© Alexander Milov
“What makes you itch? What do you desire? What would you do if money was no object?
Once you find it, you do that, and forget the money… because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, then you'll spend your life completely wasting your time, doing things you don't like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don't like doing, which is stupid!”Alan Watts
I look at and think about these questions, and the answer for me is clear: writing stories. There is a part of me, an inexplicable aspect that I've no idea whether it is real, tangible, or just a notion of who I might be. It is the ‘what I am’ that would not be awake and alive if I did not write. Writing is the itch that I cannot help but scratch, regardless that I am not paid for it (yet).
Looking back on my years in education, I can see how writing has always seeped its way into what I was doing. My aunts tell me I learned to write the alphabet when I was three years old, before the age when writing words and sentences held any sense of meaning. At eight, I taught myself how to write with my left hand, for fun. I spent hours copying out stories from reading books simply because I loved the visual beauty of seeing what I had ‘drawn’ on the pages of my notebook. When I studied Architecture, I wrote poems and narratives for my design projects, and managed to get away with writing fiction as part of my degree thesis. In the months after university, when the building industry in the UK was in a recession and I didn't know how I would find an apprenticeship, I decided to go abroad to find a job. During this time, I experienced the worst period of depression in my life. I drank too much, smoked too much, and I still wrote; poems, short fiction and a daily journal. I had no thought as to what I would do with all this production. Writing blogs on the Internet or working on a novel had not even occurred to me as a possibility. Yet deep down, at the most fundamental level of my being, I somehow knew that writing was my ‘true north.’
In today's world, where typing on a keyboard has increasingly replaced the physical action of cursive, long-hand writing, I still do all my creative writing by hand (which I type up afterwards). And although it wasn't until my adult years that I began to view writing as an art, I can see this practice I've had since childhood as something my whole being is intimately connected to. Often, when my mind and body is wholly engaged in the act of writing, I feel as though the ‘substance’ that flows between my brain, arms, hands and fingers, via the pen, onto the page, is an expression of the creative instinct we all possess, where I can forget my ‘self’ (my author's ego). In these moments, it's thrilling to witness how a plot evolves and characters react in ways that I could not have pre-empted or planned. This magic is something I have never experienced while typing on a keyboard.
Returning to Alan Watts's questions, inevitably there are the issues of practical living; shelter, food, clothes, and warmth. Looking at the reality of our lives, however, how often do we really stop to question the ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘what’ we put our energy and resources into? There is a world of difference between what we do for our reputation, to ‘look good,’ and what nurtures us to make our lives meaningful. It is intriguing to note that the reputation list —having the perfect professional CV on Linked-In, faking enthusiasm for 10 hours a day at a job we don't enjoy, watching serials on Netflix just to have something to talk about around the coffee machine, twitching constantly for the mobile phone to see how many ‘likes’ our latest photo or selfie received on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Myspace, Bebo, Pinterest, etc.— can go on and on for a long time, yet the answer to what nurtures us, what makes us itch is usually one or two things.
If we are ready to admit what we really like to do, we immediately assume it's not possible to do this and live. “How can I earn a living from painting, music, drama, writing, dancing?” we say. The true sadness is that we are living in a world where the desire to be anything other than in the top 5% of any profession is seen as failure. The value, meaning and fulfilment we get from doing what we enjoy has been replaced with competition and commodity.
Ask yourself, how many hours of your day do you waste on entertainment? How much money do you really need, rather than what you currently spend on consuming things that you quickly get bored of? What would your life be like if you were to spend just an hour a day engaged in the creative production of what you like to do? The simple and innate pleasure of working with a Bic biro and blank notebook (which costs very little money) is the most meaningful creative practise in my life.
In a world where there are enormous problems, which are very real —war, hunger, poverty, environmental disaster, racism, violence— our consumer mentality, which gobbles up news, information and media in the same way we consume products, pushes us to focus on all that is damaging and destructive. Our waking minds constantly perceive the ‘lack of’ what we do not have and what we do not do, as individuals, families and collective societies. We debate and analyse endlessly about how to fix what's ‘out there’ without understanding that each one of us is a participant in the current state of the planet. When we reflect honestly on what we do with our mental and physical energy on a daily basis —e.g. arguing with our spouse, shouting at our children, having negative thoughts about our boss, the superior attitude towards strangers we pass on the street, a critical evaluation of who we see when we look at ourselves in the bathroom mirror— this is the reality we are each contributing to our environment and to the planet!
One of the most damaging ways we use our energy is to blame our parents, for pressuring us into a career we do not like, for pushing us to go into the family business, or to earn more money so that we can ‘give’ our children what we did not have ourselves. As Alan Watts says, justifying our choices by blaming our parents (or children) simply repeats the cycle of misery for generations to come.
So how do we do what we like? We have to stop looking ‘out there’ and shift our focus to look ‘within,’ to see that we have an abundance of creative energy already within us. Our minds and bodies are incredible organisms, and when our energy is used for doing what we like, even if it begins with an hour a day, it changes our whole relationship with ourselves and with our environment.
When I stopped working in the field of Architecture, I did not understand that I could have potentially made a living from writing about Architecture. Being the first person in my family to go to university, I simply did not know about the options available to me then. The past, however, is not a reason to quit. I've used a lot of energy to be scared and petrified, to talk myself out of writing for long periods of my life. I've also used a lot of energy to encourage and talk myself into writing. And I know which version makes me feel less stupid.
Whatever reasons you give yourself to not do what you like —age, money, circumstances, kids, parents, etc.— NOW is the only place and time you can act!