Creativity needs freedom

My friend is in his late twenties, works for a multi-national company, and earns a standard five-figure salary—a more than adequate income considering he was single and lived in a share house with five others. 

His day begins as usual: brush, wash, shower, and bus to work. He clocks in at 8 for his 9 o’clock shift and get an overtime bonus. He skips coffee breaks, brings canteen lunch to his desk, and keeps a bottle of water beside him at all times. He has no reason to engage in office chatter, which has made him more efficient than others and mechanical in completing work on time.

“Get a life!” People tell him.

He spends Saturdays in office, sometimes for the overtime bonus and sometimes for the cheap canteen food. He sleeps in on Sundays, saving breakfast expense and surviving on a big brunch.

He’s the office nut case. No one knows what he likes to do for fun or how he spends his money. He doesn’t read, he doesn’t sing, he doesn’t listen to music. Doesn’t paint, doesn’t write, doesn’t…live. According to the world, he had no creative nerve in him. He was a good-for-nothing corporate mushroom who churned out labour in exchange for payment he locked away.

No one knew—

that he was paying off his family’s debt.

He had no time for art and music and poetry. He was too engrossed in getting through each day, subsisting, so that he could sustain long enough to become free.

We don’t always realise it, but creativity is strenuous. It’s hard work and it demands your full attention. To create, you need a clear mind, a soul that’s not crushed by the weight of poverty and responsibility. That’s why every struggling creative needs someone or something to support them so that they can shed their worries, even momentarily, and create. Those who have that assurance—through family, friends, or a support group—end up making magic. But those who don’t, like my friend, may never unleash their creativity.

Hold the brakes

I don’t take breaks often. I’m so used to working 12 hours a day and still being available for questions after hours. What’s more, I’ve spent entire nights working, forcing myself not to fall asleep and ignoring the rest my body needed. All because I felt work was my primary concern.

And then I moved across the world. I relocated to Australia, and for the first three weeks, I had to put a pause on my work. I didn’t want to, of course. But I had no choice—I didn’t have a laptop. I felt crippled, but I had to deal with it in silence. It’s only for a few weeks, I assured myself, even though my inner self rejected all assurance. Regardless, being helpless about the situation, I realised one important thing about myself and my work.

I was way too uptight.

Having worked for almost six years without a proper vacation, I didn’t even know what it meant to be free and rid of work pressure. For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t do anything about the work that remained back in the office. My managers were so understanding and supportive. And to be fair, there was already a well-equipped team covering for me. And most of my tasks weren’t urgent either—they could wait well until settled and was ready to take over again.

And yet—it bothered me that I couldn’t work. That’s when I understood how much I was addicted to my job. I work as a marketer and writer for a software company. My everyday tasks involve creating content, reviewing, managing social media and customer support, and answering any questions the new members in our team had. I was missing all that action, and it made me uneasy.

To my utter surprise, however, I survived. I got through over three weeks of doing nothing, and I was still sane. In fact, not only did I spend three weeks unscathed, I was relieved even. It was the first time I wasn’t feeling overworked, and with every passing day, I sensed, as the temperature fell, I also cared less and less about my work. I still appreciated and loved my job, but unlike before, I wasn’t consuming me. I started to see work as just that—work. I realised I could have a complete and enjoyable life outside of work, which I was once so obsessed with and dependant upon.

So—take a break. Please do. It’ll help you distance yourself from your fixations and see that the sky is far brighter than you’ve seen. But then again, I moved to Canberra, and of course, the sky here is bluer than Chennai, south India, (where I lived before) could ever imagine.

Little things

Although I hate it, I’m a workaholic. I have trouble letting go of work even after official working hours. It’s got a lot to do with not having fixed times or shift times. I’m used to seeing colleagues show up at work after noon and leave at midnight or arrive at 8 and leave at 4.

I’ve done it plenty of times myself. Sometimes I stay up late watching a movie, cleaning my room, or chatting with my roommates, oversleeping the next morning. Come to think of it, some of the stringent time rules in many workplaces are insignificant since they don’t consider the frivolousness of human nature.

Or that’s what I used to think.

I love having flexible work times—after all, isn’t that why everyone wants to be a freelancer? People think freelancing is the ideal way of life—PJs, late night snacking, mid morning brunches, and still damn good money. Alas, I now know that that’s just a stereotype the internet has inflicted upon us. Nothing about freelancing, or working flexible hours, is any more fun than working regular hours.

It took me over five years to realise this.

A few weeks ago, I was at work lounging—it was rather a quiet and uneventful day. I’d finished most of my tasks for the week and had plenty of time to kill. I’d been working so hard the couple of months leading to that day that I felt a gaping emptiness when I didn’t have anything to occupy myself. And so I succumbed to the YouTube temptation, watching a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef in the North Eastern coast of Australia.

