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tilting at sandcastles

It can be so easy to set aside our own creativity to play in someone else’s sandbox.

You know what I mean. You’re doing it right now! You could be creating something of your own, something that’s been stuck inside your brain for seconds or years, but you are reading my words. You could be creating your own blog, but instead you are consuming someone else’s and forming opinions about it. Substitute any noun for “blog” – song, picture, novel, food.

(For the record, I’m happy that you are reading my blog. Please do it again sometime.)

The act of consumption is a falsely comforting sensation. It makes your time feel full. Maybe you even go beyond consumption, and create within someone else’s space. You leave a comment or write a review. It feels good to attach yourself to an already-established world of creativity. It’s a world that already has structure, character, mythology, and fans. There are people to interact with who care what you have to say. There are ready-made topics to discuss, spires to be built out of grains of sand.

It’s addictive, but is it memorable? What kind of memory does consuming and discussing other peoples’ songs or characters or story-telling or film-editing create?

Is it a good use of your time?

I remember when I loved to use time any way that I could. I’d burn the clock far into the night. I’d make a list of my 100 favorite songs, each meticulously graded across multiple criteria, and update it every day. That’s how I learned to use Excel! I’d write chapters upon chapters of a novel based on someone else’s video game world. People read it!

Ten or fifteen years on, I don’t have those files anymore. Not because I lost them. Because I didn’t care to keep them. They were sandcastles with beautiful, meticulous parapets, but I let them erode away. Hours or days I spent on something that wasn’t meant to last – that was never really mine to begin with.

Now I covet my time. I schedule every second of it, pitting priorities against each other to see what might yield a greater return. It’s no mistake I have recently spent four nights a week rehearsing music, and another one or two meeting with friends and business partners. We’re not meeting in some stranger’s sandbox. We’re meeting together, in a sandbox we share.

I love it. I love that life, but it can be taxing to create so often. Sometimes I fall back on old habits. Sometimes I’d rather spend my time in a universe that already exists, reading stories or discussing movies or covering songs.

It’s not a terrible thing. There has to be a balance. I’m not saying we should never consume or share our opinions about art. What a dull world that would be, deprived of other peoples’ creativity and connections! I’d never turn that down entirely. After all, I need something to crush on.

But, I need to tell you what I’m crushing on, too. I need to be inspired by it and create my own work for other people to crush on, so that they, too, can create art and memories – not from consuming it, but from being inspired by it.

As we head into the second quarter of this year, this gift of time before us, I hope for you and for myself that we spend our time wisely – that we spend it building memories out of something more lasting than sand.