I became a dad in early February, and during the run-up to The Day, I worked my butt off, getting as much work in the can as I could before my life got taken over by the fruit of my loins.
All that hard work paid off. One day, I looked around and realized that it was all done. Everything. I’d been ruthless about telling people that I couldn’t even consider their new projects until I had a handle on fatherhood, and I’d caught up on all the assignments and to-dos that had filled my long, long list. For the first time since I dropped out of college, I found myself with nothing — nothing! — to do.
Whoa. What a feeling.
It was a little scary at first, but after about half an hour’s thought in my new office (my old office is now the baby’s room, so I had to rent a place to locate all my junk and carve out some space where I could write that wasn’t the living room sofa), I realized that there was one thing I really wanted to do.
I wanted to paint a D&D miniature.
I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and similar tabletop games when I was about 10, and I was immediately taken with painting minis. I was never very good at it, but I derived immense, all-consuming pleasure from the activity, which became a kind of meditation. So I walked down to Covent Garden here in London and dropped in on the Orc’s Nest, the RPG store whose windows are always filled with beautifully painted minis. There, I bought brushes and paints and a selection of tiny lead monsters.
Then I sat down to paint. When I finished my first mini — two days later — I saw that it had all come back to me, that bone-deep satisfaction I’d derived all those decades ago. I put a pic of my little winged vampire critter up on Flickr and got a lot of good feedback — and a couple of remarks that contained the phrase “too much time on your hands.”
Now that’s a thoughtless and immensely cruel way of negating the pleasure that the subject has derived from following his passions. It takes in the sweep of someone’s gnarly physical meditation and grinds it into paste.
All creative endeavor begins with just fooling around, not doing much of anything, just noodling and letting the different parts of your mind talk to each other. Science and art and invention spring forth when we do the unexpected, and so coax our brains into letting imaginative combinations of ideas jangle together. Working with your hands, taking a walk, singing a song, doing a drama exercise, building something, designing something, painting — they engage parts of our brains in ways that we’re probably not used to.
So I don’t care if you’re scouring yard sales for Beanie Babies, overclocking your PC, speedrunning Super Mario, landscaping your garden, or building a trebuchet out of a fallen telephone pole. I don’t care if the end product works or not. I don’t care if it’s too ugly to look at.
Here’s what I care about: did you follow your weird? Did you get into that blissed-out concentration state that great athletes and musicians and artists find themselves in? Did you go to a place where your mind was able to talk to itself without the endless chatter of the million billion grocery items and nagging doubts?
If you got there, you’re winning the game of life.