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Secret 1: Acknowledging Your Creative Self
Today, our wonderful leader over at The Next Chapter, Jamie, suggested we write about where we are on our respective creative journeys, to tell our stories of acknowledging our creativity.
If you had asked me before I read the first chapter of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women by Gail McMeekin where I was in my creative life, I’d have given you told you I was, by and large, stalled. If asked to elaborate, I would have said that if my creative life was a sky, it would be considered by the TV weatherman to be “mostly cloudy.” Every now and then a flicker of inspiration would come through the clouds, but, mostly, just grey and static.
I had been a bit stalled since my last semester of my undergraduate university degree in 2006, which culminating in being awarded my B.A. in English Lit, and ended with the beginnings of what I felt was an ever-worsening creative drought. That, I felt, was the last time I’d written any fiction or poetry that was worthwhile, or any writing, really, that fit the title of “creative.” And, writing, after all was my best area, was my creative niche, wasn’t it?
But, then, I read the first paragraph of the first chapter:
Yes, you are a creative woman. Creativity is not just for ‘talented geniuses.’ Creativity is a tool we can all access and utilize. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never picked up a pen or can’t draw a straight line or flunked out of music class, you have a creative self waiting to be awakened or amplified. Webster’s definition for the word create is ‘to cause to come into existence; bring into being; make; originate.’ Creative women are innovators — they manifest the new.” — Gail McMeekin, The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women, p. 4
I had determined that this, 2009, would be the year I got my groove back in the creativity department. I couldn’t allow another year to go by without being seriously creative. That’s why I joined The Next Chapter when it was a concept beginning to accept participants, thinking working through this book with other women would help me get my spark back.
What I didn’t realize until recently, long after I’d signed on for this, is that my spark had never truly left. This feeling of living my life in a creative wasteland had very little to do with my creative spark having died or gone into hiding. It had much more to do with my creativity having changed forms, from fiction and poetry, which, given, have been quite dormant in recent years, to a more holistic form of creativity.
When I was a child, I was wildly creative. I dabbled in everything arts: singing, painting, coloring, drawing, various crafts, poetry, writing short stories, writing plays, making up songs, collage, dancing, making up games, sculpture. You name it, I did it. Not only did I do it, but I did it for nothing but the pure joy of it most of the time. I never doubted whether it was “good” or “publishable” or my “life’s work”. I didn’t care.
I lived most of my life with an attitude of “art for art’s sake, all the time!”.
A couple of my most memorable projects were two plays that I not only wrote, but acted in, costumed, directed, cast, and, with the permission and assistance of my teachers, produced for our class and a few neighboring classes. I did one in third grade and one in fourth grade. In third grade, a retelling and blend of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, in fourth grade I did an original play about a family’s Christmas. I didn’t know I couldn’t. I didn’t know children didn’t typically form their own entire production, though, admittedly, neither was Tony Award caliber. Just being the master mind of all those things at 8 and 9 years old is, in hindsight, is stunning! Reading the first chapter over again, and reading others’ posts yesterday, woke up the memory of these forgotten projects. At that age, I wasn’t trying too hard for them. I simply got the ideas, wrote out the respective plays, and ran with them, as did my classmates as it was a fun diversion from usual class.
Other memories of the Creative Self Who Once Was have surfaced…
I once built an entire two-story dollhouse, with an attic, furniture, and dolls, out of nothing more than copy paper, markers, scissors, and a lot of glue! That was during fourth grade, and I actually think my teacher ended up keeping it because she had no idea how it stayed up, and, honestly, now, neither do I.
Just for fun, in high school, I entered two art pieces in the school art show, even though I didn’t have any studio art classes the entirety of my four years there. I won first place in both categories: one, mixed media drawing (pen, ink, and color pencil), and the other, charcoal.
I wrote innumerable stories and poems from second grade through my first year of university. For the most part, along the way, my teachers ate them up.
