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Making Something out of Nothing:  The Creative at Work and at Home

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Beth Anstandig

Our offices are pretty dull. Tasks are assigned and tasks are done. We clock in, we clock out. Most of the time, we are repeating actions that have been deemed productive in the past.  Rarely are we contributing anything new. And all of this fine. It really is. This is how the world works. But (there’s always a but), something subtle is missing and, though subtle, its absence eats at us.

I’m talking about the sense that we have created something new, that we have brought something tangible into the world and improved it.  If we cede this sense to our workplace, the best we can do is learn to live without it. If we count on those who mind the bottom line to provide us with the sense that we are contributing to the world, we will not likely have it. Spreadsheets and slide decks are not painting and poetry.

Or are they?

I have an advanced degree in poetry writing.  That’s a thing you can have. I went to a reputable graduate program for almost three years and studied poetry. My days were infused with the creative spirit, my peers were other creative writers, my work was to notice the world and my place in it and to write what I knew or could imagine.  It was wonderful and it has informed every moment of my life since. But, it is not how the world works.

Since then, I have had what often feels like a pretty unpoetic life.  I no longer write poetry everyday, I rarely talk about poetry and I have certainly not been paid to make poems.  For that matter, I’m not paid to paint, make music, dance, or any other activity you might consider “creative”. Usually, this fact hangs subtle in the back of my mind like a bruise. Recently, though, I’ve begun to recognize something else.

We moved into Take-a-Chance Ranch about five years ago.  Out our kitchen window has been an open, fenced-in, level, grassy yard.  In my heart for five years has been the desire for raised bed garden. Everyday, every day, I’ve looked out that window and thought that spot would be perfect for a garden. Well, last weekend, a weekend like any other weekend, I went for it. I bought a pre-cut, raised bed kit from Home Depot and assembled it the next day. It is now filled with 21 cubic feet of pre-mixed, organic, raised bed soil and with twenty vegetables and herbs. And, from the kitchen window especially, it is a beautiful thing.

Thinking about the topic I’d picked for this article, I realized that this building of a pre-fabricated garden had made something out of nothing:  as pure as any creative act. And, then, I started to look around at the rest of the backyard: there’s a hammock I hung, a tree swing for our daughter, and even a mown lawn.  This is just the backyard. In the house now is a freshly installed dishwasher, a refrigerator filled with left-overs, a securely hung towel rack or two, and many other small acts of creativity. Many somethings where before was nothing.

And, recognizing all of this, I feel amazing. I feel solid. I feel like I have been here and done things, have contributed to the development of our world. I feel creative again and inspired to do more.

That, friends, is what I hope for you in your office as well as your homes.  Did you finish that memo you’ve been sweating through boredom over? Did you get your spreadsheet functioning the way it needs to function?  Does your presentation click and balance your message with your graphics? I bet it does! And I bet you started with a blank template. I bet you started with nothing.  And then you made something. It might not be a poem or a painting but it is something and you created it. Celebrate that!

Me, I’m going to celebrate finishing this article by stepping outside to stare at my garden some more.   

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