I took more aimless walks. I started writing letters. I bought myself a digital camera and discovered that I absolutely LOVED taking pictures. I re-learned how to knit. I started a blog.
Now for the first time in my entire life, I am okay being by myself. In fact, I'm better than okay. I am far more alive and creative than I have been in a long time. The isolation I experience at work is still there but once I arrive home, I feel better. A whole range of activities that make me feel good are right there at my fingertips. This brings us back full circle to the beginning: people have begun to notice that I am doing more these days and they have expressed their appreciation for what I've created. In turn, this makes me feel better and better about myself and more like to do even more. It's a wonderful cycle. I never thought I would find solitude so enjoyable but I'm going to go with it and see where it takes me.