Here’s a little pop psychology help – Some thoughts on motivation and mood, if you will. It’s October here, and that means it’s time to make Talbert Halloween Pipes. This is a high stress, high concentration task that requires a lot of focus and confidence and a good clear pipeline to the creative part of the brain. I’ve done creative work for long enough that I can usually slip fairly easily into “the mode” when required, but something unusual happened this time around and I thought I’d write down just how I dealt with it in the context of being a working creative professional, in case it might be of help to others.
In a nutshell, my philosophy can be summed up as, “Make a billiard.”
The reason I ‘m writing this is because at the start of this month, we had to have our 19 year old cat Loki put down. Loki has been with Emily and myself for nearly our entire married life; she was one of the family. Lately her age had really been hitting her hard and a number of health issues were manifesting in faster and faster succession. Finally, right at the start of October, Loki had what could only be described as a Very Bad Morning and the decision had to be made.
(At left, Loki does what 95 year olds do a lot of the time…)
Em and I were both pretty upset by the whole experience, as you can probably imagine. Having to hold and console your near-20 year companion as the vet gives her the lethal injection is not a life event I would wish on others. So we came home and sat around despondent for a couple of days. However, we’re self-employed, and when we’re not working, we’re falling behind – No guaranteed paychecks here, so one has to develop emotional coping mechanisms to handle these sorts of bumps in life. Because frankly, when I’m really down about something, the last thing I feel like doing is going out into the workshop and pouring lots of creativity into an enjoyable project. It’s a Catch-22 – I do my best work when I’m enthused and feeling creative, yet I have to work to keep the grocery bills paid.
The result is my simple fall-back rule – Make a billiard (and yes, I know the pipe pictured above is not a proper billiard… Away with you, pedants!). I’m a big believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a fancy way of saying that if you’re depressed, go do something positive and before long, you’ll change your own mood. Stewing doesn’t help, sulking doesn’t help, brooding doesn’t help – For me, the answer has always been, do something. While I might not be in the right frame of mind to sit down and produce some sort of artistic creation, what I can do is follow rules and do technical work.
Billiards don’t require creativity.
Billiards have set parameters. They don’t need emotion poured into them.
A billiard is a guarantee, like a promise of morning – Follow the rules, make the shape, and if you get the technical stuff right you’ll have a good looking pipe.
And the magical thing is what follows, which is – I sit back, I look at it, and I have concrete proof right there in hand that I’ve made something. Instead of sitting and feeling sad and unmotivated, I’ve produced something positive that’s going to make someone, somewhere, happy. Call it an affirmation of life, if you will – The root premise of Cognitive Therapy is that even if you’re not feeling it, you do positive things and your brain will eventually pick up on these constructive routines of thinking and slip back into a more positive outlook. I make, therefore I am happy. (I’m a pretty simple guy, really)
And then before I knew it, I had the pipe at left. It’s the sort of pipe I can make in my sleep now, but it was something I could sit back and look at and be satisfied by, and somewhere in that process the raw shock of our loss turned into natural, healthy grief that I could let go of, and it wasn’t long before I was eager to get back into the shop and work on an especially intriguing new Halloween Pipe design that I’d sketched out.
So, that’s what I have to offer to readers – If you’re feeling down, make something. Do something constructive. Don’t just sit, go mow your neighbor’s lawn or organize your attic or repaint your kitchen. In short, don’t stew, do.
Make a billiard.