Lessons From the Music Room No. 4: Friends or Lovers Can Squash Your Creativity If You Let Them

For one year– from Spring2010 to Spring 2011,  I turned my growing family into a laboratory.  My purpose– to set each of us on a Creative path of our own.  We began in the grand central space we callThe Music Room.  Our old piano is here and our shelves are stuffed with great books.  There are Kapla blocks to build with and a wooden castle with queens and kings to play with. For one week I’m writing about what I’ve learned this year– about Creativity and what it takes to live it. My previous post:  Creativity Can’t be Taught.

Friends or lovers can squash your Creative development,  but you have to let them.

If you’re easy-going and curious you often go along with whatever someone else wants.  Not because you’re spineless but because little setbacks to your own plans don’t bother you or following someone else’s whims is an adventure.  My eight-year-old is like this.  Today, for example, every seat at our round dining table was taken for lunch– my sister, my brother, their families, my parents, my kids.  We ate my husband’s fabulous lasagna and talked about upcoming birthday parties.  Four of my five children are Spring babies, so birthday talk is very now. But when my sister asked for exact dates, I unintentionally skipped my eight-year-old’s birthday. We talked about everyone else’s birthday, except his. This pass-over didn’t bother him a bit. He is an easy-going kid. For now this is a plus for his creative-development.  He’s emotionally free to think up new Lego designs, dream up adventure stories or wonder how far stars go on in the universe. But someday, forces that vie for his attention will pull harder–  girlfriends will want more attention,  buddies will propose cooler plans. He’ll no longer be so free. If he stays so easy-going he’ll eventually find himself no where.

Creative development grows proportional to time and energy put in.  If you give away all your time and energy– the only things really yours,  your creativity gets squashed out of your life.  With the easy-going this happens almost unperceived.  Other creative-types suffer the same fate–  but they see it happening at every step.  If pleasing others makes you happy, you may disrespect your creative work and set it aside for the sake of another.  When a lover complains you’re always working on your project,  you’ll willingly drop it for love.  Or when a friend dives into a passion (i.e., chess, knitting), you go along.  You take time from things you love to do and do what she loves, to stay friends.

Pleasing others makes my eleven year old happy. She’s naturally tuned to the needs of people she loves. This morning, for example, she bought fresh Chamomile at the farmer’s market.  She kept a sprig to make herself some tea this evening, tied a white ribbon around the rest and presented the small bunch to my mother.  My mother once commented off-hand, how much she likes chamomile and my daughter remembered.  She loves to make people happy and does this kind of stuff for fun. Someday, she’ll need to set boundaries for her giving and keep some time sacred for creative work. When you give all your time and energy away to please others,  you eventually morph into someone else’s worldview. Your own worldview– the place where your creativity begins,  fades to nothing.

The greatest gift I can give my children is to remind them– through the years, to always respect creative work and to keep it alive. The writer Charlotte Bronte said,

Imagination lifted me when I was sinking. I am thankful to God, who gave me this faculty; and it is for me a part of my religion to defend this gift and to profit by its possession.

I hope they’ll love deeply– as I have, knowing all along, time and energy is theres to keep or give away.

Talking Real Science.

This morning before breakfast, I walked up the hill behind my house with my 11 yr. old to check out her new make-shift ant lab. She walked with notebook and pencil in hand, ahead of me.  Still, she turned often to wait while I coaxed the toddler with us to keep the pace.  I recognized the ant lab’s layout instantly from a sketch she’d shown me earlier–  open roof,  six-inch high wood-plank outer walls and cross-walls placed to funnel ants to imported sugar-water.

So,  my daughter said and pointed to one corner,  that’s where I’ll bury one magnet.  And, she pointed at a different corner, that’s where the other magnet will go.  I asked her questions, told her the study seemed interesting and we started back home, both satisfied we had done well.

I need to backtrack a bit here.

