A few years ago, a local teacher asked me if I would give her students a lesson on how to be more creative. Teaching creativity is something of a daunting task and all the how-to blogs and articles full of bullet points only give us a pinhole’s insight into what creativity is and how to achieve more of it. Even though I had no idea what the lesson was going to be, I decided to accept her challenge.
I showed up for class, which took place at picnic tables under a Banyan tree. I began by telling my borrowed students that we were going to experience ‘the fireworks of the mind’. Their faces lit up in excitement. It was clear that most of them knew exactly what I meant. Next I defined creativity as the juxtaposition of things that don’t usually belong together. I gave the students pairs of word such as, ‘tigers and tennis shoes’, ‘books and battering rams’, or ‘tulips and terrorists’. We created stories around all these pairs, adding more unusual images as we went along, ‘delightful politics’, ‘heavy flowers’, ‘underground sky’, and ‘dry water’. By the end of the lesson, they had written many wonderful stories. They even continued to make creative connections in their other classes for the rest of the day. I walked away happy with the lesson but I don’t think I taught those students how to be creative. All I did was give them a place and a means and most importantly, I gave them permission to be creative.
When I sat down to write this post, I tried to define creativity but the more I wrote, the harder it got to pin down. Creativity is more than ‘fireworks of the mind’. It’s more than making innovative connections between unrelated things. And as far as the how-to of being more creative, the possibilities that presented themselves to me were endless.
Maybe Creativity is Survival.
Is creativity what happens when an innovative caveman united a spark and a pile of twigs creating the first fire, the first warm winter and the first cooked dinner? Is it when a Medieval doctor paired a horrible disease with a dreaded poison and invented an unlikely cure? And faced with our own possible extinction, will our longing to survive bring about a wealth of creativity, a Renaissance-like race for survival?
Maybe Creativity is Human Nature.
Maybe the urge to create is as much human nature as the urge to eat, drink and sleep. After all, even our cells create new cells. It’s our sexual nature to create oneness out of two people. It’s our nature to create children. Is creativity so deeply embedded in our DNA that it defines us? Does the creative impulse find its way into every single human experience simply because we can’t help ourselves, simply because it’s who we are? Maybe this is the reason we are thirsty for explosions of innovation and the tantalizing sizzle of new ideas. And maybe this is why creativity is food for the brain, helping the mind to grow beyond itself.
Maybe Creativity is Adventure.
Is creativity another way to experience the path of the ancient explorer? Maybe we long to travel and experience the exotic in order to create something groundbreaking from the pairing of our old knowledge and new experience? Maybe creativity is the adventure of following the mysterious muse no matter where it takes us.
Maybe creativity is believing in the possibility of everything without judgment or criticism. If a culture that is new to you, asks you to believe in fairies living in bushes, ghosts cooking in the kitchen or the musical talent of plants in the garden, embrace it all. Fodor for the imagination is the creative gold we all seek.
We can find creativity in the melodic rhythm of a new language, the rawness of a ceremonial dance or the monotonous nothingness of a city train ride when the mind begins to soar. Creativity is in everything. It’s in nothing. Maybe creativity is just God.
Maybe Creativity is Insanity.
Is creativity the logic of lunatics, a logic that makes no sense except to the creative ear? Just in case it is, be grateful for the insane people in your life. You are especially lucky if they are in your own family because then you receive the full benefit of their zany stories and unique outlook. Be thankful if you have a community of unusual people around you because then creativity can be like light, bouncing ideas off of others like atoms at play.
Maybe Creativity is the Lack of a Box.
Someone once asked me the question, “What is your creative writing process?” I found this difficult to answer since I don’t think of myself as a writer. The way I see it, I’m a dusty sculptor shaping and chiseling away at a story, a mad painter splashing a colorful scene or larger than life character on the page, a serious pianist beating out the rhythm of the story using words as a keyboard, and a playful chef melding flavors, colors, textures and aromas together on the page. Creativity is a dramatic, messy, glorious business. Perhaps we come closest to understanding creativity when we realize it’s not, ‘thinking outside the box’. It’s the realization that there is no box.
Maybe creativity is all of these things I’ve listed or maybe I’ve missed the point entirely. Whatever creativity is, give yourself permission to find it, explore it, imagine it and get lost in it. Above all, give yourself permission to recreate the world.