Creating v. Consuming

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, February 2, 2019

Back in the 1970s when I used to visit New Age seminars I met a woman who claimed there were two types of people in this world: those that create and those who consume. I thought that was an interesting distinction, but probably bullshit. But every now and then I think about it. Most people read books, few write them. Most people listen to music, few play it. Yet, even a brilliant writer is a consumer when it comes to music, television, music, and even books too. And being creative doesn’t mean being an artist. Anyone with a job creates.

Since retiring I’ve thought about this insight differently. Without our 9-to-5, we spend a whole lot more time consuming and less creating, unless we have a hobby, volunteer, or pursue some other creative outlet. Cleaning house is creative – you’re making order out of chaos, but do you feel that when you do your chores?

I realize much of my happiness comes from waking up and thinking of something to do each day. Yesterday I wrote “Fantastic Universe (1953-1960)” which involved making almost 200 links to the web and the gathering of many facts. In the big scheme of things, this tiny bit of creative effort isn’t very important, but it gave me something creative to do. Creative not in the sense of Picasso, but in the sense of not consuming.

It made me happy. I know retired people who are restless, and even unhappy. They don’t know what to do with themselves. Even knowing what I’m saying here, it’s very hard to just pick something to do. Creativity, no matter how mundane, requires a drive. Having a drive to blog makes me lucky. I can’t tell my restless friends to start blogging. It won’t work if they don’t have the drive.

The morning, The New York Times presented “The Queen of Change” by Penelope Green about Julia Cameron and her classic book The Artist’s Way. Most people who read this book do so because they want to pursue a traditionally creative endeavor. But, could her approach work for finding mundane creative endeavors in retirement? Most people seeking to be creative want to be successful artistically. But is that really important? Isn’t merely being creative at anything worthy in itself? Maybe my restless friends should read it.

I am still a big consumer. I actually love consuming movies, TV shows, music, books, essays, and short stories. It’s just unfulfilling to do it all the time. I think we need a certain amount of time when we’re creating, but I don’t know if it has to ambitious creativity. Piddling at something you love can be all the difference between happiness and unhappiness.

I’ve come to realize that I’m a happy person because when I wake up in the morning I start thinking about things I want to do. I worry about my friends who aren’t lucky that way. I’m afraid if I try to judge the worthiness of my piddling activities my happiness will break. I wonder if my unhappy friends kill their drive to do something because they deem it unworthy before they even try?


11 thoughts on “Creating v. Consuming”

  1. “I know retired people who are restless, and even unhappy. They don’t know what to do with themselves.”

    If there were two of me I might just about get what I want to do done–how can people be in a situation where they don’t know what to do with themselves?

  2. I totally get this and see it in my own life. I don’t understand how my Mom, who is 91 but still has a strong mind, can be happy doing nothing but sitting in her chair reading all day. She does not create anything. Ever. I don’t create in an artistic sort of way myself except on the rare occasion that I tape something into my journal, but I do write in a journal and I do have my blog and I write a lot of emails and such. I love to read as much as Mom does but I can’t do just that. I’m constantly popping up from my book to go jot something down in a journal, on a calendar, in an email, in OneNote. My drive to write something, anything, is as strong as my drive to breathe or to eat. LOL

  3. I believe that the meaning of ‘creative’ is relative to the creativity of the speaker and listener. In one sense, as you mention, cleaning house is creative because order is created. However that sort of creativity can be mindless—it can also be done with imagination. I know some very intelligent people who I’m sure go several days without having a cogent thought. They’ve made pigeon holes for everything and that is where everything must go, very tidy. A professor of mine once said that artists are the only real people. Creating something original every day distinguished them as individuals—not creating something put them in the same imaginative category as stones.

    BTW Thanks for leading me to Sheckley’s “Dimension of Miracles.” His humorous comments about our need to see order where none exists, make up names for things to control them, create and fudge algorithms, pontificate, etc., all to convince us that we are masters of the universe, marks him as a rare, sentient being.

  4. Hi James

    An interesting post. I spent a good bit of my week reorganizing my SF collection. I did feel it was creative work. (though it may seem as no more than a sidebar of consumption) I had to try to fit a seemingly infinite number of books and pulps into a finite space. (kidding) But it also gave me ideas of what I want to read next and what I remembered about the things I had. It also helped me define what I want to add, keep, purge, a thing you consider as you age. That lesson came in handy later this week when we saw a 60’s coffee table we really liked and wanted to use for playing games. The price was a bit high but I realized we could trade another piece of mid century furniture we liked but never used. So I think the process of organizing basically made me think about priorities, kept me planning for the future, an important thing when you retire. I think even consuming can be important. I tend to reread but I also control the impulse to make sure I read books that are new to me and current authors to keep my mind going rather than lapsing into nostalgia. New things and new ideas are I think vital when you retire. I do hope to become more creative, but I think some kind of activity, even consuming music, books, and experiences like travel keep our minds working.

    Now I will dig out Dimensions of Miracles, it is around here somewhere.

    Happy Reading

  5. Insightful. You’ve given me something to think about. Worthiness is relative isn’t it. I like Merriam Webster’s English Language Learners definition: “having enough good qualities to be considered important, useful, etc.”

  6. Gosh there is so much truth in your post. I worry about friends who aren’t happy in retirement and do nothing. In contrast I love every day of it even though I used to think I had the best job in the world. Now apart from and in conjunction with travelling I’m discovering crafts, genealogy, ukulele, bird watching and the list goes on as I throw myself into each new passion. Enjoy your life JW.

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