Halfway Points

As I sighed a pile of plastic organizer tubs onto the checkout counter at the hardware store, the man working the register turned to me and smiled. “Looks like you’re doing a whole lot of organizing. Daughter going to college?”

I shook my head and laughed awkwardly, mumbling. “No, just owned a house too long without moving. Too much stuff sitting out.” In that moment, I felt a weird wash of emotions. The thought of having a daughter is terrifying. I’m grateful I have a nice home, I feel my privilege and the guilt that whips with it. I’m grateful that I never had kids at a young age, and that my life turned out how it did.

I wonder if the hardware guy could read any of this on my face.

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What can you do?

If you make it a habit, in the blank spaces of life, to spin your brain to create something… even if it struggles or critiques too harshly at first, you will find a strange and wonderful thing occurring. You will find a small, shrunken section of yourself that has lain dormant since childhood, or squashed down even then by circumstance and situation, and it will awaken. Slowly, if you encourage it, your mind will start to spin patterns in the downtime you have. Creativity that did not exist before will start to flow, linking disparate tangles together to make new and strange knots. You may find knotted patterns building even subconsciously, eventually, a wellspring unblocked by not worrying about perfection and just focusing on making the act a part of you.

Creating is something you can learn. Creating is a powerful act. Meaning from thin air. Abstraction over nothing. Making it a habit of mind to fill the cracks between the everyday urgencies of life with pure making is worth doing. It is possible. To make things. Nothing into something.

Make yourself a person who is never bored. Boredom is the retreat of a mind wrapped up in its critic, bound by its assumptions that “Oh, I’m just not creative.” “Oh, I don’t know what to do.” “Maybe I’m not good enough.” Horseshit. Unchoke the energetic, unfettered child inside and let it grow to join you in breathless, joyful moments of pure fun that creation drives us to.

Make stories. Make yourself examine things that you normally overlook, but inspect them from new perspectives. Make good conversations; an often ignored high art. Improvise with the limited resources around you, and find the boundless joy inside any restrictions. Pierce depression by popping it with acts of sharp, intuitive, simple art. Respond to anger by angling it into a fury of wrathful creation. Open yourself to your inner emotions and you will feel an expanse inside you. As this opens, the critical side of you will shrink from a crushing, choking force into a useful helper on the road of making something powerful.

Start slow. Start by observing more. Start by writing a tiny bit. Start by doodling. Start by building. Start by turning everyday objects into otherworldy strangenesses. Simply start every day; every time there is possibility. Start by seeing that possibility instead of lying dormant and passive. Start by not worrying about what failure might look like, and find out directly what failure looks like so you can learn from it.

Turn paper into fuel. Turn a blank page into a challenge, not a chain. Turn your darker side into something that doesn’t just drag you down. Use shadows as firewood to burn through your barriers. A blank piece of paper is not an albatross around your neck. If the infinite possibilities of it sit heavy, then reduce them to a subset of possibility. Think of a single word or emotion or object and work from that. Think of a strange limitation and build on it.

Make with others. When you can, encourage the good things you see in others. We can always build on those.

Creativity is not something you are born with. It’s not an innate talent. That’s a lie told by the system at large, and your situation may embed it, saying that you weren’t gifted with it to start with so you’ll never have it. But nobody starts with it fully grown. Creativity is nourished, grown like a particularly pensive plant, encouraged slowly over time. Others may not be always around to encourage it through the rough times, so you have to learn to push yourself. That willpower to not sit idle and stare, to not sit idle and doubt, is where creativity actually comes from. It’s not a magic spark; it’s the stubbornness of an unstoppable fool that powers you through the flawed failures to the grains of accidental perfection. You can’t grasp at the perfection, or expect to harness it; you have to churn through the chaff and the waste and the utter crap to get there, and you have to keep your wheels turning despite being splattered by cynicism from within and without.

The question you should ask is not “What if I try, and I’m terrible?”

It’s something more like “How will I feel, at the end, if I look back on my life and I never really tried?”

The question you should ask yourself is not “Am I creative?”

It is “When do I want to be creative?”

Get out into the strangeness and fail. Learn something. Come back with new insight. Embed the pattern in yourself that you are going to keep trying, keep failing, keep finding the gems between the mistakes. We can all make ourselves forces of creation. What’s the worst thing that could happen?