To Be or Not to Be Creative: a Meditation

In one of her books about writing poetry, Mary Oliver tells the would-be poet that danger is always lurking somewhere.  The would-be poet’s dread about sitting down and writing, when he could be bread-winning to avoid some imagined impending disaster, isn’t a good excuse to skip out on practice sessions.  She’s right, of course, to a reasonable extent.

I bring this up because creative activities are often seen, by would-be creatives, as too risky:  their return on investment is not worth the cost in time, energy, and money.  However, as a great friend pointed out, if you stop watching TV, and if you don’t currently have or take care of kids, then, unless your life is otherwise extremely demanding, you have enough free time, energy, and money for a few serious creative activities.  (If you have kids, you probably still have time to be creative; you can even involve them in your creative activities, which could give them an early start to something amazing later on!)  The choice between being “practical” or creative now reduces to how important and stimulating those creative activities are for you:  if they give you a sense of fulfillment, then you might as well dive in.

Additionally, the successful creative habit (e.g., regular drawing, painting, music-making, etc.) is self-reinforcing.  Any activity that does not somehow reinforce its continued practice will soon extinguish itself.  So, for example, if you are a busy physician constantly managing other people’s problems, and drawing provides a meditative/soothing counterpoint to your day, then drawing may be self-reinforcing for you.

Creativity doesn’t have much to do with external validation.  (See Vincent van Gogh.)  The person who creates for external validation is the person who, if he somehow even manages to establish a creative habit, will stop as soon as that validation (such as sufficient “return on investment”) diminishes or disappears.

Your life is like a sailboat adrift on the ocean: you direct your sailboat, as well as you can, toward your goals, but have little control over the storms and threatening waves that come your way.  Sooner or later, you will die.  You, like everyone else, are biodegradable.  So, while you’re still around, you might as well create something we can remember you by.


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