I used to be like a fountain, in a way, back in my rural Nebraskan hometown. Summer evenings were spent on the deck, watching severe thunderstorms crash down, rattling my brain around for some pretty words, then jotting them down in my journal. Every single day I seemed to wake up with some new idea to bring to fruition. But then college came fast, and all of the dreams I had of being a visionary were whisked away.
When I was younger, I’d drive two blocks over to my friend’s house and bang on his bedroom window, usually around 5 p.m., to wake him up (he was notorious for sleeping the days away in the summer) to tell him what idea I’d come up with for the day. He’d grab his camera, and we’d grab some drinks from McDonalds then traverse down winding country roads that lined the wide-open pastures surrounding town. We’d find a nice little spot and start taking shots of the landscape, the sky, dilapidated farmhouses, each other. The pictures didn’t always turn out good, but we took them anyway. And I look back at those poems scribbled in that journal, and they weren’t that good, but I wrote them anyway.
Nowadays, I find myself rarely reaching for a pen. Or taking photos. Or simply waking up with the excitement of some weird idea I could breathe life into. I didn’t realize that over the last few years that those urges simply waned. The other day I sat down, wanting to write a poem about a bundled up old man I saw shoveling snow with his dog running circles between his legs, and I couldn’t find the words. And I realized, I hadn’t written a thing in months.
So, naturally, I spent some time trying to retrace my mental journey over the last few years. The most obvious answer would be that life changes had altered my disposition. I graduated high school, I moved away from home and began college. The backdrop of all of my creative endeavors had been the nearly empty countryside of Nebraska. With this change in mind, I wondered if where I’m at has not been particularly inspiring.
But it struck me that I still tend to analyze the world around me in a similar fashion as I used to. I still see strangers strolling down the sidewalk and wonder about where they’re headed, and the thunderstorms still rattle my brain around, but the words don’t flow quite like water as they used to. While my world is now different, there’s always an abundance of things to look at and ponder over.
So maybe the setting isn’t the issue. College has certainly changed my feelings toward how my time is spent. My freshman year, I picked up the guitar and wiped a decade of collected dust off the back of the neck, and I took a swing at it. I did pretty well with it, but after a few months, I couldn’t stick with it. It wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s a special satisfaction in learning a song you’ve known forever, and to play it and for it to sound spot on. But there was something empty about it. And lately, I’ve gone back to weep in the arms of poetry. It’s nice to get a collection of words together, but it still feels vacant.
And then it hit me. My entire framework surrounding satisfaction has been reshaped by college. If the song I just pieced together on the guitar isn’t earning me a good grade, what’s the point? If the poem I just wrote won’t be a major selling point on my resume, was it worth the thought? If the beautiful photo I took of a silhouetted skyline isn’t going to pay my rent, what’s the use?
Now, many will argue that you CAN, in fact, tie these talents into tangible gains. You could sell your writing, your songs, and your photos. But I’ve found that our world has become obsessed with capitalizing on creativity. Why do it, if it’s not going to stimulate your bank account, right?
There’s this weird pressure when you’re in college to spend every waking moment of your life grinding to advance. Time not spent studying, networking, applying to internships and working is time wasted, to some. I would be lying if I said this concept hadn’t infiltrated my life too. But I think I’m going to try to wash my hands of that idea. I’ve decided that the guilt associated with not completely dedicating my free time to my future career is in no way comparable to the guilt of letting my inspiration die. So, I think I’ll take some time this week, to write that pointless little poem, about the little old man I saw shoveling snow.