I like to think I wear many hats. I like to think I can flit from writer to consultant to scientist to dancer to student and beyond. Wearing this many hats means I can be versatile. It means I can chameleon my way through life. But this many hats also means that sometimes I have to sacrifice breadth for depth, and that doesn’t always suit me.
To simplify, my hats slot into two boxes: that of the creative, and that of the scientist. This is not to say that the scientist isn’t benefited by creativity, nor that the creative doesn’t sometimes require precision. It just means that these two realms have some sort of fundamental separation between them. It means that what people expect out of me as a scientist and a researcher is not the same as what people expect out of the writer.
This leaves me with two problems: the problem of breadth, not depth, and the problem of separation. These two problems are what I’ve come to know of as the root of my struggles since graduating from my undergraduate. They are problems that look and seem simple to resolve on the surface. But I promise you – they are not. I’ve had to dig for solutions. I’ve had to throw caution to the wind at times, while often struggling to keep silent at others. It feels wild because this has become a balancing act in the search to find balance.
And no, I haven’t succeeded yet. I probably never will, at least not in any consistent way. But over the past year and a half I have found a lot of ways to manage and a lot of ways to learn. Seeing as I’m a reader through and through, books have been some of the best resources. I’ve started developing a stack of memoirs (mostly by female authors) and travel guides, self-help books and advice from creatives. I call it my “avocation reading list” because it exists to help me employ my passions.
I plan on sharing more from the list in the coming year, but I wanted to start by talking about two books that really kickstarted this reading journey. One is a travel advice text and the other is one for creative living, but both tout the benefits of simple lives and creative outlooks. Neither tries to give the reader a one-fix-all kind of solution, instead offering many different examples and situations for the reader to relate to. I listened to both as audiobooks and both are narrated by the authors, so while I personally still prefer physical copies I can mark up, I can definitely recommend them as short and easy listens.
The first book is Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts. I think I had heard of this book years ago but not in any interesting way. Instead, I found it organically in my Audible “suggested listens” list. Vagabonding is about long-term world travel, not creative living, but the precursors to that travel involve a change of lifestyle and outlook that I consider fairly inherent to an everyday, creative life. The book is full of practical tips and hilarious anecdotes, as well as stories from travelers all over the world. However, I think the most important part is Potts’s continual insistence on openness to experience (which is part of psychology’s big five personality traits, so this is was a surprising example of creative/scientific crossover) and simplistic choices.
The other book wasn’t about travel, though the author has done plenty – instead, it was a book specifically on creative living. Big Magic is Elizabeth Gilbert’s foray into the self-help side of memoir, and I have to admit that it felt pretty successful to me. She speaks from the experience of decades immersed in creativity, but she’s always honest about the fears and issues that arise in the process. Her words are amazing (particularly in audio form) because she gives you permission to try and fail. She literally gives you permission. (I think it’s around chapter three.) Because I listened to this after Vagabonding, I felt like I was listening to an echo that had grown stronger and more self-relevant: it seemed like the universe was trying to tell me to embrace fear as a part of life, but to live on in spite of it.
Listening to these books, and being able to listen to them on consecutive drives from and to Orlando, felt like a tiny contained bit of depth in my life. It felt like an open door or a sudden bit of empty space in my otherwise cluttered life. In the few weeks since I experienced them, my life hasn’t changed dramatically, I haven’t picked up and left my work or done anything wildly creative – but I have felt more open. I have felt more possible, in a way, like being is a little bit easier when you notice the sky every morning or the rain at night.