I wrote this some time ago, but have been musing on creativity lately. Maybe it’s due to all of the graduation speeches that I’ve heard and the constant drum beat that only the arts are creative. So, a re-post.
Are you creative? I used to be. In fact, I spent a lot of my life fancying myself as a “creative type”. I gravitated toward the humanities and possessed little interest or aptitude in math and science. I’m sure somewhere along the way, a teacher told my parents that I was creative or something and it kind of stuck.
In my teens and 20s, as I was trying to figure out who I was, I deduced that since I liked to sing, write and drink I was “creative”! I now know after researching my genealogy, that I’m not really creative; I’m Welsh. I would describe myself as quirky, curious and irreverent, rather than “creative” in the artsy, traditional sense.
The upside of convincing other people that you’re “creative”, “artistic” or a “free spirit” is that there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll be forgiven a multitude of sins. Lazy, broke, late, unfocused, messy, blunt, unreliable, drunk; all are forgiven for those who convince others that they are so full of fabulous, lofty ideas that they can barely dress themselves.
Here’s my point. Everyone is creative because we’re humans. We adapt, we innovate, we re-think, we re-do, we are never satisfied and thus, we create. Culturally, we seem to only prize and foster creativity in the arts, which is short-sighted. The arts are great; they fill our soul, they inspire, soothe and uplift, but what about the creativity that has made it possible for me to write and post this on the World Wide Web?
What about the doctors who saved Congressman Gabrielle Giffords’ life, after a bullet crashed through her head? It was creativity that launched the space program. The idea of the “mad scientist” is actually a nod to creativity. We don’t look at Einstein as merely a physicist, we admire his ability to think outside of the boundaries of known science and I have no idea whether he could sing or paint or dance.
I read a post on Facebook from an old high school friend, who works with troubled kids and he wrote about finding ways to connect with them that might be different from “the manual”. He’s faced with that challenge everyday and he and his staff shift on the fly to find out what sings to each kid. Creativity.
I watched Rick, the stone mason we hired, begin with a pickax, shovel and wheelbarrow and within days, build and create a beautiful flagstone walkway that transformed the once ugly entrance to our house. He dealt with the drainage, the materials, the design, the problems and my husband’s constant ‘supervision’. Creativity.
We admire, celebrate and almost worship, those in the arts for their contributions and it sends the wrong message to kids. Think about the stuff in your life that REALLY enhances your existence on earth; maybe you do live for art, but for most of us, Henry Ford’s contributions outweigh Picasso’s. I’m not belittling the arts, but few of us will ever really swim in that ocean. But, we can creatively parent, cook, troubleshoot, manage, think, contribute, invent, love and grow.
I will call her later at their home in Battle Creek, Michigan. I speak with her frequently, but I miss being with her on special days and I miss the mom that I grew up with. My mom is 92 and a half years old. She does not have dementia, but is getting a bit foggy. My mom was generally a non-drinker and her current mental state is kind of like someone who’s enjoyed a glass or two of wine. I suppose that’s not a horrible way to go into the sunset.
We no longer have the long and in-depth phone conversations that we used to have. In fact, she has a tendency to finish a phone conversation rather abruptly once she’s said all she feels like saying. My sisters and nieces and I chuckle about it. The silver lining is that we no longer fight and bicker over the phone; I’ve decided that nothing is really worth fighting or bickering about when you’re 92 and a half. I feel very protective of her feelings at this stage.
She can’t read like she used to. It tires her and that makes me sad. My mom was militant about reading when I was a kid. She didn’t care what I read, as long as I was reading something. She bought me comic books every single week during our trip to the grocery store because she knew kids want to read fun stuff, not stuffy stuff. She was right. Once I was in school, I loaded up with books from the library every weekend and read them all. Now that I’m a grown up, I have developed quite a taste for the stuffy stuff I avoided as child. You should see my night stand. Ponderous.
My mother was a typical woman of her era (born in 1920) and she never played sports or developed an interest in sports or exercise. She did all of the things that women of her era were supposed to do. Having said that, she was never a very good cook. That finally dawned on me once I left home and couldn’t get enough of the ‘delicious’ dorm food.
So even though she followed the more traditional role of her time, she allowed her youngest child to be an unruly, unkempt tom-boy. My best friends were the rowdy boys in the neighborhood. I hated dolls; loved baseball mitts and sporting goods. She never tried to force me into the traditional feminine roles and this was during the 60s and 70s, before feminism became a big deal.
She was involved in politics and worked on various campaigns and I remember going with her to events. I was fascinated by all of the buttons, bumper stickers and hats that they handed out. She was for the Equal Rights Amendment and I’m not sure that she and my dad always saw eye to eye. She was born the same year that American women were guaranteed the right to vote. I think that probably shaped her views about voting and politics.
