I spent years in the classroom helping students appreciate the creative fruits of artists and express themselves with clarity and creativity themselves. But it wasn’t until I stepped out of the classroom that I had the chance to take a deep dive into the front end of the process itself. The process of cultivating creativity, finding stories, and sharing them with others through my own voice. And it was more difficult and more wonderful than I had ever imagined. So much so, that it has profoundly changed the way that I encounter pretty much everything around me.
If I could go back to my teaching self, even the one at the tail end of her veteran career, I would tell her to lighten up on the study of art with her students and instead, fling them into the joy and fear of creating their own stuff to share. Here’s why:
Creating is powerful.
It’s quite literally life giving, putting something into motion that didn’t exist before which then takes on a life of its own. That coffee cup you’re holding? Someone made that. The TV show you watched? A whole host of people made that. The song you just heard on the radio? Someone had an idea, then noodled with it, wrestled with it, chewed on it, asked others for help, wrote it, then sung it, then brought it to others to see if they liked it… all before it ever really got into the form you just heard. When you start to see the world through that lens, you start to appreciate things more deeply and pay more attention to them.
Creating is reflective.
The real magic happens when you are the one sifting through what you think, believe, and feel and then finding a way to express that part of you. We are bombarded more than ever with the opinions of others. With information and powers of persuasion vying for our attention and our headspace. Creating forces you to breathe, get quiet, and ask yourself what it is you want to say. You are forced to submerge into your self, the self beneath the appearance you’ve created and see what’s really there.
Creating is connected.
When we do something inventive or expressive, we’re not making something out of thin air. We’re taking bits and pieces from something I like to call The Magic Soup. It’s the stuff that’s around us all the time which makes life worth living. The artful crust of the pastry you ate? From the Magic Soup. The way your favorite song makes you feel like you could do anything? From the Magic Soup. When you dip into the Magic Soup and then add in your own experiences and talents, you’re making something great even greater and you’re giving the things you love a chance to live on past you. When you create, you are connecting yourself to the creative forces before you and the ones that have yet to be born.
Creating is vulnerable.
Without creativity, we are zombies, bereft of agency, life, and joy. Numb and cut off from our feelings, we tend to retreat or lash out. Creating something and then sharing it with another is a tangible way to break out of that shadowy existence. Making something with intentionality and heart, and then offering it to another, even a beautiful hamburger, feels amazing. It also can feel scary, which is one of the reasons we don’t do it. We feel exposed when we share something, which is why…
Creating is expensive
Not in terms of art supplies or trips to Home Depot. It’s expensive in that it will cost something that most people, myself included, are very attached to. Creativity demands our egos and our limiting beliefs as the price of entry. Go ahead and try to make something great, really great, with both of those in tact. I’m telling you from painful experience, you are in for a bruising. But, I’m also telling you from experience, that willingly giving those two things away on a daily basis has made my life a colorful explosion of awesomeness that just keeps getting better and better. I’ve made new connections, explored new places, found new talents, connected more deeply with family members and friends, and laughed the good kind of laugh that comes from being free to be myself.
I would tell Teacher Jenny to walk her kids through these truths before asking them to appreciate and learn from Keats, Browning, Dickenson, and Morrison. Heck, I’d change MOST of what I did as a teacher now that I see this. Creative expression is an act and it demands action. Our modern culture is less and less about doing and more and more about consuming. And I think that’s what’s making us all fairly miserable. I’m even wiling to say it more strongly than that because I lived it. The act of creating is a big middle finger to the oppressive and crippling self-doubt and consumerism that tries to keep us small.
When we feel lost, overwhelmed, or empty inside, it’s probably because we are not creating and we were meant to create. All of us.
Yes, even you, Cindy in accounting. I see you, with your tidy lunchbox, thinking that creating things is for people with pink hair or the ability to use power tools. And Rhonda, I see you too, rolling your eyes at the very notion that creativity can change your life. Hear me out:
Each day, each of us face thousands of choices. What to wear, what to eat, which way we drive to work, what we listen to, what kind of meaning we ascribe to someone’s words. Those are acts of creativity. Every day, each of us act out a story that we’ve created in our minds about who we are, what we’re capable of, what is available to us. Every day, each of us interacts with the world and in doing so, creates experiences and memories for another human being. Go ahead and tell me that you’re not creative.
Anyone who breathes on this earth is endowed with something special to share. As kids, if we weren’t allowed or encouraged to do so, we withered. We curled up. We stayed small. But we aren’t kids anymore. And yet many of us (ahem, hello) are still acting small instead of exploring what we have right in front of us or seeking out new things that we just might love.
Creativity is nothing more than change. Changing the things you do on autopilot without thinking. Changing the status quo. And change takes courage. It demands reflection, movement, decision, and uncertainty. In return, it grants life, clarity, freshness, and growth.
You’re in the Magic Soup right now. Look for the creativity surrounding you right this very minute. Take some delight in the musicianship of the next song you hear. Really listen to the lyrics of an old song you love. Go out for tacos and appreciate the textures and the flavors that the chef decided to create. Then watch for chances to do your normal things with a little more life, a little more expression, a little more love. Really dig in to the things you already love and get ready for more. I can promise you that once you taste from the Magic Soup, you’ll want to come back for more.