(From August 14, 2015)
Yesterday was my first time.
I was little nervous, but mostly I was excited.
Two days prior I went on a bit of a spending spree. There were special things I needed to purchase at a sort of store I’d never been to. When I entered, a woman behind a laptop asked if I needed any help. I said “no” as one does when she doesn’t want to admit that she is not sure of what she is doing, and went about picking things up, putting them down, skimming book titles and labels before pulling out the small slip of paper on which I’d written a few key words.
The woman behind the laptop approached me from the side, an easy smile on her freshly-washed sun-flecked face. I confessed I was searching for something I’d never seen. She pulled a bottle from a bottom shelf and placed it in my hands.
“What else is on that list?” she asked.
Each of the items was placed in a simple paper sack. The woman rang up my order and I handed her my debit card.
“Is there any problem if I need to return them?” I questioned. “In case I change my mind?”
No returns, so explained, but they did offer store credit. It made my choice seem more official, something I couldn’t back out of.
There were preparations to make in my apartment—washing and sanitizing and preparing the space. I wanted everything to be perfect, wanted to make sure I did it just right.
I had guidance, of course. Someone with more knowledge and far more experience talking me through each step of the process. Still, I was a uneasy. Not scared, never scared, but uncertain. Nervous that I’d make a wrong move. Falter at a crucial moment and ruin the whole thing.
I started out slowly. Cautiously. Knowing that once I got going there was no turning back, no undoing what had been done.
I was quickly engrossed in the process. The steamy, sticky, messiness of it. Tubes and funnels and valves and brushes. Plastic, metal, nylon, glass. Oozing ripe fruit burst between my fingers. Sugar and honey melt to syrup on the stove. Cups of water, packets of yeast, all funneled into a five-gallon carboy that took all of my strength to heft from counter to floor.
When it was all over, I looked at my kitchen, sprayed in sticky fruit, my sink filled with pots and bowls and spoons. On the floor in the corner was the result of my efforts, its double-bubble airlock gurgling every few minutes, reminding me that there was now another life in my apartment. Through some great gestalt of science I had something more then than I did when I started.
It wouldn’t be ready for weeks, would require even more of my attention before it was, and chances were that the final result will be no better than (and in fact probably inferior to) what I might purchase for $6 at a store. Still, this was mine. I made it.
There is something wonderful, beautiful, about the physical act of creating, especially when the method of creating or form of the creation is new and unfamiliar. We were made to create, to approach puzzles and problems and thoughts and physical matter with the curious question, “What would happen if…?”
It is the way that we approach the world from a very young age. What would happen if I smashed this play dough between the pages of a book? Stuck this carrot up my nose? Flushed this watch down the toilet? Tried to fly by jumping from the top of the bunk beds? What would happen if I mixed colors, flavors, fabrics, sounds? If I hit this pot with a hammer or glued sequins to my toothbrush? That big box with all of the wires and dials and nobs—what would happen if I took it apart? Could I put it back together? Make something else completely different?
Children are ridiculously innovative. They make amazing things. They think complex thoughts (and not-so-complex thoughts). Why is it that so many of us stop doing this as we get older? We might continue to create in the ways that are comfortable, in the ways that we’ve been told to because we’ve shown some sort of aptitude, but at some point many of us stop seeking new ways of creating.
I turn to writing as a form of expression because I’ve always been a writer. I’ve been praised and encouraged and schooled in writing. I also write because I’m a little scared of the alternatives—painting, acting, coding, carpentry. I’ve never learned how to do these things. I already know people who do them far better. There is an investment involved—of time and resources and materials and tools. And then there is the investment of emotion, of embarking on my journey with the hope that I will succeed and the fear that I will falter, the fear that I will fail.
If I’m honest, I probably will. While fermenting my first batch of anything ever (it happened to be cider made from the plums in my backyard) I miscalculated the measurement of cups and pints and ended up adding far more water than was advisable. As a result, my cider is pretty wimpy and kind of bland. It doesn’t taste like much of anything and isn’t nearly as good as the plum juice on its own, but I’m still ridiculously proud of it, or at least of the fact that I made it. The process of making cider was physical and real, something I miss as a writer who types rather than pens, whose content is e-mailed and posted and lost somewhere in cyberspace.
I was reminded while I was making of a time when creating was more important to me. When I knit and embroidered and made cards and braided bracelets, set tablescapes, sang songs and offered my creations to others. Not because they were valuable, but simply because they were and I was proud of that fact, proud of what I had made. I’m remembering it’s okay to try and okay to fail. It’s okay to adventure bravely.
More than I fear failing, I fear reaching a point where I stop learning, stop exploring, stop trying. I’m remembering the importance of curiosity. Of approaching the world with one question: “What would happen if…?”