Growing Down to Build Up Your Creativity

030When I was younger, I made large chalk drawings on the road outside my house. The driveway wasn’t enough for me. I didn’t want to be contained — I wanted space and freedom to make huge drawings of faces with gaping mouths and wild hair. I would wear down the chalk until it was as tiny as a pebble in my hand, and then I would wear it down more, my fingertips scraping the pavement.

I was so consumed by the drawing I was making that I was never truly conscious of my location: the road. Although my family lived on a quiet street, I still played in the domain of vehicles. The possible danger of being run over by a car simply never occurred to me. I didn’t worry about the risk I took to make my (what I thought were) amazing chalk drawings by being on the road. I was young, and my creativity stretched further than the confines and safety of the driveway.


Drawn by my younger brother, age 10.

If you are a person who strives to be creative, and often even if you are not, you will notice the unabashed creative freedom of children. This is not only because they are carefree and have no responsibilities, but also because they have not yet learned what is “right” and what is “wrong.” Kids don’t know that a picture of a paper airplane flying a family of mice is illogical, they don’t know that a giraffe is not supposed to be bright blue, and they definitely don’t know that puddles and mirrors can’t lead to alternate, reflected worlds. They aren’t (usually) afraid of criticism, so they go wherever their mind takes them. The chances they take in creativity are not chances to them, they are merely the natural inclinations of their imaginations.

David Usher, in his book Let the Elephants Run, puts it this way:

“We don’t need to teach children to be creative; in fact, most of the time we just need to get out of the way. Openness and the ability to access exploratory play are big parts of creativity, but as we get older we become alienated from these abilities. We were all born with this built-in imagination. That is, until the organizational efficiencies of the school system drive it out of us” (33).

Usher claims that creativity is not something to learn, but rather something to remember. He also believes that the lack of creativity in adults comes from the factory-based set up of American society. Schools follow this same structure, teaching children to finish tasks in the most efficient ways, without any exploration.

If something works, and it works quickly, why change it?

Creativity, then, becomes useless. When the goals are short-term (as I believe they often are in American culture), creativity has no purpose. Products must be sold, money must be made, and the rich must become richer. And richer, and richer, and richer. In a world of short-term goals, creativity is a waste of time and money.

But when the goals become long-term, all of sudden creativity is very necessary. Many advancements in technology have come from creative people who were thinking, as they say, outside the box. Jules Verne described in his books many inventions that had yet to be created, such as the electric submarine, solar sails, lunar modules, and the taser. Steve Jobs, who broke all societal rules and dropped out of university to become an entrepreneur, revolutionized the personal computer. These advancements might never have been made without the creativity of these individuals. They were thinking beyond the current day, and they were not doing things simply because they worked, because they saved time, or because they were safe.

From what I have experienced in my own university education, what Usher claims is true. A lot of discovering takes place at university, but not a lot of searching. Success and the truth become objective, defined by carefully laid out arguments and valid evidence. Only in writing classes have I found any wiggle room for creative endeavors, and even then the structure of the course can be limiting.


Drawn by my younger brother, age unknown.

All around me the world is growing up. My friends and siblings are getting jobs, moving out, getting married, and essentially taking on responsibility after responsibility. They are learning their place in the world (whatever that means). They are discovering every day what is “right” and what is “wrong,” how to be safe, and how to be successful.

I, meanwhile, am trying my very hardest to grow down. If my primary goal is to be a writer, then my secondary goal is to fill my life and mind with creativity. To do this I must ‘remember’ my childhood creativeness. I must be open to change and opportunity. I must realize the value of taking my time with things, and to forget about efficiency.

Like a child, I must wander off the pre-determined path that my life seems to be set on. Neil Gaiman, in his book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, states that —

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences” (56).

Like a child, I must creep beneath rhododendrons and find the spaces between fences. I must realize again what it feels like to be unafraid of taking risks, or, if I am afraid, to do it anyway.


Drawn by my younger brother, age unknown.

I must make chalk drawings on the road; I must step out into the rush of traffic, rather than driving with the rest of the cars.

 ∗  ∗  ∗

A framed piece of writing that has hung on the wall of my house since I was a child, and which I have only come to appreciate and understand recently:

How to Really Love a Child

Be there. Say yes as often as possible. Let them bang on pots and pans. If they’re crabby, put them in water. If they’re unlovable, love yourself.

Realize how important it is to be a child. Go to a movie theatre in your pajamas. Read books out loud with joy. Invent pleasures together. Remember how really small they are. Giggle a lot. Surprise them.

Say no when necessary. Teach feelings. Heal your own inner child. Learn about parenting. Hug trees together. Make loving safe. Bake a cake and eat it with no hands. Go find elephants and kiss them. Plan to build a rocket ship.

Imagine yourself magic. Make lots of forts with blankets. Let your angel fly. Reveal your own dreams. Search out the positive. Keep the gleam in your eye. Mail letters to God.

Encourage silly. Plant licorice in your garden. Open up. Stop yelling. Express your love. A lot. Speak kindly. Paint their tennis shoes. Handle with caring.

Children are miraculous.

(Sark, 1990)


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