Listening to music sung by a friend this morning started me thinking about creativity. As children, unless we’re squashed mentally and emotionally, creativity comes naturally. It’s like running around naked. Rocks are jewels, the world is a canvas, every rhyming word is fodder for a song, and shirts, pants, and underwear are optional.
Yet, as we grow older, fall from Eden, and find the shame in our nakedness, we also begin to clothe our creativity. We cover it in structure, form, criticism, and conformity. Think back through adulthood – when was the last time you (independent of a small child) broke out that cool box of 64 Crayolas? You know, the one with the sharpener in the back. When did you last make up a song to hum to yourself, even though you can’t carry a tune? When did you last grab a pencil and paper and just scrawl whatever your hand wanted – words, pictures, doodles, obscene cartoons?
Creativity gets compartmentalized, assigned to art class, music lessons, writing seminars, or the theater. In our adult world, we assume that creativity is given only to “artists.” How often have you said, “I’m just not creative,” or “I wish I were a creative person so that I could do that.”? I know I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Yet, assuming that creativity is limited only to those we classify as artists or eccentrics is akin to deciding that only movie stars, nude models, and strippers have bodies.
I don’t think it is a coincidence, this simultaneous constriction and repression of our creative and physical selves. Creativity is a nakedness of the soul. We can filter how we present ourselves in our everyday lives, put on social costumes, but when we are truly creative, we can no longer hide the things that distinguish us from others. When we create and share our creations, we are totally exposed – everything that we are is out there for the world to see and to judge.
That’s where the damage lies in this concealment and conformity that we impose upon our creative souls and upon our bodies. We fear judgment and we clothe ourselves in it. And, in doing so, we teach the next generation to loathe both their bodies and their individuality. Think back – when have you heard these: “Put on some clothes; you’re too old to run around the house in your underwear.” “That’s a pretty picture, but the sky is blue, not orange.” How many of us have been taught to color inside the lines, or grew up listening to the adults in our lives criticize their own bodies and those of others?
My own upbringing was wonderfully supportive of creativity. I had more paints, crayons, and modeling clay than any 50 children could want. Music lessons, journals, easels, you name it. Comfort with one’s own body was another story. Most of my ancestors hail from the British Isles. When your spiritual ancestors are Knox and Calvin, appreciation of the human form isn’t exactly hard-wired into the familial structure.
As I reached adulthood, I made a few abortive attempts to become comfortable in my body, but those quickly fell victim to a combination of insecurity, fashion magazines, and motherhood. I learned to clothe my body in ways that expressed whoever I was being at the time – to hide any bulges, knobby knees, to minimize my linebacker shoulders. And, as I reached adulthood, as I fell into the roles of professional and mother, I put away my creativity. Any outbursts of crafting were carefully and appropriately directed toward projects for the home or my children. Grownups don’t draw and paint – unless they are artists. They don’t play instruments – unless they are musicians. They don’t write – unless they are authors. Grownups don’t reveal their souls or their bodies. They wrap themselves in convention, in small talk, in business suits, in politics, in book clubs.
In 2008, in the downslope of my 30s, I realized something. I can’t be a grownup. Covering up and burying the parts of myself that make me unique was killing me. I broke out a journal. I began to write and then to blog. I got my easel and oil paints down from the attic. And, about the time I began this blog and first submitted essays for national consumption, I began to run. I decided to enjoy my body. To clothe it in ways that make me happy. And the more I learned to appreciate my body and to become comfortable in it, the more my creative side thrived.
Self-revelation is terrifying and exhilarating. And yet, I can’t help wondering if we make too big a deal about it. What are we hiding, exactly? When we refuse to paint because “I’m not artistic,” or we decline to sing along for fear that someone will hear us and judge, when we agonize in a dressing room and finally put that gorgeous bikini back on the rack, what are we saying about our humanity? What are we telling ourselves and the world about our gifts, our potential? And how much are we denying others permission to share of themselves?
One of my proudest moments as a mother came a couple of weeks ago. I have a 13 year old daughter. My family history is not rife with examples of secure, confident, healthy adolescence. I had assumed anxiety, body issues, and insecurity to be part of the territory. So, it was with great joy one evening during family banter that I heard these words come out of my daughter’s mouth. “I like my body.”
I wanted to bronze that sentence and give it to her and to every other person on the planet as a gift. When we like our bodies, when we like ourselves, when we like the creative impulses, the quirks, and the out-of-the-box-ness that make us unique, we are capable of greatness.
We all have the same number of chromosomes. And within those chromosomes we have an amazing array of unique genetic coding. We are all alike, and we are all absolutely unique.
Nakedness, of body or of soul, takes tremendous courage. And yet, perhaps, if more of us practiced revealing ourselves, sharing ourselves, less courage would be needed.
So, here you go, I’ll take the plunge. Not perfect, not a celebrity, not an artist, not “special” – just human.