Nurturing creativity and doing a job of work

Last week, stuck for ideas for upcoming blog posts, I put out the call for questions from fans. I got this one from poet Eileen Sullivan:

“In what ways do you think you nurtured your creativity as a child, wittingly or not? What remains of that life in your and your work? And in what ways do you seek to encourage and nurture creativity in your kids? How does this link with that open mind of play and childhood inform your writing and life today?”

Thanks, Eileen. I love simple questions.

I grew up in a town of 300 people, 200 of whom were related to me. That limits your dating options, if nothing else (or it certainly should). The street we lived on was finally paved when I was in junior high school. When I turned fourteen, some kids up the street burned down the school, which in hindsight was the death knell for a town that had literally nothing else going for it. So it wasn’t exactly a hotbed of the arts.

As a kid in this town who wore glasses (the big, thick plastic kind that were all the rage in the Seventies), liked to read, saw no particular reason to kill small animals and (lest I slight the importance of this) liked to read, I never really fit in with the good ol’ boy culture around me. But I was always, for lack of a better term, “creative.” I loved to draw. I loved listening to music (learning to play was never a real option). And for some inexplicable reason, reading led me to attempt writing.

Was I nurtured in this? Technically yes, I suppose. I wasn’t actively discouraged, at least. But there was nothing like the communities you can find online now, so I worked in isolation, encouraged by a couple of teachers and benignly tolerated by my family. I have no idea why I felt so driven to create, and to this day the origin of it confuses me as much as it did my parents. But I did get one thing out of it that’s stuck with me to this day: I’m self-motivated. I don’t need encouragement, although it’s certainly appreciated. But either way, I’ll write.

DSCF1874

See? Either way. Like I said.

Now that I’m a father, particularly of boys, I’m aware of the danger of both not encouraging them, and over-encouraging. As I said above, I used to love to draw, and can still sketch a mean T-Rex. But I had a relative who, when she saw my interest, took it upon herself to turn me into an “artist.” What actually happened was that she killed any fun I’d gotten from art, and made it so that I never wanted to draw again.

DSCF1674

This is someone drawing because it’s fun.

So I’m very careful not to impose my desires on the boys. My oldest takes martial arts and theatrical acting classes; my youngest likes to build his own elaborate Lego spaceships. When they ask for my help, I try to do it in a way that lets them learn how to help themselves next time.

DSCF0922

Mellowin’ like Hendrix (see, he’s playing left-handed).

I suppose I am still tapped into that childhood well of creativity. Then again, who says creativity is a child-like quality? Our culture thinks of it that way, but I look at it as a job: I punch an unofficial clock every day, and management expects me to be creative. So I have to bring my “A” game, except it’s not a game. As John Ford said, it’s a job of work.

Hope that answers your question, Eileen.  Thanks for asking!

Posted on by Alex in creativity, music, writers, writing, writing advice

3 Responses to Nurturing creativity and doing a job of work

  1. Claudia

    Great question, and great answer. Came from a small too, tho one with slightly more inhabitants. Nevertheless I also was th e ‘geeky’ spectacle wearing outsider in and out of school who was useless at sport, music ore drawing but had an overactive imagination. No one encouraged me to write though, either at home or at school. A few years back my dad came across a first handwritten piece of mine and he handled it as if it was burning his hands on. asking me what it was. Charming. :-( Only recently I found some like minded people via facebook and it is great to finally be able to share our works and give it other feedback. And hopefully someday I will get my book finished.

  2. Claudia

    What does ‘awaiting moderation’ mean?

  3. Alex

    Claudia, I get a LOT of spam comments, so I have to approve them to make sure you’re a real live person. Since you are…welcome! And thanks for commenting! :-)

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