Creativity is how you choose to respond to what happens in your life: Your choices generate – create – what happens next in your life….creativity is a process that we are engaged in every minute of our lives.
I can still remember the quiet thrill of excitement I felt reading those words by Tory Hughes in her Creative Development Manual. These words seemed to confirm a discovery I was (somewhat slowly!) making for myself. Creativity was not just what happened when I sat down in my little room and mixed colours and made something. Creativity was how I responded to everything – joys, obstacles, challenges, unpredictable events in all of my life. Creativity was really seeing, questioning, adapting, changing, recognising and avoiding default responses and useless habitual behaviours, learning, playing. In ALL sorts of situations.
Creativity didn’t just happen when I had polymer in my hands. It was a very liberating thought.
That same liberating realisation had a profound impact on my journey with the ladies at Samunnat which was starting at around the same time. As Cynthia Tinapple said in a recent Studio Mojo:
Jumping into another culture, country, climate is a good way to rediscover what’s in front of your nose.
When I first started working with the ladies (but not for long I’ve got to say) I had very clear ideas about what WOULD NOT happen. There were a whole heap of WOULD NOTS which really came from my preference for (perceived!) certainty and feeling in control all those years ago. There would not be risks taken, that was for sure. We would be doing all we could to NOT MAKE MISTAKES. We would not look like we were stuffing up. We would only do the stuff where we knew what we were doing. We would be taking THE SAFE PATH, my wordy me yes. And where did that get us? Just the same place as that approach does when you are making art, it got us big fat nowhere.
Luckily for us, being told that the SAFE, SUSTAINABLE items we’d made were not going to sell, coincided with what we were learning from playing with polymer.
Quite separate to our SAFE STUFF, we’d decided that it would not be a disaster if we just had some fun – played around with some of my polymer as respite from pretty awful situations that many of the ladies were in. This would be OK we bravely thought! It seems incredible to me now, years down the track to think I did not recognise the profound value of that fun. Of that play, of that respite. Of how that playing would come to shape these ladies’ sense of self! How it re-awakened their capacity for joy! How it created a powerful and dynamic sisterhood that has changed my life.
As a result of that playing we re-connected with our innate knowledge that play was valuable; we discovered that we learnt more from our mistakes than from playing it safe; and that sometimes our mistakes looked beautiful. The ladies learnt that pulling on their earlobes, bobbing up and down and repeating I am stupid (a standard Nepali educational strategy) was not the way we were going to respond to mistakes here. Instead, we asked what worked; what didn’t; what we’d do differently next time (thank you precious Mark Ylvisaker!). We saw mistakes in a new light. We became less afraid of exploration, of asking questions, of trying things out.
For me, and this is the moment I was totally hooked I think, the most amazing moment was when one of the ladies looked up and, with a voice filled with wonder and joy, shared that she no longer saw herself as a victim because she had a new identity. She had claimed a new identity. From that point on, she was an artist.
Our shared passion about the power of that creative energy that we all possess infuses the retreat that Tory and I are running in September. We know we can know that energy and use it effectively, or that we can inadvertently smother it, block it. My dream is that tapping into the power of creative energy can be just as profound for the people who join us there as it was for me those amazing bahini haru* in Birtamod. As it still is, every day as we respond to what happens in our lives.
(NB: The photos show the *little sisters with some of their creations. The photo of Shobha at the top, smiling with delight at HER necklace which she owned and would be wearing home, is a favourite. The lady to the right had just been referred to Samunnat. She is now one of our core artists! She smiles with joy, fulfilment and pride rather than cowers with fear.)