You know that feeling of standing in the kitchen after a long day of achieving not very much, trying to avoid looking at the washing up piled forlornly by the sink, vaguely ignoring the nextdoor grunting of sofa gymnastics to the soundtrack of a slightly familiar theme tune, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you hear the line from a made-for-Netflix programme that puts a whole new slant on your thinking? For me, tonight, the programme was Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood. I had been mulling over creativity, why I love it, and why I give it so little time, when suddenly and repetitively came an inanely animated voice singing “making something is one way to say I Love You.”
Of course it is! My father was a past master at this one. Once he put together a whole new wall for my bedroom to avoid saying he missed me when I was away for a week. He passed the skill on to me: most noticeably around birthdays, because if you don’t make someone the perfect birthday cake (thank you Pinterest), how will they know you love them? My crafting projects around the house suddenly blur into focus as acts of love towards the family I want to enjoy them; so much easier than thinking about needing to keep up appearances or avoid judgement from passersby. Though let’s face it, saying I love you isn’t the only reason to be creative…
Then there’s making things for Christmas – food, beds, decorations, to do lists, an unholy mess, and everything else needed for good old-fashioned relaxing fun. Let me make one thing clear: this is absolutely not me saying it’s time to think about Christmas. Not until Advent; don’t even get me started. Why would the council put up Christmas decorations on Remembrance Day? How can people be sorted except for “a few last minute things” by the end of October? And the people who manage to have jobs, small children, and send out Christmas cards all at the same time… No, this is about me thinking about why it is so important to me to make things myself when my eyelids are trying to close themselves over burning balls of fire at four o’clock in the afternoon, and why I keep cards, and ribbons, and paper from one year to the next, to the next, to the next, in the hope that maybe this year will be the year they get transformed into gift tags, origami stars, or anything from my recently borrowed copy of Paper Christmas. (Borrowed from the Library at the same time as Stuff That Sucks. Is my subconscious overdoing it, do we think?)
Why do I put us all through this every year? Because how else can I say I love you to my man, who works into the night so often through December (Midnight Mass is an early finish in comparison), holding and supporting and grounding everyone else’s festive spirits and crashing out on the sofa by 6pm on Christmas Day (and if we ate lunch at lunchtime that day he’d never make it that late). How else could I say it to my children, who struggle through a season of snuffles and broken routine and hype and impossible dreams, and all they have between them and devastation is whatever we manage to spin from our imagination and overnight Amazon deliveries? How could I say it to my extended family, who have fussed and fretted their way through Advent, watching the weather forecast and praying it won’t snow yet, that the roads will be clear, that there will be room in the car and the house and their brains for everything that needs to be remembered?
Saying I love you is important. It is important to children who need security; to spouses who need appreciation; to friends who never get as much time as they deserve; to people we have known forever and people we’ve only just met. It’s also important to ourselves. Writing; baking; crafting; planting flowers: they are all ways for me to say to myself that I am worth the time I am spending on me, OK being proud of the results of my labours, that enjoyment for its own sake is allowed to be an act of love. Creativity in a world of numbers and statistics and targets has been weighed, and measured, and found wanting. It will not solve the climate catastrophe. It will not save humanity from itself. Being silly and spontaneous and simple does not often make it onto the news, or even our highly edited Newsfeeds. But for me, at least, it brings peace. Balance. Acceptance. And making things is one way to say I Love Me.