Friday, June 1, 2007

Sweeping Dust Bunnies

I was going to write a piece on creativity in general this morning. But, I decided to focus on a common theme I encountered while gathering material for this piece: how to set creativity free where it was once stifled. Even this particular angle leaves much to write about. So, I'll go one step further and make it personal to try to narrow it down. What were some of the factors that stifled my creativity? What are/were some of the tools I use/used to free my creativity? What blocks to creativity do I still encounter?

A. What were some of the factors that stifled my creativity?
1. Parents Just Don't Understand (a song title by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Will Smith) - a humorous music video that pokes fun at this parent-child relationship. This factor does not apply to some people, but it probably applies to many people who don't realize it. Your story may be very different from mine, but the factor may be (or was) present nevertheless.

My parents divorced when I was young and I lived with my mother until I was eighteen.

My mother stifled my creativity because she did not encourage activity except what was necessary, such as schoolwork and chores. Oh, I played and pretended. But, I had to escape my mother in order to be creative. Eventually, my 'creativity' took the form of rebellion by the time I was a teenager.

My father stifled my creativity because his creativity took the spotlight. He was fun, interesting, and entertaining to be around - so long as you wanted to do what he wanted to do. (I sometimes see myself in that way towards my own son. Yuck! See the third question below.)

They were both 'functioning alcoholics.' This basically means they drank without falling down. But I didn't learn this truth about them until I was well into my thirties. Boy, was I in the dark!

2. Constant Constriction of Creativity in the Classroom - Talk about an environment for stifling creativity! At least I went to public school. I've heard that some (most?) Catholic schools were worse. It's common to hear someone who went to Catholic school use the word 'survived'. Ouch!

School was all about coloring inside the lines. Getting the right answer. Southwest Airlines, and that creative crew, once advertised for employment with a large drawing that had the outline of a cartoon figure. There were different colored crayon marks scribbled all over the page. The ad said, "We're looking for people who color outside the lines."

To make school matters worse, by the time you hit college you're told, "we're are looking for original thought." Well, I ask, why was it discouraged for 12 years prior to college? School reminds of the saying, "You're unique! Just like everyone else." Why did being unique feel like conformity?

3. Group Think and Peer Pressure and Conformity! Oh my! - This was especially prevalent in the corporate environment in which I worked for way too long. I got into computer programming in the mid-80's I loved the brain-tickling challenge. But then, I slowly realized there were ten unwritten commandments to acceptable corporate behavior.

Some of them were things like: thou shalt have no higher priority in life than work for this company; thou shalt strive always to climb the corporate ladder we have provided at the pace we determine; thou shalt always reflect an attitude of seriousness and contentment with thy job; thou shalt continually strive to learn the jargon we dump on you, and the more you learn, the more we dump; and thou shalt covet, but not threaten, thy boss' position. After a while, 'Yes, Master' seemed like an appropriate response. Too bad this was the real thing and not "Young Frankenstein."

C. What are/were some of the tools I use/used to free my creativity?
5. Therapy - Yeah, I had to do this, even psychotherapy and psychodrama at the Caron Foundation. But, boy oh boy, am I ever glad I did! Yippee!! (I was going to say 'Yahoo!', but that has other connotations.) Through therapy I was able to largely disarm the 'Terrible Triggers' and free a lot of emotion, and become more genuine and whole as a result. Keep in mind this is a journey for me, not a destination.

Be careful! While I highly recommend therapy for just about anyone, not all therapy is truly therapeutic. It's easy to get into a co-dependent relationship with a specific therapist. However, this will be easier to see as therapy progresses. 

In a way, life is therapy. That is, it's a journey to wholeness, not a destination.

 This above all: to thine own self be true,
 And it must follow, as the night the day,
 Thou canst not then be false to any man.
       - William Shakespeare (more quotes)

4. Books - I put some links below to some of my favorite books on creativity. (Sorry! I had listed these books using the Amazon Affiliate program and the links went obsolete after Amazon made some changes. I never updated the links and simply removed them for now.) But there are many more. To me, books are not an escape, but a way to see more clearly the world around me. I love humor, non-fiction, and self-improvement (self-help, therapy, wisdom, etc) type books. I also noticed that where I read makes a difference, depending on the genre. Which leads me to...

3. Nature - There is something about the raw earth that helps me feel connected to it and to myself. I love reading in the park, body surfing in he ocean, windsurfing on a lake, hiking through the woods, biking on a rough trail, or just jumping in a puddle. I'm made of this stuff and this stuff is good for me - water, earth, air and the fire of passion.