It’s a three-part documentary, each running about an hour. And as I watched the camera pan across the ocean waters, and heard the narrator’s voice ring through my headphones, I realised how ignorant I’ve been about the world’s most gorgeous and vast spread of natural phenomenon. I had no idea it stretches over 1400 miles. Or that there’re 900 islands spread through the Reef, or that the Reef wasn’t formed until 10000 years ago—or that almost 40 percent of it is destroyed already.

Sure, I knew the Great Barrier Reef was a natural treasure undergoing an unnatural devastation, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I never had the time in my life to watch documentaries or read articles online about the world that surrounded my immediate office and work.

In a moment of shame and disgust, I understood how blinded I’d been by my work routine. I’d awake, exercise, go to work, return, and engage on social media before going to sleep. I read during the weekends and every other chance I get, but that’s limited to fiction, online articles, or general nonfiction. I’ve never spent time appreciating the magnitude of the world’s events outside of the realm of my work. I’ve been so obsessed with meeting my personal requirements that I’ve been missing the finer aspects of life—like widening my eyes in wonder at a coral reef, or experiencing the joy in my mother’s voice when I make time to chat with her.

I spent the last couple of weeks with my parents, and I made conscious efforts to indulge myself less in office work and more in my surroundings. And it’s served me well too. Now that office work doesn’t dictate my day, I’m noticing small things about work that don’t matter as much as I’d thought. Little delays or mistakes that would’ve upset me earlier don’t anymore. After all, there’s a lot more to life than the pay check.

Old friends

I’ve known V for over five years. When I walked into the campus scared and nervous, she assured me everything would work out well. She guided me to the restroom so I could wash the sweat and tiredness from my face after a 45-minute commute in the dusty local trains of the city.

Everything was new—the scorching heat of the city, the slums on its edge, the barrenness that exemplified the smoke issuing from vehicles so old they shouldn’t even be on the street. It was my first time in the city, and I knew within minutes that I’d have a hard time living here, if at all. But I was also eager for the job interview to go well—it was an excellent opportunity, and I didn’t want to mess it up. And V’s simple gesture was a tremendous comfort.

I got the job, and since, the company’s employee count had grown over four times. V and I, however, are still here. It’s strange, but although V was so nice to me on that first day, we never became close friends. We were in different teams, under different supervisors. Our roles were different—she a developer and I a marketing writer. We shared no common whatsoever except an employer.

However, if we ever cross each other’s paths, we’d smile, and I’d oblige to some small talk.

That was the problem—the small talk. I’ve grown less interested in crossing paths with V not because I developed a disliking to her, but because not everyone’s satisfied with just a smile—the inherent human quality to frolic in frivolous conversations stretches awkwardness to new extents.

And now every time I see her dread rises from deep within me, and my mind entertains thousands of possible topics we could discuss, each punier than the previous.

And that’s why I prefer a longer route if I can avoid running into old friends like V. I don’t want to humour meaningless exchanges over other people’s careers when I could just sit and stare at space.

Ever felt that way about someone?

Mornings

“Good morning, Sir,” the guard touched his cap as he greeted Jake, the regional manager.

Suited up with pointed shoes, he clutched his laptop bag as he strode along the campus pathway towards the open doors. What a great way to start the day, he though to himself as a second guard paid him a salute. He’s only been at the company a few months, but he’d already garnered the respect of all the men in guard duty. He couldn’t even enter the office without five to seven men acknowledging his dry-cleaned coat and trim beard.

Glowing in pride at himself, Jake approached the office doors. He pulled out his phone even before he’d stepped in, checking for views and comments on his latest Instagram story. His mind was already whirring with an idea for the next one.

Jake didn’t notice the security at the reception, who stood up to greet him a good morning and remained standing until Jake had walked passed him. Stifling a yawn, the security took his seat again looking forward to the end of his shift—sleep and home beckoned him dear.

Arriving at his destination, face alight by his smartphone’s brightness, Jake set the bag on his desk and fell back on his chair. He leaned behind in comfort, now scrolling through his Facebook feed, smiling every once a while at a cat video or a child’s tantrum over cereal. Then throwing a swift glance at the large clock on wall, he plopped his polished feet on the chair next to him.

He was early—according to the office timekeeper, he still had seven minutes before official hours began. As he scrolled on, someone else strolled in. In a black suit and pointed shoes, holding a laptop case, stood before Jake, his manager. Jumping to his feet, stumbling as his shoelace caught on the chair’s armrest, Jake stood up, perspiring. “Good—good morning, Sir”