Maker Ennui

Photo of tools for sewing gift bags

To make things from raw materials has long brought joy to humans. It is creativity and capability. It is craft and cleverness.

But sometimes we find ourselves at loose ends. We finish a big project and… just… peter out. We get bored or frustrated with what we’re working on and turn away from it. And the ennui sets in. Nothing captures the attention. Projects waiting on the “to make” list suddenly aren’t so appealing. Excuses set in. You get started, but the project has no heart.

Photo of knitting being ripped out.
I like to rip out languishing projects when I don’t know what else to work on.

Maker ennui goes with the territory. It isn’t a failing. We make, we unmake, we reflect — this isn’t a rigid cycle, but instead different stages that we can be in at any time. Probably simultaneously too. Sometimes the reflection stage can feel transcendent, as one explores a new theme in freewriting or takes photos of a beautiful landscape stumbled upon and unplanned for. But sometimes our creative self needs to retreat and rest. I believe, in our busy modern lives, that feels like ennui. The brain doesn’t know how else to make us stop except to pull the plug. The instinct and habit to create is there, but the conduit that gives it meaning is temporarily shut down.

When you have maker ennui, this is a good time to:

  • take a nap — sleep is healing.
  • read a book — something light and fun, unless you’d really rather that academic discourse on Georgian townhouse architecture. Who am I to judge?
  • learn something new — if you’re a knitter, try woodworking; if you’re a writer, try canning jam. Beginner mind is a beautiful thing.
  • deep clean your house or studio or office — this either fills you with dread or excitement; run with it.
  • spend time with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time — reconnect, stir up old ideas, make new ones.
  • get your hands dirty in the garden — whether it’s pulling weeds or planting flowers, soil is good for you. Don’t have a garden? Go help someone else with their yard.
  • move your furniture around or make a decor change. Hate your bedroom curtains? Now’s the time to freshen up!
  • cook and bake — stock up your freezer with homemade soup and bread. It’s great insurance against those days when you’re too wrapped up in your making to stop to cook.

Some people are cyclical in their making, gardening in the summer and quilting in the winter. Maybe that’s you. Maybe it’s not ennui, but it just time to shift gears and sew a summer wardrobe.

Maker ennui can last hours, days, or even months. Go with the flow, try to determine what your body is telling you it needs, rather than feel frustrated. Your creativity and drive to make will return and you will have the energy to run with it if you let yourself rest.

How do you like to recharge?

Winter Break for Adults

Photo of a handknit cowl, in progress

You know how you have a break coming up and you get all excited because you’re going to have ALL THIS TIME?  If you’re a maker, like me, maybe you plan out a project or thirteen.  Go buy supplies.  Talk about it with friends.  Print out patterns and choose your project bags. Sharpen your pencils.

While you’re talking with your friends, you also make plans to have brunch and play a board game.  Or go see a movie.  Or go for a winter hike because it’s unseasonably warm.  And there are the day trips to see the extended family in various configurations.  And you have to clean your house before your family comes over for dinner that one night.  And then your family comes over and you drink too much and put music on the that party can with the light show and wake up sated with familial love and your house is trashed again.

Photo of handknit socks and cowl in progress

Suddenly Winter Break is almost over.  You’ve only knit four rows on one project and cast on another.  You pulled out all the scrapbooking supplies, but never got started.  You think longingly of your sewing machine and the leggings you were going to sew yourself. That plan to try crewel is going to have to wait.

You wonder if anyone else notices that you’re almost out of milk (which you don’t drink, but the other three humans do, and the dog if she can get away with it). The pile of dirty laundry is epic and suspiciously contains things you know a certain smaller person didn’t wear recently. And why are there hair ties, paper clips, candy wrappers, and pieces of the wreath on the floor, mixing with the dog hair?  Don’t the other humans know the magical vacuuming robot will DIE if it hoovers up those things?  And if it dies, then you might too? And then who will buy the milk and wash the underwear??

That’s when it happens.  You realize for the umpteenth time that “break” is not a vacation.  It is a break from routine.  And while maybe you need a day off here and there, a full two weeks of no routine is a special kind of hell for the person who works from home.

You love your children, but you can’t wait for them to go back to school.  (Not to mention your loving spouse, who is so much fun to have lunch with when it’s not leftovers in the kitchen full of things that need to be fixed and cleaned.) No one is excited about going back to the morning routine, especially in the depths of winter, but it is the gamut we work-from-home types must run to have our space to ourselves.

One day, about two weeks from now, you’ll kiss the wind-roughened cheeks of your children goodbye and watch them rustle off to school. You walk inside your home (your office, your sacred place), your mind on fire with projects.  Break is over and you have your space and your time back.  What will you make first?