Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Animated Thoughts: Time off well spent

Well, vacation is over and it was very productive. 

After I found my original set of polyhedral dice earlier this year, I started rebuilding the vintage D&D collection that I had back in the early 1980's. Part of that was the solo module "Maze of the Riddling Minotaur". So I rebuilt two characters that I remembered from back then and finally completed that adventure... after thirty years. It was such an enjoyable experience that I framed the map for posterity's sake--and hung it on the wall of my gaming room. But, in order to not be the classic example of the shut-in gamer, I also made it a point to be a little social by doing some miniature wargaming with friends.

Later on that week, I took some reference photos of the emu and the kangaroos at the local zoo for later sketching. Then visited the Detroit Institute of Arts and explored the history of a couple artists while looking at their paintings (Otto Mueller and Joan MirĂ³)--as well as learned something new about puppetry that I have integrated into one of the assignments for my History of Animation class.

"Bathers" ~1920, Otto Mueller

In order to keep my time off 'animated', I caught up on some animated shows, short films, and a feature. Wrote a treatment for a short film and dusted off an animation that I'd like to complete over the next year.  And I made the obligatory "OIAF 2022" cupcakes. I couldn't be in Ottawa in person, but I was there in spirit.

Being in the area was a good thing though. My housemate is currently helping with end-of-life care for one of his friends and he needed a little time off. So after being gifted a pair of tickets to the Renaissance Festival from a friend, we got to walk around and relax at the Festival. We then ended the week walking around Meijer Gardens, enjoying one of the few remaining warm and sunny days of the season (and taking lots of reference photos of flowers, fish and landscapes).

Now even though I was "technically" on vacation, I still taught my History of Animation class at Central, and I made it a point to let the kids know that I was on vacation and what I was doing with my time. I ended up putting it all into a handout--some of which reads as follows:

So, this leads into the question: during class, why did I make it such a point to mention my plans about taking some time off?

It's because "burnout" is a real thing.

Most, if not all of you are preparing to enter a very competitive field where you will make your living off of your ability to be creative. If you're not careful, instead of working on your given assignment, you'll find yourself staring at a blank canvas (or computer screen), unable to form a coherent thought. And both the inspiration and the steady stream of ideas you once relied upon are nowhere to be found.

In order to combat this, I encourage you to develop an outlet where you can recharge your internal batteries. And it doesn't have to be related to your field of study--as you can see, mine just happen to be mostly art/animation-related.

And it doesn't have to be an expensive activity. Two of my close friends from Grad School like to "get away from it all" by doing the Walt Whitman thing: spending time outdoors and in nature whenever possible.

Steve was distance runner in High School, so he'd go jogging around campus on a regular basis after classes. Then once a week, he'd have a pint of Guinness at the pub and just hang out there and talk to people. To this day, Steve still walks to work through the countryside in Norway.

Glenn, he likes hiking the Adirondack Mountains over in upstate New York and posting nature photos on Facebook.

When I was in graduate school, my activity was sketching animals. To keep it affordable, I bought a yearly pass to the Seneca Park Zoo. Then, almost every Saturday, I'd spend a couple hours walking around with my sketchpad and drawing the animals. Now that I've graduated, I like to do art and animation-related events--whether it's spending a weekend learning an old animation technique or watching an animated feature here in town or driving down to Detroit and spending an afternoon looking at art. 

It's these breaks that will help you decompress from the stresses of work and feed your soul. Often, when I feel like I've got brain fog, I find a couple hours at looking at art and letting my mind wander is all it takes to get the ideas flowing again. These periodic breaks give you something to look forward to when it's been a tough week at work and it's a good way to reward yourself for when you've stuck it out and finished your tasks for the day, the week, or the month. 

And again, they don't have to cost a lot of money. It costs Glenn and Steve nothing to walk (or jog) through nature. When Fathom Events brings first-run anime features to Lansing, tickets are around ten dollars. An afternoon at the DIA costs $14 for admission to the museum and $7 for parking. And only ten dollars when I want to take my sketch pad and go drawing at the local zoo--even less if I buy a yearly pass to the DIA or the Zoo. 

Maybe you played a musical instrument in High School. Or you like to play a sport. Maybe journaling is your thing. Or you'd like to try urban sketching. It could be an activity you enjoyed when you were younger or something new that has always interested you.

I encourage you all to explore your interests outside of your field of study (or your career) and find an activity that you enjoy, something that you can make your own and which will help you get away from the stresses of your job. Finding out what works for you, what activities help you recharge and recover, is one of the keys to longevity in your future career as a creative.

A week later, one of my students came up to me before class and thanked me for that particular handout. Turns out that as she was entering the last year of her degree, she was experiencing significant burnout and my advice spoke to her right where she was at.

I won't say anything trite like "it was a teachable moment" or anything like that. I was just happy that I was reaching a student where they were at and that my advice helped them solve a very real problem.

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