Lately, I have gotten tired of people exclaiming “oh, you’re so creative!” I am not tired of the statement because I’m suffering from a bout of false modesty, so stop preparing counter arguments to try and agree with all those people who tell me this.
When I hear this phrase, I hear the speaker evicting their own creativity. The wonderful compliment feels like they’re saying I’m something they are not, and by saying I’m creative they are excusing themselves from the same “burden.” I can almost feel their self-doubt patting their egos on the head for acknowledging creativity, without taking the risk of being creative. “Good show, old man! Project Mediocrity is well on track! All sectors reporting the mission parameter: “Re-enforce non-creative paradigm” is well ahead of schedule, and secondary goals of “Avoid Risk,” “Remain undetected” and “Blend In” are nearing completion.”
I also hear echoes of that monologue from Six Degrees of Separation, where the speaker is talking about how creativity has been separated from ourselves, as if it was something other than what we are. Most the time I see Will Smith’s face and hear his delivery of the speech. And I see all the pretentious people lapping up every word like they were dying of thirst. “…all those dwarves, so creative.”
They also radiate this smug condescension of creativity. They have this look of pity mixed with horror at the idea of a trade based on something so intangible as “making things up.”
In this simple statement, there’s just a hint of “How wonderful it is to be creative,” which sounds more insincere then complimentary. And, I’ll admit, it is wonderful to have embraced creativity and acted on it. I won’t lie, allowing myself to be creative is pretty much my favorite thing about life. But, it’s also really hard much of the time. There’s the constant battle with those forces trying to keep you from doing that work.
In “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield refers to this as “The Resistance,” and it’s fierce and bitey and seductive. It wants you to be comfortable, and sitting on the couch taking no risks.
There’s a ton of work in being creative, and there is loneliness and fear and doubt. There is failure, and trying to learn from it, and then trying it all over again. There is vulnerability. There is exhaustion, and there are times when I can’t take yet another idea popping out of my head. There are days when it feels like I can’t possibly be sane, and when the noises are so loud they are deafening and it feels like my head is going to explode.
That one little statement, “You’re so creative,” feels awkward to me in so many ways. It turns creative people into the “other,” the inexplicable, untouchable freak show. It feels patronizing and a bit like someone is saying, “Awww, look at the poor mentally ill person. Aren’t they just God’s special people?”
Frankly, we are all God’s special people, and it’s time that people stand up to their own creativity. It’s not a freakish part of yourself to be hidden so that the neighbors can’t see it. It’s your own unique genius, and it wants you to take it up on its offer of happiness, long term growth and fulfillment. Because, as tough as it is to fight “The Resistance,” one of the chief rewards is being in concert with yourself. It’s about making yourself whole, and allowing you to be greater than the sum of your parts. Stop ignoring that voice in your head wanting to get out because you feel like it’s silly and a waste of time. Take that risk.
That sums up so many of the things that I feel about creativity. That you have to be “special” in some way (usually not a “good” or “normal” way in order to be creative. Nope. You just have to give yourself permission to take a chance and maybe look stupid doing it, and then make it enough of a priority in your life that you will make time for it.
When I hear people say, “I could never be creative like that,” what they’re usually saying is, “I have filled my life so full of other things — kids, charity work, career, whatever — that I will allow myself no time for an endeavor at which I might fail, or which does nothing to further my progress toward one of society’s accepted goals (wealth, power, service to family, etc.).”
I always feel so sad for them. Their lives must be so cold and barren.
The good news is that I think there are fewer of them than there used to be, and that it’s more acceptable to be creative than it once was. Geeks of all sorts are coming out of the closet, hooking up with one another via the internet, and geeking out over their chosen hobbies together. (I just joined a crafting community on LiveJournal, for instance.)
And by the way, right in the middle of NaNoWriMo was a great time to post this — right when hundreds of thousands of people across the country are questioning their sanity for deciding to try to write a novel in 30 days!
Do you mind if I include this post in my “Link Salad” on crazywithkeyboard for November?
Exactly so! I’ve been hearing it tons at work lately, and from people who I know are creative, and it irks me because they don’t take ownership of it. As you might’ve guessed… 🙂 Anyway, yes, please share! I might one day find myself NaBoWriMo’ing, and, I bet the middle of the month “wall” is a grim feature.
And, ‘grats to you on being on the good side of the word count!
I spent many years feeling un-creative and un-talented. I think many people, especially in today’s nothing-but-the-best world, give up on singing/painting/writing/whatever because they won’t be good enough. They never try anything because they have no “talent,” so they never develop any skills that look like talent. When these people see somebody else doing anything artistic, they think “I could never do that,” which is true, since they won’t try.
When told that I am creative I usually think to myself: “shows what you know!” Then I feel sorry for them because 1) they confuse minor skill with creativity & B) they apparently don’t try to do anything for themselves. Oh well. I’m too polite to say anything about this in public.