My son was the most creative child I ever knew. Because he grew up as an only child in a neighborhood without other children nearby, he developed an entire world of creative projects to keep himself occupied. From the age of three until adulthood, he lived and breathed for this imaginary universe of characters which he wrote about, drew in cartoon adventures, and made video and audio recordings. He had his own little franchise and it occupied nearly all of his waking thoughts. He was so focused on these creative projects, and they were so important to him, that school always seemed like a huge waste of time, something he did only because he had to, a task to hurry and get out of the way so he could return to his “real work”. Nothing made him happier than the hours and hours he spent creating.
Whenever I’m tempted to throw my own creative endeavors under the bus in favor of “being productive” with my time, I try to recall my son’s creative fervor in his childhood days. I think it’s vital for people who feel this strong call to make creative expression a part of their daily lives to give themselves permission to do that, and do it regularly.
I read a delightful little book on this very subject just the other afternoon. I downloaded it on a day when I was accompanying my husband to a couple of medical appointments, and knew I’d have some time to read in the waiting room. Ed Cyzewski (Creating Space, The Case for Everyday Creativity) writes from the thesis that “all of us have some kind of creative spark that needs to be protected and fueled.” His book is “an invitation, a challenge, and a shove to let your creative gifts come to life and to sustain them."
Cyzewski believes (and I believe with him) that all of us a need to express ourselves creatively. I think sometimes we succumb to the notion that creative expression belongs only to the truly gifted or super successful, that only the symphony musician or the poet laureate or the Pulitzer Prize winner should be allowed the time and space to spend on doing “creative” things.
But creative expression is more than that. It’s the satisfaction that comes from immersing ourselves in making something beautiful just for the sheer joy of it. Sometimes for me it’s spending an hour at the piano, playing Chopin nocturnes and listening to every luscious chord progression. Other times, it’s making tea in the Nippon china cup handed down from my mother-in-law, putting thin buttery cookies on a matching plate, and sitting on my sofa in front of the fireplace. When I take the time to do things like these, or write in my journal, re-read a book of poetry, or even doodle in a sketchbook with colored pens and pencils, I feel refreshed and restored, ready to return to whatever other work needs to be done.
I also believe everyone has a creative bent. For me, it’s music and writing. For others it may be painting or quilting. It could be cooking, drama, sewing, photography, dance...the number of ways to include art in your life is practically endless. But every person on this earth will find something that speaks to their soul. “Learn to trust your creative instincts,” Cyzewski writes. “Follow your senses and create something that makes sense to you. When you fail, try again. No one needs to know how many times you’ve failed. No one has to see those early drafts or that mangled scarf with crooked rows."
Being creative is not an indulgence. It’s a way to enhance our experience of life, to feel fulfilled, to feel the satisfaction of learning and making, and to share what we’ve learned and made with others. It’s a way to relieve the stresses and strains of “real life” - jobs and errands and worries and responsibilities.
But even though I have always believed these things, practiced these things, I sometimes need the kind of reminder that Cyzewski’s book provided. Especially these days, when so much of my energy is directed toward caring for others, the time I spend pursuing my creative passions is like medicine. Those hours at the piano, or scribbling in my journal, or arranging some fresh flowers and lighting candles to brighten the grey winter afternoon - those are balm to my better nature, the one that seeks to create something beautiful.
So bring your creative nature out of the closet. Let it shine in whatever fashion it calls you. You’ll find it more freeing and enriching than you could possibly imagine.
How about you? What are you creating these days? Do you have any favorite books that inspire you to be more creative?