Interview: The Bright Blooms
They say that if you want something done you should find the busiest person you can and ask them to do it. So when I wanted to talk to somebody about fitting creativity into a busy life I thought that there could be nobody better to ask the question to than Atia at The Bright Blooms.
Atia works as a GP in a busy London practice, she has primary school age children, she has an active social life, a frequently updated blog, a house that she is busy decorating, and she creates beautiful knitted and sewn clothes for herself and her daughter, documenting them as works in progress on Instagram.
We met for dinner and a chat and somehow, instead of the productivity hacks that I had expected, we diverted into the much more fascinating topic of truth and reality. We spoke about human perception, and how we see things from the outside, how we make assumptions and how our use of social media affects this. It turned out to be a conversation about how our brains fill in the gaps. For Atia’s view is that she doesn’t do more of any of these things than anyone else; she just
shares them on Instagram a few times a week and then people assume that the rest of her life behind the scenes follows the same pattern. They fill in the gaps.
And in the filling in, they forget the time given over to chores and boring things, to the banal and unphotogenic, to sleep. Her friends think she must never be at home because she is “always” at a cafe or a bookshop or a flower show, simply because they are drawn to photos of her looking happy, out and about.
People like me think that she must be “always” making things as we remember the works in progress, the sumptuous colours, the gorgeous finished shots. And this is absolutely true – if I had guessed at her knitting rate I would have had her making something every single month. Yet that is far from the reality. In 2019 Atia made 4 jumpers. That is a good number of jumpers, an impressive collection, but it is a third of my estimate. I double checked her Instagram feed and, yes, there are 4 jumpers. The jumper she wore the night we met, a slightly fluffy pale lilac lace stitch, appears in her Instagram posts several times; as yarn bought at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, as a started project, as the background to some flowers, as a work in progress, as an ‘I must finish this by my holiday’ post and as a finished garment proudly worn. The photos cover March-September, but in my brain they didn’t register as the same jumper or, if they did, I condensed the timeline to a few weeks.
It made me realise that most of the distorting nature of social media – and particularly Instagram - is in the head of the viewer not the content of the person posting. You might wonder why this is important - you might question whether it is in fact important – but I feel that in a world where so many of us spend time absorbing other people’s lives through social media it is really important to know the bias of our brains - the way we fill in, assume, make everything brighter, faster, more. Because “Brighter, Faster, More” is not sustainable in our society.
A lot of our conversation was about the throwaway and about how, even when you are making things yourself, there is a balance that needs to be made that is sustainable. This is how the topic of the four jumpers came up - “Who needs more than four jumpers a year?”. Like many people, myself included, Atia was busy trying to rationalise her store of fabrics and yarns before buying any more, to curb that instinct of buying for buying’s sake, to resist constantly storing up against imagined scarcity.
If our brains encourage us falsely to see everyone else as more productive, more talented, more ‘well jumpered’ than us, it creates an aspiration, a striving which fools us into buying into the idea of ‘more’ being better. If, on the other hand, we can recognise the warping, deliberately slow down, appreciate the truth we can see things in real time and connect instead.
We did, in the end, speak about creativity and the importance of making time for it. Atia told me how she had learned to knit from YouTube videos in the run up to her medical school finals. To me that speaks of an instinctive grasping of the way ‘hand work’ can act as a vital balance to the ‘head work’ of exams, perhaps something that has allowed her to continue to make it a priority over the years when work and family commitments have increased.
She spoke about the need to just begin things – even if there was never as much time as you would ideally need. She cuts out sewing patterns while her children do their homework – but accepts that the actual sewing will be most likely be done another day, probably when they are asleep in bed.
Tips for fitting creativity into a busy life
- Break up your project into lots of small steps and fit them into pockets of time in your life.
Properly schedule it into your life; it may feel odd putting 'cut out dress pattern' into your diary, but things that get scheduled get done.
Make sure you have all your supplies to hand – it is so easy to waste all your creative time looking for scissors or a pencil.
Pack up projects into easily carried bags – have one in your bag so that you can spend waiting time being creative rather than just scrolling on your phone.
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