2. Play / Recreation - Need I really explain this? I think creativity and play go together like couch potatoes wearing old, shredded underwear. What's that? Something more positive? Okay. How about this? I think creativity and play go together like rainbows after a sun shower. Better?

1. Humor - Did you ever read the personal ads of single women looking for men? Most have two things in common: they love the beach, and they want someone who can make them laugh. You would think characteristics like 'hard working' and 'gentleman behavior' would top the charts. Nope! Oh well, better for a single guy like me anyway. I can probably qualify. (It does make me wonder, though. Maybe that's why we're still single at midlife!)

0. People - Basically, there are two types of people: those who divide people into two groups, and those who don't. Personally, I don't. I know I just did, but that was an exception, and I'm rather exceptional . The better I get to know myself, the more I love the diversity of people I encounter. Even people who grew up in the same family can have very different ways of looking at things, different passions, widely varying attitudes, and unrelated interests. Of course, I sometimes see familiar patterns of dysfunctional behavior. But, I still see precious individuals underneath. In learning about other people, I can creatively learn more about myself and try things I've never considered before, such as writing like this to an audience that includes you.

B. What blocks to creativity do I still encounter?
29. The Terrible Triggers - All the therapy and religion in the world will not render me perfect and without blemish. Only God can do that! I still have stored emotional memory. I think we all do. Denial is a good example, so don't try it!

Triggers are things that cause an inappropriate, unconscious and undesirable response. My biggest triggers remind me of my parents: harmless, repeated cliche statements, which my mother used 'all the time', get me angry at the person who said them; criticisms, even constructive ones, were used destructively mostly by my father, and are sometimes difficult for me not to take personally in a negative way; and praise, which I often thought was insincere because both of my parents said one thing to praise me and did quite another to correct me. (See my previous blog entry about being called a 'genius and a lovely person'. The phrase was repeated so often and without pleasant emotion that the words themselves, no matter who said them, became meaningless.)

47. slp&ija)osd#ifwCLUTTERzgo%irqe*joci!af - Before I had even heard of Feng Sui, I knew clutter acted as a starching agent for my brain. (Now, I've only merely heard of Feng Shui. Other than having something to do with channeling earthly energy in your environment, that's pretty much all I know.) It's amazing how efficiently clutter works against me. If I accumulate junk, I find myself 'stuck'. Yet, if I clean out the old, in comes the new. Simple, but not always easy, it is getting easier to let go.

I have a bad habit of letting mail, miscellaneous notes, magazines, coupons, pamphlets, and fliers pile up. Then I move the piles to make room for more. Have you heard the de-cluttering rule: handle each piece of paper only once? Well, I learned there's a huge gap between 'hearing' and 'doing'! But now, thanks to computers, I can clutter my hard drive with all kinds of files and choose to see only a few windows at a time. Looks clean to me!

71. Ho Hum Boredom (yawn) - I left a description of this factor until last. I don't even like to talk about it. Boredom is a yucky place to be. Does boredom cause depression, or depression cause boredom? I don't know, but they seem related. Either way, I think creative activity is a necessary intervention. I'd do something creative, anything, especially if it's different and it's what I enjoy.

I once played with my son's Legos for 2 or 3 hours. (He wasn't around to object.) Some people think that the activity must have a purpose and be productive ("constructively occupied"), such as Father Flanagan, founder of Boys Town. His book provides much needed insight and wisdom. But, I think the omission of creativity as a virtue is a fault. Take Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, he was a creative genius. I'd say he was virtuous.

98. Senseless Repetition Senseless Repetition Senseless Repetition - If it seems like I'm doing the same thing over and over, I must get away and do something else. That's one of the reasons I started this blog. It's a creative release for me, especially since work requires things that must get done whether I like them or not. I also ride my mountain bike to the local park. Recreation is essential, at least for me. The word comes from the act of recreating, or simply, recreate. It's like starting over with fresh insight, instead of staying stuck and looking for a way out.

What are your answers to these questions? What new, and hopefully creative, insights have you picked up from this blog entry? How is or was your creativity stifled? How is it set free?

Note: "The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On" is a hard to find, out of print book. But, you may be able to find someone selling a used copy. It's a compilation of children's poems regarding their school or classroom experience, especially in regard to being stifled. It's usually both funny and sad at the same time. Sometimes it's just sad. "Finding Happiness..." may also be hard to find, but I think it's still in print.

A Couple Creative Quote Links:


Katherine said...

This is such a favorite topic of mine, Dwight! It is related to your posting on "getting unstuck" in so many ways, I believe, because to become "unstuck" and really delve into the creative, you must live it.

