Just Because

I am currently working on a project that has been stirring in my periphery for years. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do it, I’ve just kept coming back to it over and over for so long, and now feels like the right time to take it on.

It’s a project that will probably bring delight only to myself and a very small handful of other very specific nerds. It is taking up hours of time every week. I am not getting paid for it. It is something that other people have done versions of already, but none the way I want to do it. No one told me I have to do it. No one is waiting for the finished product.

So why am I doing it? Just because I really want to do it.

This isn’t my first time to the Just Because rodeo. When I was making my way through the Congestion Zone project, I was constantly asked, “Why?”

There were two camps of people who wanted to know.

Some dove in with questions: why do you find it interesting, what made you want to do it,  how are you going about it, where do you walk, how do you record it, what do you see, who do you talk to, what is it like??? Tell me all the things!!

Those were the people who, although they wouldn’t necessarily want to do the same thing themselves, enjoyed experiencing it through my eyes and wanted to feel like they were there doing it with me. They were the ones who got it. They were the ones who lit up as much as I did when we talked about the process of it all, the pleasure of doing it just because it sounded fun. They were my people.

The other side of the coin were the people who just couldn’t get their head around doing something Just Because. These people jumped straight to the end result. What happens when you’re done? What will you sell? What will you make? How will you validate this project when it’s done? How will you show that it was worth your time and energy? How can you monetize this?

These people were very confused and frustrated when I couldn’t give any other reason than, “Just because. I’ve really want to for a long time.”

Had I read Big Magic before this adventure, I would have had a nice little canned response for them. A real zinger that would make me feel good about myself, that would make me feel okay about there not being a “good” reason to give them. It would have been this:

If you can’t see what I am already getting out of this, then I’ll never be able to explain it to you.

How succinct! How lovely! How liberating!

That is not at all how I replied, however.

Sadly, I totally bought into their money-driven view. I completely capitulated and let them run wild with their ideas about what I should make or should build or should sell at the end (I have developed an allergy to the word should in my life now. Be wary of it, my friends!).

Their adamance about what I should be doing with my project, their very strong opinions that I was missing the plot, that I was going to have nothing to show for myself, made me question my approach. Maybe I did need to consider the end result. Maybe I should write a book, or make a map, or make an app. Which meant I should be taking more notes along the way. And doing things differently on my walks to gather all the information I would need.

I would love to say that I stood my ground and that I was able to see through these people straight away, but I would often leave these discussions feeling really stressed out. Depending on the strength of the person’s opinion, it would knock the whole project off kilter for days, sometimes weeks. I would work myself up into a frenzy of Things I Should Be Doing and as, a result, nothing got done.

Why? Because I would start to feel trapped by all the things I should be doing. I didn’t want the project to be about the end result. It was something I was doing just for my own pleasure. I would stop walking just to avoid this inner conflict and began to mourn the loss of this project that brought me so much joy. But, thank god, when I caught myself grieving, I snapped out of it and remembered that it was, in fact, MY project and they could all fuck off.

I would strap on my shoes and walk out the door to explore the streets of London. Just because.

What I want to say to you – you friends out there who are working on projects that you are doing just because you really want to – is not to be like me and buy into this crap about projects needing to have a “purpose.”

Find a big can of fuck off and throw it in the face of anyone who tells you your project isn’t valuable because they don’t understand why you are doing it.

The people who get it, the people who get excited about it with you, who cheer for you even though they don’t really understand it, they are your people. If you don’t think you have those people (though, I can almost guarantee you do) you are still doing for you, just because you want to. And that is enough.

What will it be?

There is something I feel compelled to make. It’s been simmering in my subconscious for almost a year now.

The catch?

I’m not really sure what it is or how to go about it.

I know this: it’s a story. I woke up one day and watched the whole thing unfold in front of my eyes. It was a weird experience. But I saw it. Fully formed. There in front of me. Made. Done. Dusted. Out in the world. And I somehow knew that I was the one who made that happen.

Here’s the thing though. That’s all I know. It could be a book. It could be a short film. It could be lots of things – all of which I have absolutely no idea how to make.

The second catch?

It has no words.

Everything I see about it is illustrated. It’s all in images, no dialogue. But I am NOT an illustrator. Okay, I spent a lot of time last year practicing illustration because of this idea. I took drawing classes. I sat every day and doodled. I practiced drawing my breakfast, the view from my window, anything I saw. Still, I don’t know that my skills are up to this task.

That means I have three choices: get my skills up to the task (that could take a really long time), do it anyway even though I don’t think I have the talent, or find a collaborator, someone who does know how to illustrate and who could capture the idea in the way I saw it.

All of these things are freaky for me.

I really have no idea the best way to go about any of those. I don’t know that I will ever have the illustration style I envision for this project. I don’t know if I would be happy with it if my attempt doesn’t capture what I see in my head. And I don’t know if I trust someone else to feel the essence of the story clearly enough to draw it out.

It’s a conundrum. But I do feel really drawn to this project (pun accidental, but I’ll leave it). So I guess I don’t have much of a choice. It’s either do it or don’t do it, and the doing it will happen as it happens. I’ll just have to see where it goes and how it unfolds.

Watch this space.