“You’re like having a third child,” my wife says to me. We have two daughters.
And she’s right. I’ve never really grown up. Sure, I’m more wrinkly now than I’ve ever been. And my hair’s turning silver. But in my heart I’ve never really felt like a “grown up.”
Grown ups wear suits and go to work in big buildings and have days full of meetings and miss soccer games because they’re in San Francisco closing deals. None of that has ever appealed to me. Which is not to say that I don’t sometimes wonder what I’m missing out on. Being a grown up is a pretty popular concept, after all.
I’m just not entirely comfortable with that concept.
I’m a writer. A person who creates. But you’ll never hear me call myself “a creative.” You can click here to understand why that is, but the short version is semantics. Only a deity is capable of true creation.
Which doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to be creative. We can. And we do. In fact, I’d say that we’re all born with an innate need to create.
My friend Laurie Smithwick recently launched a website called Step Away from the Screen and Make Something. Go there and check it out. I helped her articulate the concept for her site, and in doing so had to think critically about the idea of creating. Laurie and I talked about this idea recently over coffee.
“I’ve noticed that sometime around our tenth birthday, a split occurs,” Laurie said. “We make a decision that we’re either creative, or we’re not. Those who decide that they are, stick with it in some capacity. Those who think they’re not creative start pursuing other things.”
“Which is just absurd because we’re all born with a need to create,” I added.
“Right,” she continued. “How many six-year-olds would ever say ‘no’ to playing with Play-Doh, or coloring, or making a fort out of cardboard boxes?”
“Right? So why do we start doing this as we get older?”
Because we start to grow up and out of the idea of being creative. At some point we replace the need to create with other things. Creating is play. Work is productive. Then we naturally morph into pursuing law, business, and finance careers when we’re in college. Not that being a lawyer, entrepreneur, or stock broker isn’t creative. In fact, I’d challenge you to present any career that doesn’t employ some level of creative problem solving.
It’s the fluffy creative stuff that we turn away from. Even though that stuff is as much a part of who we are as it ever was. In my novel Minor King, the protagonist, a writer, struggles with the idea of a beast inside of him trying to get out. Write what you know, they say.
I write most every day. On the rare days that I don’t, I pace the floor of my mind wishing I could. I’ve never been able to explain this until recently when I finally came to terms that creating is part of my DNA. No, I still don’t consider myself “creative.” I just am. We all are. I happen to let my creativity off leash more often than most other people my age.
Laurie’s website is designed to get people to acknowledge the need to create, then entice them to step away from the screens of their lives to do just that. It’s a brilliant “return to your roots” concept, if you ask me.
After struggling to fit in with the rest of the grown ups in my life, I’m starting to realize that my writing, or rather, my need to create, is something like a divine calling.
When a baby is born, she is as divine and pure as she will ever be. As she grows into childhood, she gravitates to that which comes naturally—like coloring, or molding dough. Then, after a decade or so of being influenced by her environment, she begins to move away from the idea of creating, toward a grown up ideal of what she thinks the world expects of her. And her creativity is something that exists only in her past, with little moments of creative inspiration rising up every now and then.
I’ve never completely let go of the idea of creating as play. And yet, I’ve learned to make it part of my work.
So yeah, I guess I’m like a kid. And I’m ok with that. I’m a writer.