Fewer Substitutes

I taught someone the word “ersatz” this week. I only learned it last year, and it’s not in common usage.
 
It means “substitute,” and I needed it to explain to her how I wanted this year to be different from how last year went.
 
Last year was very busy. That has to shift.
 
I worked really hard at my job…my jobby job. I had a lot of responsibilities and I got up early and stayed up late and nailed them to the wall. It took a lot out of me.
 
And I’m proud that I did that, but in a sort of unsatisfying way.
 
My job takes a lot of thought and I have to be smart and creative to do what needs to be done. So it is creative output.
 
But it’s a very low-grade version. Like eating popcorn for dinner.
 
I’ve done that before. I admit. I can eat a huge amount of popcorn and it is technically food. But I’ve learned that if I do that, I will feel weird.
 
It’s not very good for me. It will do. And that’s probably why I feel like I need to eat a whole lot of popcorn to replace a real nutritional dinner. But a lot of not-enough still isn’t enough.
 
That’s where ersatz comes in. Ersatz means substitute. So, eating a huge bucket of buttery popcorn is ersatz dinner.
 
And working hours and hours and weeks and weeks using my creative energy on work things is like eating popcorn for dinner.
 
It’s ersatz creativity.
 
And boy howdy, I know how to lean into that bad-for-me bucket of popcorn, or the never-ending inbox at work. Neither of those will tell me to stop. Work is very happy for me to keep it up.
 
But I feel weird and unsatisfied.
 
I’ve learned my lesson about the popcorn, but it only just occurred to me that work is ersatz creativity. At least for me.
 
I’ve been longing to create something. And it was easy to stay in my rut and create these factory spec cogs and widgets for my employer.
 
Until I had to spend several weeks sick in bed and I had a chance to see what I was doing.
 
I had to clear some mind space to figure out how to get to what I really wanted. And rebuild some boundary walls.
 
I have to have a reason to say no.  
 
I would think I’d learned that. I have. And I have forgotten it.
 
My first book is about this very topic. The Parable of Miriam the Camel Driver expressed it beautifully. I need to re-read my own book.
 
This is my life. I loan my creativity out. And I want to keep some for myself, for the quality, nourishing self-expression I know I’ve capable of.
 
The easy way doesn’t satisfy. I don’t have to accept the substitute.