I guess I get my propensity for advocacy and strong opinions from her. She also nurtured my sense of humor, my sense of the absurd and still encourages my writing. Every time I talk to her, even now, she tells me that I should write more. She’s right about that. I should. Mom is always right.
I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity. I think that truly happy people know that their happiness comes from getting outside of themselves and swimming with the other humans in the sea of humanity.
I do not tend toward generosity. I say that sadly and certainly not with pride. I close myself off from people. It’s some sort of defense mechanism that I developed as a young ‘un and the intensity waxes and wanes with the situation. I’m working on changing that.
I think that in our culture, we equate generosity with philanthropy or financial donations or support. If you give money, you’re generous. That may be true…or it may not. There are plenty of folks who hand out bills or write checks that lack true generosity.
What I’m talking about, we’ll call generosity of spirit.
In a nutshell, generosity of spirit means that you greet pretty much everyone and every situation with an open heart. You cut them some slack. You realize that we all struggle together on this big blue marble. Generosity of spirit means you soften when you see people’s pain, rather than judge them with a “well, you made your bed, now lay in it”.
Generosity of spirit requires empathy and the realization that underneath people’s bad or annoying (i.e. human) behavior, there is a soul that needs nurturing, just like you do. That we all share 99.9% of our DNA and that as humans, we thrive on kindness and compassion from our compadres instead of the much easier, criticism and impatience.
There are cultures around the world (many of which as proud Americans, we make fun of as soft or poor or ‘third world’) where generosity is prized above all else. Where you are expected to love your neighbor and see to their comfort and happiness and in turn, you bless yourself. American values stress rugged individualism, making our own way, taking care of #1. Which could be the reason why EVERYONE complains that nobody is very nice anymore. Are you nice? Are you generous? All the time? Me, neither.
But, I’m professionally successful and financially well-off and I have two nice houses and a couple of cars and lots of stuff. I should be ecstatic! I’m not.
I’m working on opening up my heart to people, ideas, nature, compassion and the love that I believe underscores life on earth. That also means opening up to pain, grief, jealousy, envy, hate, anger and all of the things that lead to our suffering and struggling as we make our way. Embracing the good stuff, while recognizing and allowing the bad, is the way to awaken to our short and finite time on earth. Our culture does not help us on this path….at all.
It’s a process for me and I slip up and backslide everyday. Some situations prompt me to old behavior where I close down, curl up into my little protective ball of ‘me’ and ignore the needs of those around me. I snap or bark or toss out a stinging, smart-ass remark, when I should smile and listen and encourage. Two steps forward, one step back. The key is not to hate myself for my shortcomings. To practice the same generosity toward myself that I want to project to others.
I wish you well, I wish you freedom from suffering. May you live a life of ease and peace.
Several months ago, I stated on my Facebook status that pistachios were the world’s finest nut. This past week I changed my mind and proclaimed that the macadamia is indeed, a better nut. It was meant as a whimsical observation that might spark a little harmless controversy. Mission accomplished.
But, I had a deeper point and that is that we CAN change our minds; we can alter long standing beliefs and opinions and it’s okay. In fact, let’s encourage it.
I still love pistachios…and cashews…and almonds…and pecans…but not Brazil nuts (too much nut) and yet, I have decided that the macadamia has the perfect size, crunch, texture and taste. For now.
To everyone who argued with me about this, I asked them to open their mind. Just because they were part of team cashew didn’t mean they couldn’t re-examine their beliefs. If you pick up a macadamia nut with the firm belief that you much prefer the cashew, you’ll never REALLY taste that macadamia. Let the old bias go and try something new on for size. Baby steps to growth and awakening.
The nut discussion is obviously a metaphor for all of our long held beliefs and preferences, whether it’s religion or politics or prejudice against other people. We see so many things through the filter of ‘like/don’t like’, ‘agree/don’t agree’, ‘right/wrong’. Wouldn’t it be great if we just put aside the preferences and biases and listened and consumed with an open mind? One Buddhist teacher calls it “don’t know mind”.
I’ve written a lot about my mission to let go of stuff that hasn’t been working for me; to begin to embrace new ideas or old ideas that I used to reject and in order to do that, I have to leave my mind open. Meditation is helping me prop it open, at least part way. I’m honestly beginning to see things with more calm, clarity and compassion. That’s a big step for someone who used to fight mightily to be ‘right’.
Think of it this way: when you were a kid and your mom plunked something new in front of you for dinner and you whined that you didn’t like it. Moms universally say, “How do you know if you don’t try it”? We are grown ups now and we still tend to default to not liking things that challenge what we think is true or are comfortable with. My little journey has taught me that comfortable is overrated. If all we seek is comfort and security, we are blind to reality and that leads to unhealthy behaviors.
So, think about how often you reject; how often you don’t like. Stop it. Open up. Set aside the pistachio and just TRY the macadamia with a new outlook. Really taste it and consider it. I guess it’s time I gave the Brazil nut another chance.