Where I create I am true, and I want to find the strength to build my life wholly upon this truth, upon this infinite simplicity and joy. —Rainer Maria Rilke
For as long as I can remember, I have admired creative people and, for much of my life, never considered myself to be one of them. I understood nothing about the creative process. Indeed, I didn’t even realize creativity involved any sort of “process.” I just assumed that creative people knew what to do and did it—effortlessly. I also assumed that to be creative, you had to have a touch of genius or at least, be blessed with a recognizable talent. As far as I was concerned, that left me out completely.
“We teach what we need to learn” is an adage that certainly applies to me . . .
Early on, my experiences in school pretty much nail the coffin on my capacity for creative expression. In Mrs. Skinner’s third-grade class I am the only girl who does not get into the school chorus. I feel so nervous singing in front of the teacher that all I can manage is a humiliating squawk as my voice struggles to reach the high notes of the requisite audition song, “America the Beautiful.” After school lets out, I can’t wait to get home so I can dump out my big box of Crayola Crayons. I select one of the slender shafts at random and draw free form designs—purely for the joy of experiencing color. Back at school, I discover that I have even less aptitude for art than I do for singing. I cannot draw a realistic image to save my life, and my meager attempts at crafts produce pathetic puddles of clay with curled edges—ashtrays— that I dutifully bring home to my mother, who smiles weakly and says nothing.
Each semester, my report card reminds me that I am not talented, therefore not creative. In my junior high sewing class, I actually get a D on my gym bag. Anyone can sew a gym bag; it’s just a square of material with straight stitching on three sides. Anyone can—but apparently not me. How can I face my grandmother: a woman so supremely confident in her creative capacities that she could, over a weekend, design and whip out a fully lined coat complete with covered buttons? Shame overcomes me; I am a creative incompetent.
Eventually, I learn to lip-sync and to avoid any activity that requires me to use my hands. Still, I am drawn to the unconventional lives of creative people. My heroes are explorers, cowboys and cowgirls, blues singers, artists, and writers—smart, independent people who disregard social conventions and leave familiar places in order to journey into uncharted lands. I feel myself to be one of them in spirit, but I don’t know how to live a life that expresses that spirit. Much of the time I am aware of a restless longing that drives me in search of something I cannot name. . .