When I was a child, it was never said that I lacked creativity.
I was always busy on one project or the next…drawing, painting, fashioning mud pies. My interests were endless. If it involved using my hands and creating something, I wanted to do it. Many unfinished projects were left in my wake as the next new thing caught my attention.
That spark didn’t leave me as I grew up. I just learned how to finish things – most of the time. I can’t imagine living life without creating, whether with words or paint, clay or wood or fabric. Now, as I continue to explore what it means to be a creator, I often reflect on the moments in my life that brought me to the place I am today.
I have a twin brother. If you had compared the work of our five-year-old selves, you’d never have guessed I’d turn out to be the artist. The problem was simple – I couldn’t color inside the lines. My scribbles ranged far and wide across the page. My brother was neater and more precise, which perhaps explains why he became an engineer. My family likes to laugh about this story, but I also feel relief. Thank goodness no one told me that because I couldn’t color inside the lines, I shouldn’t even try.
During my freshman year of college, I took my first ceramics class. I had worked with clay before in art classes in high school, but this was an entire class dedicated to just clay. I was ecstatic. Ever since I’d first touched clay I’d loved it. The ability to take a lump of what is essentially mud and make something from it always seems a bit like magic to me.
I was also thrilled that we were going to use the pottery wheel in class. I had longed to throw on the wheel but had never had the chance. A little part of me was certain that throwing on the wheel was something I was MEANT TO DO. When the day came in class and I sat down on the tiny bench, a lump of clay in front of me, it felt like the heavens should open up, a warm light beam down, an angelic chorus sound. I was positive this was my calling.
I pushed the pedal. I touched the clay. There was no warm light. No angelic chorus.
I wasn’t good at throwing on the wheel. In fact, I was terrible. I’d sink my thumb too deeply into the clay and put a hole in the bottom of my cup. I’d try to pull the clay into a vessel wall and would pinch too hard, thinning out the clay so it sagged and buckled. I wouldn’t thin enough, leaving me with a five-pound cup that could hold just three ounces. Lumps would appear on my rims. Bowls would collapse. If a person wanted a mug as heavy as a brick, I was your girl. Off-center bowls with floppy walls? I could churn those out. Most of my attempts ended up in the recycle bucket.
At first I was frustrated. Clay was my favorite medium to work with. I’d felt it was my calling. And up to this point, if I had worked hard enough at making something I would eventually produce something good. In short, I was failing spectacularly. But I quickly realized, as I made wonky bowl after warped cup, I enjoyed the process. I loved the slide of the clay beneath my fingers and the alchemy of taking a mound of clay and forming it into a vessel, no matter how awkwardly shaped. I couldn’t deny the joy I felt in sitting for hours a day, creating with clay. Gradually, I got better. Not good, by any means. Just better.
Being awful at throwing on the wheel taught me that creativity is a journey. Often that journey isn’t easy. Nor does it stop when we reach a certain age. In my ceramics class, two silver-haired ladies were also experiencing the joys of working with clay for the first time. They were better than me, too.
If it’s something you love to do, it’s worth putting work into it. It’s even worth doing badly for a long time.
I’d like to say there was one “Eureka!” moment when I realized I could make a career out of creating. One person who changed my life or one time when, like a lightning bolt from the sky, I knew I could do it. I had none of those things. My eureka was a gradual procession of small moments.
“If you love doing it, it’s worth doing, even badly.”
It was the encouraging words throughout my childhood that acknowledged the passion I put into what I made, even when it wasn’t that good. It was realizing that all the books I read had authors who were real people, who had once been children like me. It was growing up with parents who instilled in me the mindset that sometimes it is worth doing something yourself, and most of all to never give up.
When I began to answer “be a writer” to the question of what I wanted to do with my life, it was the supportive responses, rather than the immediate reply of, “but what will your real job be?” It was those people who saw that dream in me and also saw that it could become a reality, even when I couldn’t quite picture it myself.
It was the first time I was paid to paint something. It was the first time I painted something just for myself that no one else saw and found contentment in that. It was finding others who loved creating things just like I did. It was those friends who wholeheartedly pursued a life as a creator, whether professionally or personally, and showed me that there is a way.
Those moments haven’t ended. I am on the beginning steps of the journey into being a creator, and I’d like to hope that throughout my life those moments will continue to build. And, in return, I can be that voice for a person who was like me.
During my last semester of college, I took a playwriting class. Each year the university’s theatre department would pick a few of the plays to put on the next year. Mine was one of three chosen, so a year later I found myself sitting in a dark theater, waiting to see the words I’d written spoken into life on stage. I was nervous because I knew time would show me the flaws in my work I hadn’t been able to see before. I was also afraid that the people watching wouldn’t like the story I’d created.
A friend sat beside me. I wasn’t sure she even enjoyed watching plays, but she had insisted on accompanying me. When I asked her why she wanted to come, she told me, “I’m here because you wrote this. This didn’t exist in the world until you made it.”
When asked why I create art, or why I write, it’s hard to come up with an answer. The easy response is because I love it. But I also believe it’s because being creative is an act of creation.
Often I think about this quote from Neil Gaiman: “We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person and who, with that story, may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”
I was once the kid who found hope in stories. I am excited about the chance to create something that can be that hope or kindness for someone else.
Above all, I believe in the power of creating. No one is too old or too young, too untalented or unskilled. If you love to do it, then do it. If it’s knitting or sewing or drawing stick figures, do it. If it’s making jewelry, or chalk art, writing novels or composing Instagram poetry, do it. You are bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before. Sometimes what you create can change a life, even if you don’t realize it.
And if you love it, it’s worth doing, even badly.
Article originally published in Focus on Artesia 2020 Summer edition.