No, I actually should say “it happened again”…
I was sitting at my desk in the late hours of the night, trying to write a paper and I was absolutely where I did not want to be at that moment. Instead of having to write that paper, I would have preferred to have spent these hours watching a good film,or listening to some music while I read a good book. Yet I was already late in getting this paper ready for a conference I would be attending soon; I had to write as much as possible. But then, all of a sudden, a melody, accompanied by words filled into my mind. In less than 30 seconds, I was writing a song.
Then I realized a pattern. Just like the above example, suppose I am doing some stressful academic work. I may be grading exams where lots of students did poorly, I may be writing a paper where my progress is very slow, or I may be trying to meet deadlines for projects, reports, or a call for papers. The result is the same. My mind’s most powerful defense mechanism becomes active, and it is called creativity. I start writing a poem, composing a song, setting up a tale in the busiest moments of a time of work. Once I realized this, it struck me that this is not a defense mechanism that I developed as part of my professional self, it has been there all along. When I was a student in high school, the same pattern showed itself on the nights when I was getting ready for an exam the next day.
When this urge to create something takes over, oftentimes there is no stopping it, and I have to drop everything and let out whatever it is that is coming out of my system before I can continue. Most of the time, the end result of the creativity is an idea, a thought, a melody that I did not even know was there. It emerges at that moment and it is born without much deliberation, effort or pain.
Of course it is not surprising that this happens when I am doing academic work. It is then that I am the closest to the computer, to the paper, to pen and since most of my creativity is about the written word, my stressed mind resorts to a solution that is readily available in the environment of the moment.
One might think that this defense-mechanism is self-destructive, for it takes away from the academic task that I have at hand; however, I choose not to see it this way. Actually, it gives me a breath of fresh air in a moment when I need it the most, it takes my mind off a spot where I feel blocked, takes me on a ride with myself and then allows me to continue with a refreshed mind. Moreover, since the boredom of the task at hand is diminished, it allows me to avoid disliking my job. I think it also adds to my overall skills of multitasking and flexibility, although it probably would not qualify me among the best for time management.
I would probably finish tasks at hand a lot faster if I had a mind which could focus even during times of stress, yet I do not have such a mind and I must say I feel that I am lucky, as my mind chooses to become productive in an artistic way when it cannot become productive in an academic way. This creativity is something that reconnects me with life and makes me feel alive, and I believe in the long run it is positive for me. First, it is good for me professionally because it boosts my affinity with my profession by easing my stressful moments, and second, it is good for me personally because it reminds me that I have a personality beyond that of an academic and saves me from becoming a dry scholar, someone who is sharp about her work but has little connection with life beyond that.
Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.
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