Screw Smelling the Roses, but Remembering to Stop Anyway

I forget to stop. I’m not really sure why I’m wired that way. Maybe it was the way I was brought up. Maybe I’m trying to prove something to myself. My friends tease me about how many hours I work in any given day. It’s true. They’re right. I do work too much.

I do usually stop at some point, usually about six months too late and I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. There always seems to be a project I want to be a part of or a client deadline I’m trying to meet. Like a kid counting down to Christmas, I find myself saying to myself, when I get past all of this, I’m going to take a break for a while. And then the calendar silently fills up again without me realizing it and Christmas never comes.

I find the only way to really let go is to schedule a break long in advance. Something that takes me away from the every day. Traveling somewhere that will force me to extract myself from my current state of affairs, usually out of the country. Traveling domestically is usually not enough. It’s too easy for me to stay engaged even from a distance of several states away.

Sometimes I schedule breaks and end up canceling them. And I always regret it.

I’ve got one of those breaks coming up and I’m spending the few weeks before, tying up loose ends. I think it will help me leave behind the noise if I feel things are more or less finished. And I’m saying no to a few projects that are trying to sneak in before I depart. The few projects that will inevitably end up as loose ends I don’t want to be thinking about on my break.

It’s been two and a half years since I got on a plane and headed off somewhere that wasn’t work or something for a client project. That’s far too long.

Don’t get me wrong, as I mentioned in my last post, I love what I do. I have made the choice to put in the hours that I do. I really can stop at any time if I really want to. But somehow I don’t.

MCA Chicago

However, without a break every once in a while to recharge my creative batteries, I know the work that I feel is so important in my life is not going to be as good as it could be. If I’m not careful to be inspired by what is around me because I have deadline blinders on, I’m going to find myself in a creation assembly line. Quick get it out. Next. Quick get it out. Next.

I have artist friends that suffer from the same dilemma and we have found that even in the midst of all of the deadlines, we can manage to sneak away for an hour or two once in a while and get a mini respite. We call it Inspiration Days. I think I’ve been noticing that my little creative fuel gauge is getting dangerously close to E and I’ve been scheduling more than usual the past few months.

One of my great Art Director friends Mark and I spent a long lunch at the Chicago’s MCA a few weeks ago. We really had no idea what the exhibits were, but we usually just go and explore and see what is there. There is always something to be inspired about. Just the quietness of walking through a gallery calms me. The randomness of what we might happen to see is a great way to gain a fresh creative perspective. Even if I don’t find anything that really moves me, the simple act of discovering how the work makes me feel does wonders.

Human Rights Watch Gallery

Another night, a model friend of mine, Marguerite, invited me to a gallery opening called “On the Frontlines,” featuring the work of photographers who have been shooting for Human Rights Watch in Chad, Darfur, Singapore, Congo, China. My plate was very full that day and I knew if I went, it would push my bedtime back even later than it was already going to be, but I went anyway. And I’m glad I did.

It reminded me of the proper priorities in my life and how my own scheduling noise can make me lose sight of real struggles going on in the world. It made me stop for a moment and take a breath. And that was important. It’s still up for another few weeks if you’re interested in checking it out.

So I’m looking forward to my upcoming break. I’ll take my cameras, of course and I’ll most certainly shoot, but it will be for me, when and where I feel like shooting. And when I feel like relaxing and reading a book, I will.

I will stop and think and get the clarity of vision I always get when I am out of my element.

And it will be good.

And I’ll promise myself not to let another two and a half years go by before the next time I schedule a personal break.

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2 thoughts

  1. I just read this today, Billy, and after seeing how hard you worked on your “break” I’m chuckling quietly to myself….

    I hope you had time to read a book on the 1st November, at least 😉

  2. Mel! Yeah, I’m kinda silly that way about my “breaks.” I’m still a bit exhausted, but in a good kind of way.

    For my next “break” I will much more closely follow your lead!

    Haha, and of course on November 1st, I had promised Rex I would photograph Casa Dracula for his New York Times piece. But at least I slept in a bit that day! 🙂

    Miss you and boy, have I been enjoying your work online! Stunning, my friend!

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