“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing … I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”
― J.D. Salinger
Gather around! I will tell you a story of creativity. Think about what you create and why you do it. For the satisfaction? The end result? What if the main purpose of creating is…creating. What if it’s the act of creating, more even than the product, that does us good?
My daughter is lucky enough to have her own bedroom now, free of snoring brothers and prying eyes. She immediately set out to make it her own: wouldn’t you? Would you decorate the walls with pictures of favorite places? Soothing color schemes? This alone is a pretty good mental exercise.
My daughter made her bedroom into a shop. A storefront, a trading post. She made paper envelopes for new stock (coming soon!) and pasted them onto the walls (with that blue gummy stuff, thankfully. No tape on the new walls, please.)
Before long, the room/store was cluttered beyond belief. It was shop and stockroom in one. These paper objects seemed to reproduce on their own. Beneath the art table sat a pile of scraps, ever colorful but ever growing. More envelopes appeared! Sale signs came and went! Hours of operation were posted! New items arriving all the time!
Are you charmed? Horrified? Bored? I was a little of each, to be honest with you. I remembered the room when it was being built, bare wood and echoes. I had imagined something very different – something orderly – for my daughter’s first days and nights. But the store was well-trafficked and you could hear her haggling with her brothers over the price of golden swords. She was in the thick of it, and quite happy indeed.
Until, there was more store than bedroom. Soon she didn’t want to sleep there anymore, and climbed in with her brothers at night.
So yesterday I ventured in, and started to clean. (I know, parents, that technically this is her job. But this store was bigger than the both of us, and I knew she wouldn’t have the grit yet to do what had to be done. Which was…) I took down all the storefront signs, swept the floor, recycled golden swords. I wiped blue goo off walls where paper envelopes once hung. I cleared tables so they were again open for business – unlike the store, which had been abandoned. As I worked I rehearsed consoling her. She knew I was cleaning – what did she expect? And no one’s bought anything in the shop for a long time. Let’s move on etc. etc.
Just then she wandered in, took a look around. She put her arms out, spun around (she could do this now that the shop was pruned back), and said, “This is DAZZLING! I can sleep in here again!” She didn’t even ask me where the paper items were – it was old news.
Think about how most children practice this daily. They color pictures, and leave them on tables. They help you bake, and leave their dough to harden on the counter. As far as creation goes, they are, in short, Zen masters. (And why not, when they have no responsibilities? But I’m talking about the creation here. Keep the chores out of it.)
When I learned to knit, I was told that for your first piece, you make something you intend to throw out. You want to focus only on the stitches, and if you come out with something pretty, all the better. But that’s not the point of the exercise.
Did my daughter want patrons in her shop when it opened? Absolutely. But she spent far more time on product development than customer service. That’s where the joy is.
So: how do we bring that to our own creative lives? The lives where, during the work day and while making dinner, only the product matters? How do we tap into that joy of creation for its own sake? For my part, I will remember that when you create, you feel better. It’s like exercise. And I believe this is universal: I believe this is true for every human being alive.
I would like to know – please leave a comment. What is your creation medium of choice? How can you create in that medium for its own sake? What parts of the process, more than the product, please you?
And go make something, and share it here with us!