Despite my best efforts, I have fallen back into my old ways of overcommitting. My weeknights are punctuated by a rotation of church small group, youth group, therapy, and house commitments, and my weekends are spent working half-days on the grading that I couldn’t face after 4 p.m. on a Friday. My housemate tells me that I like to be busy; the crushing guilt in my gut from watching a movie after working five hours on a Saturday makes me wonder if they are right.
There was one recent Thursday night, however, that I was unencumbered. I didn’t feel like retreating into Schitt’s Creek or picking up a new book, so I turned to collaging.
I was never an art person—my sister had the artist’s eye and hand while my stick figures left much to be desired. However, during my brief stint as an art teacher, I discovered that I do like origami and collaging. Early pandemic, I experimented with virtual collaging to various degrees of success (you can see one attempt in this header image). When one of my housemates moved out, I kept more than my fair share of her old collaging materials—bird books and National Geographic magazines. When I went back to my parent’s house, I spotted a stack of cooking magazines and asked, “Do you need these?”
That night, I grabbed a few magazines, scissors, a large piece of cardboard, and a glue stick and sat down on the floor. Trying not to overthink, I rifled through magazines, cut out what spoke to me, and then tried to make a coherent image. It took me two and a half hours, but I made something. I took a picture and texted it to my artsy friend.
Oftentimes, I talk myself out of doing things like this—spending time creating aimlessly when I could be creating something that also accomplishes a task I already need to do: cooking also feeds me for a week, writing a blog post also fulfills my monthly tpc quota, designing a new lesson also allows me to see my students in a new way, etc. It’s hard for me to value a purely creative endeavor. Collaging with no express purpose feels selfish somehow, a waste of time that could be productively used elsewhere. And yet, I felt the pull that night.
Even more surprisingly, I enjoyed getting out of my routine a bit. A part of me wanted to capitalize on this deviation—pick a night to create collages each month, force myself to be more creative, use up all the magazines stacked on my desk. When my father told me he wanted to pick up some more hobbies, I almost suggested we do a monthly craft Zoom night.
On some level, scheduling hobbies works for Alex of the chronically packed calendar (hey, I’m writing this post after all). On a deeper level, though, I sense that I don’t need to construct another obligation for myself. Maybe instead I need to have a space where I am open to my own whims—some place where I don’t judge potential actions on how well they optimize my life.
That night, a part of me put aside the guilt, the voice that tells me to do more, and immersed myself in the joy of making—in seeing something new inside others’ words and pictures. In a world of calendar notifications, work-life blurring, and side-hustles, that night felt like a hushed conversation in a dark bar, permission to say something dangerous, a small revolution.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of the Creston neighborhood in Grand Rapids. When she isn’t reading Young Adult fiction, she’s playing board games with her housemates, listening to podcasts, scrolling on education Twitter, and preaching the gospel of intentional community to anyone who will listen.