Then, somewhere along the line, it became less about the joy and more about what I created being “good” and “original” and “publishable.” I started to analyze everything, and threw out what I felt was trite or otherwise irredeemable. At least, these things applied where my writing was concerned, and I felt my writing was my creative strength. The rest, if it wasn’t good enough, I could pass off as hobbies, being a dabbling amateur.
I looked at my friends’ artwork, the ones who were formally trained and majoring in studio art, and felt inadequate in the face of what I saw as their brilliance.
I was a part of one of the university’s choral ensembles, but I didn’t try for solos. I didn’t try for the groups that were more competitive for members. My voice wasn’t great, and I couldn’t write down music.
But here I was at university, majoring in English Lit and taking a couple of writing courses: one general workshop and the other a course in writing fiction. While I did well, it left me doubting my creative ability.
All of a sudden, my grade was on the line here. My instructors in these classes informed us, the students, that “art for art’s sake” was not good enough, that writing was a craft one should hone. I don’t think they meant to kill our creativity, or our joy in the process. I think they meant to instill due dilligence and regularity in our writing practice, as practice makes perfect, and a lot of us would otherwise have sat around bemoaning the absence of our muses when we felt like going out over the weekend instead of writing. We were asked to do our best to find stories that hadn’t been told before, and make every event in the stories crystalline for the reader. Poetry was deemed best grounded in concrete imagery, while still in a style all your own.
One of my greatest personality faults is over-thinking things. I do that far too often.
In my literature classes, many times we spent class–and definitely papers–picking works of literature apart, teasing out themes and symbols that the authors may or may not have intended to put in there. Everything ended up being swept along together: the beauty of the prose or poetry, yes, but also the nit-picking and breaking it all into parts.
For someone who over-thinks, when this level of analysis is directed at the creative field you think you’re best at, it becomes something like the proverbial Kiss of Death. You see all the faults in your writing, so much so that it becomes torturous. You end up abandoning projects because they’re silly, boring, or they’ve “been done.”
And before that, I ended up narrowing my focus to writing. I was told it is best to have a single creative focus. So I let the visual arts and music go by the wayside. I still danced alone in my room like a wild woman, but I didn’t feel that counted.
So, I became unproductive in writing stories and poems. I have yet to write the novel I always said I’d write. In setting this as a goal, it didn’t even have to be a novel about any specific thing, just to write one at some point.
However, while my writing was dormant, and I wasn’t really watching, other areas of creativity began to bloom.
For Christmas 2006, my parents bought me my first digital camera. I started snapping pictures everywhere, and have captured quite a few beautiful shots of nature, or where nature and society meet. Some of my recent photos can be found on this blog, including the header image.
I began painting again, now and then, in watercolor and tempera.
I sing, even if no one’s around. Especially when no one’s around, and sometimes my own songs. I don’t write them down. They belong to the moment, and that’s just fine with me.
I’ve kept a blog somewhere on the internet since I was eighteen, and starting this one was actually a small step at trying to reclaim my creativity before this year started.
After reading the first chapter, and taking a closer look at my life, I realized that so many things we do without thinking are creative in nature.
Putting together what I’m going to wear to work on any given day is a creative process. I’m easily bored with my work wardrobe, so I’m always looking for new nail polish colors, new make-up colors, and different ways to mix my jewelry, shoes, scarves and other accessories together. In fact, magazines, clothing stores, and advertising agencies hire people to do that!
Reorganizing my room, which I do periodically, is a creative act. I try to make it both more functional and more visually pleasing.
Making my best friend white chocolate peppermint bark, which turned into fudge by accident, was a creative act.
I could come up with more examples, but I think you get the point, assuming you even made it this far.
That wildly creative little girl I used to be is not dead. She’s still here! She has just been waiting for me to realize it, and for me to be willing to experiment again instead of boxing myself in.
When I decided this year would be my year to reclaim my creativity, I said I would follow through no matter what form it takes. That is still what I intend to do, but there are more forms than I realized, and I am finding I am nothing but inspired by that.
Note: It was late when I started this the evening of the 9th, so I didn’t get it finished until the 10th.