Scratching My Unscratchable Creative Itch

writersblockAt various points in my life, I’ve had this overwhelming feeling that there is something creative I’m supposed to be doing. The problem is that it’s never quite clear to me exactly what that something is supposed to be. In my head, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime brainstorm idea that uses many of my talents and satisfies my interests while producing something that society wants or needs. Maybe it even makes me some money along the way.

But I don’t know what that is.

As I wait for lightning to strike my brain and catch up with my vague sense of ambition, I’ve been forced to scratch my creative itches in numerous smaller ways. This blog (and the three blogs I wrote before this one—two of which are no longer even available on the Internet) is one of the biggest ways that I’ve been able to be creative outside of my 9 to 5 job. Before cancer gave this blog a more coherent topic to revolve around for a while, it was more a collection of random essays that reflect my various interests and experiences—pop culture, entertainment, life lessons, rants, reflections, milestones. It was all over the map in terms of subject matter, and for those of you who follow this blog thanks to Lumpy, it’s probably about to be all over the place again. It also wasn’t updated with such regularity, and since I start teaching at Northwestern again next week, I make no promises about the regularity of the posting to come.

That said, it’s been incredibly gratifying for me to hear from so many people who read my blog and to watch my follower count rise each week. When Theresa and I attended her father’s annual extended family reunion a couple weekends ago in Indiana, many people that I barely know told me how much they enjoy reading my posts. So here’s a shout-out to all my southern Indiana readers! Thanks for joining me!

You would think that a blog would be enough to occupy my creative juices, as it is for so many other people on the Internet, but sometimes I can’t think of what to write about or sometimes I get another crazy idea about something that would be funny or easy or somehow satisfying to spend some time doing. This golden age of social media in which we live has made it easy to create an account on any number of sites, establish an e-mail address to go along with it and easily start creating whatever kind of content you would like. I spend far too much time coming up with ideas for stupid Twitter accounts or other blogs to create, and even more time trying to convince myself not to do it because no one will care about it, I’ll run out of creative steam and the entire enterprise would be completely pointless.


But I can’t always stop myself. I’m the Ralph Kramden of the Web. Instead of get-rich-quick schemes, I come up with ridiculous create-new-content ideas.

A great example of this is the Northwestern Fox. A few years ago, there was a family of foxes on the loose at Northwestern University and students on social media were tweeting about their whereabouts and posting pictures of fox-sightings. As NU’s institutional voice, there was only so much I could do, but as a regular citizen of Evanston who worked on campus (right next to the location of the actual fox hole!) and heard a lot about the foxes, I felt it was my duty to inhabit the father fox on Twitter and start mixing it up on social media with whoever was talking about “me.” Clearly, this served no purpose other than to let me blow off some creative steam and to hopefully entertain some people along the way. It accomplished both goals for a while. People interacted with me and reposted my tweets on Twitter, which stroked my ego and stoked my output by giving me more things to respond to. At one point, a campus publication sent me an e-mail (to my newly established Northwestern Fox account) asking if I would write a guest column as the fox (I declined…a 140-character tweet is easy, but my days writing for campus newspapers are behind me) and the same publication later featured the Northwestern Fox in their “Face of Northwestern” contest (I lost to Coach Fitz).

Eventually the foxes were driven off campus by facilities management (I watched them close up the fox hole and later watched a baby fox confusedly approach the former location of the hole and sadly wander away), and the account really served no purpose. After a while, I even forgot the password. The publication that asked me to write a guest story later lauded the fox as one of the most superfluous Northwestern Twitter handles in existence. You’re welcome.

Sometimes my “creative” ideas are much smaller in scale and die a nearly instant death upon closer inspection. One day I was walking around downtown Chicago and noticed that everyone around me was wearing earbuds. I started thinking about how if Pinky and the Brain were still doing the same thing they do every night, they should try to take over the world by controlling humanity through their earbuds or smartphones. “Wow, that would be a really funny Twitter account to start—modern-day Pinky and the Brain world domination plans,” I thought proudly to myself. Then I couldn’t think of even one more. This wasn’t a Twitter account idea. It was barely one tweet.

memesMore recently, I started up my Chicago Cubs blog again. When I realized that it would be nearly impossible to fight cancer and maintain two blogs at once, however, I decided to invest my time in something simpler—creating Cubs memes. Now whenever I watch Cubs games, my phone is nearby to help me make timely memes that relate to whatever is happening in the game or larger story lines that are affecting the team throughout the season. For this creative social media jaunt, I created a Twitter account, an Instagram account and a dedicated e-mail address. The fact that the Cubs are poised to make the playoffs this year for the first time in seven years has made this a rather popular endeavor for me—234 Instagram followers and counting—and has been a rewarding creative side gig. If the Cubs make the playoffs, my fun might be extended even longer.

But what about during the long winter offseason? I’m going to need another project! I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts on my daily train commute, which has gotten me thinking, “What do these podcasters have that I don’t have? I know how to tell stories, edit audio and locate royalty free music for the background! I should start a podcast!”

These are the thoughts that consume my brain during those idle minutes in the shower or those moments after my head hits the pillow but before my subconscious takes over. Yes, a podcast would be cool. It would also require a lot of time, energy and commitment. And what do I really have to say, anyway? And who would want to hear me say it? The answers are probably “not much” and “my mom,” respectively. Even my wife rolls her eyes when I bring this up.

So for now I will try to satisfy my creative urges with this blog and my Cub memes and my day job and my teaching. I guess that’s a lot. I just need to be content to let the Northwestern fox sleep forever in his hole and dream about my podcast. Anyone want to listen to a podcast of a guy trying to justify his podcast’s existence? No? Are you sure? I can do quite an impression of Ira Glass.


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