Tag Archives: Creativity

Whither Creativity?

marble

I’m part of a team of advance readers for Gabriela Pereira’s upcoming DIYMFA, a book in which she presents the essentials of creative writing that she learned while earning her MFA. So far, I’m enjoying her book, especially her concise way of presenting the various types of plot conflicts, with concrete examples. Look for DIYMFA this July. Check it out here:  http://diymfa.com/product/diy-mfa-book

This week, she’s asked us advance readers to comment on which of these myths about creativity we’ve fallen prey to.

  1. Creativity is an exclusive club, and you can’t be part of it.
  2. Creativity is innate–you either have it or you don’t.
  3. Creativity is driven by chaos, so there’s no way to control it.
  4. Creativity is all about getting that one “Big Idea.”
  5. Creativity is focusing on an idea until it’s perfect.

Honestly, Gabriela, I haven’t stumbled over any of these. Am I unusual in that respect? I hope not. All of us are creative—creativity is a basic human drive. How we express our creativity varies greatly, of course: writing, dancing, making music, making visual art, building things, repairing things, designing things, growing things…

Looking back at my upbringing, I don’t recall any family members or teachers who tried to squash or belittle my creative efforts. My parents were at least patient with my many “projects,” and were supportive of my many performances. My sister, my friends and I were forever building forts, putting on shows, making witch’s brews of leaves and mud, excavating “jewels,” composing songs—on and on. Typical kid stuff, right? Mom did insist that we learn a musical instrument, though she promised we could quit after two years if we truly hated it. Neither my sister nor I quit.

A few special mentors helped me to see myself as especially creative. In the fourth grade, Mrs. Graham cast me as the Spanish dancer in our class “recreation” of a Spanish rancho during our California history unit. She noticed my love of dance and lent me her antique, embroidered shawl to whirl about, not even complaining when I accidentally stepped on the fringe.

I was blessed with an excellent band teacher and two demanding but nurturing drama teachers, all of whom gave me the chance to shine onstage. It was an honor to do the same for my drama students when I taught theater classes.

And writing has always come easily to me. As young as eight or nine, I’d lie awake at night, spinning stories in my head. I remember creating what would today be called “fan fiction,” new stories based on characters from TV’s Batman and Star Trek. I recall a Catwoman-esque character who fought on the side of good, climbing buildings at night to protect Gotham City from nefarious types, like the nasty boy down the street.

So, where do the ideas come from? I dunno—they just come. Doesn’t everyone slide into daydreams about “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” or “Wouldn’t it be ironic if…” or “What if I found a dead body in those bushes over there?”

Of course, a surplus of ideas doesn’t equal a publication-ready story. That’s the hard part. And lots of readers wouldn’t agree with me about what constitutes an interesting story. But there’s no doubt that I’m a creative type. I have no doubt that you are too.

Y is for Yawp

Y

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

                              From “Song of Myself,” Verse 52, by Walt Whitman

We all want to make our mark somehow, to scrawl on the wall of life, “I was here.” We have this primal urge to make our presence known, and I find it fascinating to see all the ways people find to yawp.

Some yawp often, and publicly, like the folks who don outrageous, flashy outfits and strut down the street like exotic birds. I admire their flair and, sometimes, their fashion sense. I suppose loud laughers are yawping, and loud talkers too, though I sometimes wish they’d find a less grating way to yawp.

Artists of all kinds are yawpers, though each cry may take years of careful preparation. A visual artist’s yawp emerges from her body and remains, ringing out loud and clear, perhaps long after she’s gone. Ditto writers, composers, architects. Performing artists can reach many at one yawp. Can you recall the best concert or play you’ve ever attended? I’ll bet that energy and inspiration still vibrates in your bones.

And what about those who prefer a more subdued wardrobe and aren’t artistically inclined? How do they yawp? I read an article recently that used the word “yawp” to describe the rush of energy and achievement after vigorous exercise. Excellent wordsmithing there—my Zumba class is full of soft-spoken older women who, in that safe setting, clap their hands and shake their hips and yawp.

It’s sad, I think, when someone doesn’t find her own way to yawp. Working in a cubicle farm and shopping at the mall doesn’t give one much of a forum for that primal cry: “I’m here!” Kids know how to yawp, though. I scribbled notes for this post while subbing for a middle-school performing arts teacher. Ay ay ay, such yawping! With the slightest encouragement, kids this age will tell you just what’s unique about them. In fact, they’re dying to be asked. I wonder what happens between middle school and high school to dampen down that yawp.

What’s the connection between “yawp” and my focus on retirement (besides being a cool word that starts with Y)? The urge to yawp doesn’t go away with age; we still need to proclaim our presence, cry out with our unique songs.

As we come to the end of the A-Z blog challenge, it occurs to me that “yawp” is a good description of what we’re doing here—each of us throwing our thoughts and whims out into the ether, hoping some like-minded soul will hear and answer, like hawks calling as they soar. Which leads me to another bit of Whitman’s wisdom. Instead of a hawk, he imagines the brave soul seeking connection as a spider, throwing her filaments of web into the unknown, in full faith that it will catch somewhere.

A Noiseless Patient Spider
BY WALT WHITMAN

A noiseless patient spider, 
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, 
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, 
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, 
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. 

And you O my soul where you stand, 
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, 
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, 
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, 
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.