Untidy Towns



[cut into interview, Joan is speaking directly to camera, a little nervous, her eyes looking just past the lens; she’s smiling too much]

The book I most identified with as a child was about a girl who created passageways and hidden mazes inside the walls of her home. She spent so much time there that her family eventually forgot she existed. That’s the tone I’d want to use to write young adult books about invisible, shy, nerdy kids who didn’t fit in with everyone else. They don’t somehow end up saving the world and none of them are “chosen ones” destined for greatness. In fact, they’re perfectly fine without all of you and your mess, thanks very much–they’ll just go hide out in the walls for a few years. [she sighs] Terribly anticlimactic. I certainly wouldn’t win any awards, but that would be no different from the rest of my efforts throughout life.

[a woman asks: What do you mean?]

Well, most of what I’ve created has gone unnoticed, so it wouldn’t really surprise me. Aside from the fact that nothing I make appeals to anyone I’ve ever met, it’s also just generally [hard emphasis] crap. I have no technical training and all my supplies were clearance items from Michael’s. It’s not like I’m able to put a lot of money or energy into this. I mean, I’ve got a full time job and a life to live. [she pauses]

Still, I have felt those little creative whispers and every once in awhile I get a nudge to clear out my schedule and paint. And–oh! Let me tell you! It’s invigorating. I feel great when I’m painting! Sometimes I can convince Melanie, she’s my best friend, or Jack, my boyfriend, to do one of those paint and wine sessions downtown and I feel so refreshed when it’s over. They think it’s kind of silly, but it’s nice that they go for me anyway, even if we are all painting the same picture.

[interviewer: What do you like to paint? Who is your favorite artist?]

Since I’m not a real artist, I don’t focus on one type of art or anything. I sit to something whenever I feel inspired to create whatever that specific idea is. For example, Jack and I went camping last weekend and I was going through the photographs yesterday. One of the shots caught my eye and I felt like I just had to put it down in paint. It’s not like this is something I do every day, and like I said, I don’t know any professional techniques. I don’t have any fancy artist skills. It’s just a hobby–and it’s the same for writing. I suppose I could be a pretty okay writer if I set my mind to it, but I don’t have the time. Plus, I love my job and I’m really happy with what I have going on in life. I don’t want publishing a book to interrupt the life I have now!

[interviewer: Do you have a favorite artist?]

Um, I like a lot of different kinds of art, I suppose. I don’t think I could name one specific artist that I love. I don’t know a lot about the history of art or modern art or anything. Like I said, I’m not a professional.

[interviewer: You said that others in your life didn’t like your art. Do you?]

Like my paintings? [she pauses] I guess I do, in a way. I don’t like to keep them around or look at them most of the time, but they aren’t horrible or ugly. Once every few years I will paint something that I can’t believe came from my hands. I actually have one of those paintings hanging up in my apartment. [she looks down, thinking, and the interviewer stays quiet so Joan has time to reflect; when she speaks again, she starts slowly]

I don’t know if people dislike my paintings, really. In the past when I showed them, it was kind of a smile-and-nod reaction. Sort of like, oh little Joan has made something again [she shrugs]. I don’t share that part of my life with many people. Melanie, my best friend, says I should take classes but I don’t know. It’s just a hobby. They aren’t that great and I’d be embarrassed to paint in front of people who knew what they were doing.

[immediate cut to hands holding a clapperboard on screen, muffled conversation in the background, someone says: Take 2]

[cut into Michelle, sitting casually with the interviewer]

My ideal reader doesn’t know what it means to be creative in that she doesn’t know the difference between being creative and being a professional artist. She doesn’t know that you can write for yourself or that you can learn “fancy artist skills” from YouTube, and improve upon your painting simply for the joy and benefit of learning a new technique in this medium that has captured you. She may not even know that you don’t have to be trained or educated to be a creative person. It’s likely that the whole thing intimidates her.

I also appeal strongly to those who use creativity as a form of self-care, but I don’t think that’s my prime audience. I used to think that, but I’ve been finding that while people who use creativity as self-care do find my ideas useful, it’s in addition to the advice they get that’s targeted to them. My readers are a more general audience stuck in that stage between knowing they like to be creative, and finding a way to make creativity a part of their lives.

There are different people at this stage–Some of them just want to do fun weekend projects every so often to keep their creative spirits active. Some of them desire challenges that keep them busy for weeks or months but bring new perspectives to their daily lives. Others are facing more intimate, introspective issues, like how they can balance their energy levels in order to make room for creativity, or the psychological role creativity might play in their lives.

At the end of the day, all of them are struggling to figure out how to make it work in their busy schedules. And, since they’re probably introverts, they’re afraid of piling on a new source of energy stress that they’re not sure they can control.


I think in a lot of ways my audience is me, growing up and a few years ago, but she’s also my friends and anyone I talk to who doesn’t think they’re creative. It makes me sad to hear those words, especially from people who are physically holding something they’ve made. ‘Yeah, I make mail art, but I’m not creative.’ I mean, even now, I’m still trying to find the best position for creativity in my life. I’m in a good place to relate to people who don’t know how to balance or who aren’t sure what to prioritize.

[interviewer: Aside from helping them integrate creativity into their routines, how do you hope to help your readers change their lives?]

I think my real goal is to help them understand themselves. So I’m providing them tips and ideas for bringing creativity into their daily lives based on what worked for me over the years, but between the lines I’m offering advice on how to pay attention to their energy levels and understand what’s too much or too little–how to tell if they need more or less, and how to tell what they need more or less of. My hope is less that I am directly changing anyone or influencing anyone into any particular direction, and more that I’m inspiring them to look into themselves and learn what works best for them. Then they, in turn, can go out and change the world in their various ways.

[cut to interview with next creative individual]