Can You Forget How?

SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE SENT ME THIS LINK and recommendation for an article at www.huffingtonpost.com called: 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently.

Already I'm skeptical and I haven't even read it. I doubt that the article was written by a creative person, because creative people are unlikely to allow themselves to be constrained by a numbered list.


Okay, now I've read it. My skepticism holds, although it is an interesting article, worth the time.

I also Googled "characteristics of creative people" and got over 38 million results. Many of the hits were things like: 5 Signs, 9 Traits, 10 Reasons; stuff like that; more lists; more skepticism.

One thing the Huffington Post article acknowledges right away is just how hard it is to nail down Creativity.

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don't have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

"It's actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self," Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. "The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self ... Imaginative people have messier minds."

He's right. At least for me. I don't know whether I'm creative or not. I do know this: I value creativity highly. I love the creative process. I love the outcomes of the process. I love the surprises that come along the way. I also know this: I want to help create environments where creativity can thrive. To borrow Jesus' metaphor of good dirt, I would like to prepare fertile ground for seeds of creativity to be planted.

Karlee-The-Creative. Our oldest Grand-Girl. (Photo by her Daddy because she's too young for selfies, thank God)

Karlee-The-Creative. Our oldest Grand-Girl. (Photo by her Daddy because she's too young for selfies, thank God)

I consider one of the highest callings of being "Pops"--to provide the Grand-Girls with opportunities for creative play, to fantasize, to make-believe, to have a place where they can be "outside the box." Certainly I want to honor the wishes of their parents, but I believe it is my prerogative, yea, even responsibility to say, "Sure, you can try to climb that." "Go ahead and poke it and see what happens." "Yes, you can wear that shirt with those pants." "Taste it and see." Shouldn't every kid have a place where the first line is always: "Once upon a time there were two Grand-Girls and a third on the way..."

Back to the Huffington Post article, I won't list all "18" because: one, you should read the article for yourself; and two, I'm so rebellious I believe there are at least 19 and probably more. But I'll list a few because I want to comment on them:

- They daydream. Guilty. I wrote a post on this subject called ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION

- They observe everything. I like to think I do. Sometimes it's a curse though. For example, no matter where I go, I can't help straightening people's pictures for them, thinking, "How do they not see how crooked these are?"

- They take time for solitude. I am a certified Introvert. I am energized by solitude. For me the issue is taking time for social-tude. (I made that up.) This quote from Wendell Berry rings very true to me: "I'm a writer more than I am a talker."

- They seek out new experiences. Yep

- They ask the big questions. I sort-of attacked a guy in our own house a few years back because he implied that I had accepted a Christian worldview hook, line & sinker, no questions asked. How dare him. I'm old enough to be a grandfather and I'm still asking the big questions. 

- They people-watch. One of the things I enjoy most.

- They take risks. Not as much as I once did.

- They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression. Why wouldn't you?

- They follow their true passions. Why live if you don't?!

- They surround themselves with beauty. As long as you define beauty as that which is true, good, whole, just and rehumanizing. AND aesthetically wonderful of course.

- They constantly shake things up. I hope so.

As my friend Mako Fujimura explained: We are created in the image of God, and the first thing we know about God is that He is a creator.

So, everyone has the capacity for creativity and are probably way more creative than they give themselves credit for. You've probably heard the story of the college art professor who was asked by her four-year old daughter, "Mommy what do you do?" The mother, wanting to answer in terms her daughter could grasp, replied, "I teach people how to draw and paint." The clear, honest, apropos reply from her little creative girl, "Did they forget how?"

It has been reported that if you ask a room full of kindergarteners, "How many of your are artists?" the entire room will raise their hands. Ask a classroom full of adults, fewer than 10% will. I know Creativity extends beyond artists, but the question is still:

Have we forgotten how to be creative?

Are You Paying Attention?

... your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Acts 2:17

I don't know if I am "old" by biblical standards. If Methuselah is on the scale at his purported age of 969, then I'm a Spring Chicken whatever the heck that is. Still, I do feel like I've moved from any possibility of being a young visionary to being an old dreamer. The fact is--I've always been a bit of a dreamer. Not in a grand Martin Luther King-I Have A Dream way, just the mind-wandering kind.

During my formative years (the 50s & 60s), daydreaming was discouraged by the mental health community and educators calling it a failure of mental discipline which could lead to psychosis. Freud labeled it infantile and neurotic.

I can remember teachers telling students (me) to "stop daydreaming." Then one day it happened--I brought home a report card where a teacher had branded me, "David is a daydreamer!" It seemed so ominous, as if I were stricken and there was no cure.

Imagine the horror and embarrassment for my family. In hushed tones, they would tell people: "Our son is a daydreamer." I could imagine scenarios like this: "He had a promising career on the assembly line at the Almond Joy factory, with the prestigious job of placing the almonds on each bar. But alas, he was a daydreamer. He would drift off to that place in his troubled little head and bar after bar would pass him, missing their nuts. Now he works at the Mounds factory because, as you know: while 'Almond Joy's got nuts--Mounds don't.'" Which, from my perspective, is a good thing because, as a daydreamer, "sometimes you feel like a nut--sometimes you don't."

Apparently there is some connection between the Industrial Revolution and the view of daydreaming as being dangerous and a waste of time and resources. People "went to work", making goods. So we needed to be more utilitarian. The arts, writing, composing--the stuff of dreamers, became like so much extravagance.

Today I am happy to tell you that my chronic daydreaming has not been cured. And lucky for me, mental health experts now agree that daydreaming is not only healthy, but an essential part of a creative mind.

One of my favorite lines on the "Big Bang Theory" is when someone calls Sheldon crazy. He replies, "I am not crazy. My mother had me tested."

I have been tested too. Don't over-read this; I'm not building the case for a genius IQ here. Too many people are still living who can attest otherwise. The test I'm referring to here is something called the Pearson-Marr Archetype IndicatorĀ®. It's a real thing, look it up.

The results of the test explained me this way:

At your best, when you fulfill your potential, you are highly imaginative and even inspired, and your skill-level allows you to create with ease. You have moments when the ideas just flow and creativity seems effortless. You have a wonderfully developed aesthetic sense and surround yourself with things that reflect your taste. You have the potential, moreover, to create your own life as a work of art, so that you avoid the ordinary, the shallow, and the mundane, opting for more satisfying ways of life, even if this means that others do not always understand why you live the way you do.

I was feeling pretty good about myself until I got to the "needs to improve" section, then it took on the air of those comments teachers used to write on my report card--things like: 

  • Tame the inner critic so that you become less critical of others, undermining their confidence.
  • Move from an ego-centric focus to an attitude of service.
  • Balance artistry with being a responsible, thoughtful person.
  • Avoid the trap of self-indulgence.
Odin the Wanderer   (1896) by  Georg von Rosen (Wikipedia)

Odin the Wanderer (1896) by Georg von Rosen (Wikipedia)

I know I am and probably have always been a mental vagabond.
As it turns out, daydreaming does not necessarily mean you are not "paying attention." It's just from a different perspective with a different focal point.

One of my favorite authors is G.K. Chesterton and one of my favorite quotes of his is this: 

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

I prefer to travel--to see what I see, to ponder it, to maybe write about it or talk it about it with other travelers.

Speaking of great writers and "travelers" J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the greatest. A line of his I use often is this one:

Not all those who wander are lost.

I might add that not all those who dream are lazy, listless or lost. Oh, and that line of Tolkien's is from a poem he wrote for his fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

I wish you sweet dreams!