The desk was a gift. Found in a basement boiler room of a building scheduled to be demolished, it was cleverly disguised beneath multiple layers of paint applied with a heavy hand. The original silhouette had been altered by the addition of a haphazard plywood shelf, which it wore like a fake mustache. It was battle-scarred and appeared to have lived a life of many purposes beyond the school room for which it was originally intended.
Opening the drawer on the front revealed a warm stained wood interior with an inkwell, still holding the ancient residue of black ink. Its potential hidden history and true purpose discovered, it came home with my fiancé where it was deemed to be an excellent find and a great restoration project—for when there was time.
Months passed. The desk was stored in the basement and once again became a base on which many other things were stacked. In moments of purging, and feeling “realistic” about the time needed to restore it, it was placed on the curb—only to be brought in again. There was something about the desk, something about the neat lettering on the inkwell that read in three curved lines radiating out from the nib dipping area, “American Seating Co., Boston No. 59, Pat Apd For,” that wouldn’t let me relinquish it.
Then, one evening a few weeks ago, I was reviewing and integrating some content from author Todd Henry’s book The Accidental Creative into my Creative Thinking class lecture “Where Do Ideas Come From?” designed to inspire students to think differently about where they do their best thinking. Despite having read the book and put into practice many elements of Todd’s wisdom, I realized that I was missing—and longing for—one key element, which he calls “Unnecessary Creating.”
Unnecessary Creating is actually incredibly necessary for busy creatives. It is a way to empty or disarm the ever watchful Censor, which I wrote about in last week's challenge. In keeping busy, the subconscious is left alone to do the magic that it does best: incubate.
My own neglect of (resistance) to Unnecessary Creating, is the same as Todd Henry addresses in his book (p.175):
At this point some of us may be thinking, “I barely have the time and energy to do what’s required of me for my job, and now you want me to take up a hobby?” It’s tempting to resist this technique because we think it will add stress to our lives—yet another thing that we have to cram into our schedule. But the experience of those who incorporate this practice is quite different. They find that it actually clarifies their thoughts, makes them more efficient, and reintroduces a level of passion for their on-demand creating. In addition, our Unnecessary Creating is often the best source of new insights for our on-demand creative work.”
Deciding, during the actual delivery of the lecture, that nothing is more beneficial than practicing what I preach, the desk soon came out of the basement and into the hot sun of the driveway. With a hammer, I knocked off the plywood shelf with a few satisfying whacks. I was educated on paint removal by my fiancé and soon armed with what he called “a glorified hairdryer” and a spackling knife.
Soon the paint on the desk was bubbling up to reveal a history of ecru, mint green and yellow lifetimes. Beneath that, the stained wood still had a start of the school year glow to it. A hot, sweaty, melting-paint-chips hour later, my “project” began to look more like the desk I knew it could be (although there was still far to go.) I, too, had a new outlook—won over to the knowledge that Unnecessary Creating is very necessary in my life.
With space to spread out and windows to open, summertime invites hands-on projects. It is also a great chance to experiment with introducing Unnecessary Creating to your weekly routine. In Summer Creativity Challenge No.3, this week take a look in your basement, attic, yard, or house and see if you have any projects waiting for you. Ideally, it should be something that you can sink your teeth into and work on consistently for a few weeks. Whether is it painting a room, building a bookcase or breaking ground and planting a new garden, get started and see what happens. Note how you feel and what other endeavors may suddenly feel more-doable. As always, record your experiences in your sketchbook/notebook and also share here (pictures of your project welcome) on The Paper Compass.