When I grew up, play—creative or otherwise—was the enemy, tolerated only in small children, something you “grew out of” as soon as possible. You were expected to give up what you wanted to be or do, to work hard, struggle, follow others’ ideas and instructions, and never your own. I’m still kicking stray bits of that teaching into sticky corners.
My favorite kick is “noodling” … which means play with whatever “stuff” that happens to be around in the moment (sounds, paper, cats, mud, words, fiber, food). It’s a perfect catalyst: hours later, I’m grabbing pencil and paper to scribble down yet another idea, shape, colorway, tune. This is not work; it is what humans are all about.
We are a highly creative species. A couple of months ago Susan and I visited the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ. Amazing… every instrument there, no matter how simple or complex, was someone’s wild and wonderful play-child of the moment. As is everything we have ever done and could possibly do—from the first arrowhead to art pottery; it’s all creativity, and it’s all OK. Denying this is one of the ugliest things that we do to ourselves, and to our children.
Sometimes that denial is so visible it hurts. When I play my dulcimer in the park, people come around to listen, and to ask, “What is that?” If they want me to play a tune, I do. After a while, though, I start to improvise, and the music changes. Then some people stay, and others walk away.
Which is fine…since I don’t always know where I’m going with a piece, dissonance does happen, and I don’t like it either. But sometimes it’s obvious that they are leaving because I am not playing their song “correctly”. That’s a different slice of pie, one that most of us have been force-fed from day one.
My personal take on creativity: 1) talent has nothing to do with it, 2) there is no one “right” way, and 3) sometimes, whatever you’re doing just isn’t going to work… and there’s no shame in trying something else that might. These are tricky thoughts to most of us, but if we encourage and remind each other, and ourselves, maybe we can create a hundredth monkey turnaround. It’s worth a try.