Last week, a few minutes before we left home to attend classes,  this same 11 yr. old asked,  Oh, mom.  Did you sign my science project proposal? I had not.  But she had the paper at hand,  ready to sign and a pen to sign it with.

Visually scanning the paper, I asked What’s this?

She said,  Oh.  We have to turn in our science project topics today.  You see, she pointed to the top of the paper I held, there’s the question I will work on. I read,  “Is the direction a plant grows affected by light?”   I faced my daughter.  She raised her brows.

I started, Darling? but paused to find the right words.  I asked how she planned to run her experiment.  She explained.  Then I let loose, Everyone in the world,  including you,  knows plants grow towards light.  Everyone!

She half-smiled.  So, what should I do then?  I have to turn this in a few minutes from now and it can’t be late.

I said,  Yes.  But you can’t turn this in.  It isn’t a question a self-respecting scientist would ask. I launched into a mini-lecture on how the scientific process is to catalyze new discoveries,  not to serve as an end in itself.  She ended up turning in a question she thought interesting–  about the possible musicality of pond frogs. We both knew the science teacher would deny this project.

But,  I told her,  while your teacher is rejecting that question, you buy time to come up with a really great new idea.  The science teacher did reject the frog idea.  And my daughter did come up with a much better project and re-submitted a question.  Neither of us knows the answer to this new question and (as far as we can tell)  nobody else (in the entire world) does either.  Her new project?  “The effects of increased underground magnetism on red ant colonial patterns.”  She’s got six weeks to figure things out and a good plan sketched out.  What she does not have, is an answer.

On our walk down the hill this morning,  she told me about some of the questions other students had come up with and we talked about those.  One student is studying volcanoes ( there’s got to be at least one, right?),  another is studying whether fruit floats.  But who cares?   My daughter knows her question is good and she’s excited she will discover something new— something no one in the world yet knows.  Now we’re talking real science–  and I couldn’t be happier to see her excited about it!


* Wait.  Please stay a little longer:  You may have noticed I’ve changed my blog’s look.  What do you think about that?  Is it better?  Worse?  In bad-taste?  Tantalizing?  I’d love to hear your opinion.  If you’re new here… I’d still love to hear what you think about my site, creativity…the Universe!

Characteristics of Highly Creative People: Spending More Time at the Office (Part 8)

For ten days I’m writing about what it really takes to be Highly Creative and whether greater opportunities make for greater Creativity. Yesterday I wrote Collecting Multiple Lives and Points of Reference.

Highly Creative people die wishing they had more life left to solve humanity’s puzzles and mysteries.

I first heard the quote Nobody on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office,’ from a pastor exhorting workaholics in his congregation to spend more time with their families. Paul Tsongas, a former U.S, Senator who dropped dreams of becoming U.S. President to battle lymphoma, first heard it from a lawyer friend.  Tsongas wrote in his 1994 book,

an old friend, Arnold Zack, wrote to me in a letter, “No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time on my business.

This quote may be sweet enough to pull at a politician’s heart, but means little to a physician burning the midnight oil to discover a cure for cancer or a physicist writing the Theory of Everything or a playwright writing the play that will change the way we understand what it means to be human.

Highly Creative people work because if they don’t, their soul dies.  They know, at their core, what they were meant to do with their time on Earth. They cannot fully live without the work they love.  Historian David McCullough said,

Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.

Real success is what Creativity scholar Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls full-blast living. Highly Creative people love their children and spend time with loved ones.  But there is no such thing as balance between their life and their work.  Seeking such balance would be like wanting to balance life and food.  Highly Creative people eat, sleep, drink water and they work. Everything else drops off the edge of their universe.

Vincent van Gogh said,

One must work and dare if one really wants to live.

Swiss Philosopher Henri Frederic Ameil said,

Work while you have the light. You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.

French writer Francoise de Motteville said,

The true way to render ourselves happy is to love our work and find in it our pleasure.

But I think the Highly Creative Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran said it best. Gibran wrote,

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

*Painting by Scott Davidson.