What do I mean by living it? Well, if you have ever taken even a basic art appreciation course, then you know artists look at things in different ways--they see things where other people don't. When you are first trying this and you are stuck, the exercise takes an enormous amount of creative and cognitive energy. But as you practice, it gets easier and more natural. How to look at things differently? Here's how I have done it (not that I am some kind of creative genius or anything, but I do consider myself creative):

1. Look closely. Look at detail. Look so closely at detail that things start to look "weird." Focus on details that you would not ordinarily focus on. (We see this in photography a lot, especially with close-up shots.) Do this in your daily life, as you walk, as you observe.

2. Ask "why?" Do it all the time, even to inane things. I used to do this exercise with my class. I called it the "why" circle. You start with a simple thing, like what you believe in. Then you put down why you believe in it. Then you ask why to the second item. Answer it. Then ask why to THAT answer. Keep going. Eventually, you will either become stuck in circular thinking or you will end up with a lengthy, philosophical discussion. Either way, put the exercise down and read it later, picking it up now and then and starting over.

Just my two cents.

Maureen said...

My parents tried very hard to stifle my creativity and I rebelled at almost every step of the way. Unfortunately the rebelling didn't free my creativity as I hoped it would. It did allow me to survive though. My spirit may not have flourished by it was not completely crushed either.
Moving through life, I stifled my own creativity. Probably at the time I convinced myself it was it was needed in order to survive
Today I like to let my creativity show. It still takes practice though.
What helps me to let my creativity show?
I surround myself with creative souls.

I let myself have some quiet time to get in touch with my inner creative guidance.

I appreciate what is unique and different in others.

I help others unlock their creativity and it helps me be bolder in my own creativity.

I am always grateful that there is no one else exactly like me with my wacky way of looking at the world.

I am grateful that others see things in ways that I have not, but they are willing to share their view with me.

I absorb the creativity of myself and others with all of my senses.

GizmoGuru said...

"I once played with my son's Legos for 2 or 3 hours."

If you continued you might end up with a career like this guy...

One day I was talking to a friend about creativity and I told him about a model train exhibit in Union, NJ. So far it has taken 30+ years to build what they have now. My "artist" friend made a derogatory comment about how anal it was to create the train exhibit. It didn't fit his definition of art so he considered it a waste of time. It is a shame how even some "creative" people limit the definition of creative.
Sometimes creativity is finding the beauty in everyday life. When I talk to teenagers and ask them to draw a picture---what do you think they say? "I'm not an artist" It's as if we have to consider ourselves an artist to even attempt to draw something.
I tend to see creativity where others don't. Most of my own ceativity went unnoticed by others and myself because of how narrow our definition is of creativity. I never had to put much effort into thinking "outside the box" becauseI try to avoid boxes whenever I can. And geez don't ya just love it when a corporation looks for employees who "think outside the box." (Warning--if you hear a company say this it means they are full of baloney--after all-- the expression is overused to the point of being completely meaningless)
I like the book "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" --A great book about the story of a guy who truly fought the gravitational pull of the giant corporate hairball.
Today we are still socialized to do something "practical" for a living. If we do don't we're considered one of those wierd non-conformist types. The problem for me is that I'm both. I like to be well-grounded, but I tend to be really miserable if I don't have a creative release. I tend to stifle my own creativity---which is probably why this is my first post on a Blog. It's time again for me to come back to my creative side and spend more time having no agenda whatsoever--tough for me to do but essnetial to my sanity.

Holly said...

Time seems to act as both a creavite block and motivator for me. I'm a very goal/deadline driven person, which wouldn't normally be considered a positive aspect for the creative process. With my particular personality though, I've found that if I have a reason to create, and a concrete deadline to achieve, I motivate myself to spend time on projects that would otherwise be pushed to the background by other activities and goals.
It's a very structured way of creativity, and I'm certain it has deep roots in my upbringing, despite my parents and friends positive reinforcements of my creative works.
I'm not entirely sure I will ever fully be able to break free of the self-imposed deadline requirement, but after reading this post, I'm thinking that it may be entirely worth the try.

Rebecca said...

It is hard to let your creativity soar when it is weighted down by all the baggage we carry with us. Jacob Marley comes to mind--the character in A Christmas Carol who, bound in chains of his own creation, comes to warn Scrooge. When old Ebenezer lets go of all that consumes him (talk about issues!) he is a new man.

I feel better when I just get up and move around. It is so easy to get stuck on the couch (literal or figurative), stew and become resentful. I find that if I limit my stagnant time, I get much more accomplished, I am motivated, I can think more clearly, write, and actually take care of me. It makes me a better person and a better mother. Hopefully I will teach my son not to get stuck...

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