“Never stop creating… never stop creating…” Jordan was singing—making up his own song and repeating the same words to the same tune over and over again. I smiled. We were in the car, driving away from our familiar, friendly urban home of thirteen years, and towards the great unknown wildness of a rural farm we were scheduled to buy later that day. It was a place that Geoff and I believed would release our artistic spirits in new and nurturing directions. And my nine-year-old son was singing, “Never stop creating.” He got it.
Aside from the fact that the song lacked much variation—or maybe because of it—the phrase stuck. None of us could forget it. It became one of our farm family mantras—three precious words that we pulled out of our pockets to hurl at challenges that arose as we wrestled livable spaces from the farmhouse, beat back the weeds, and learned to live in constant proximity with one another. Alone, together, in a new place, we had to be creative—not just in the work of making art, but in the moment to moment living of our lives.
Soon after, Geoff and I began to realize that the creativity that mattered most to our respective artistic projects wasn’t the practice of technique or the direct shaping of a piece—although both were important. What mattered most was a more fundamental creativity—the art of staying open to the possibilities of every moment regardless of what we are doing; of making new moves in relation to the most basic tasks of every day, and of living lives that could and would erupt in new work.
What is creativity? It is easy to link it with artistic ability, and assume that some people are creative while others are not. In this view, those who are creative make, design, and produce things that occupy the realm of the senses. They use imagination to conceive of forms they then realize in works of art. Or so we believe.
What if creativity is not so cerebral? Not so mental? Not so intentional? What if creativity happens every minute of every day, in the movements of our sensory, bodily selves?
In this view, every human is and must be creative in order simply to survive. In every moment of life, who we are, where we are, with whom we are, and what we are given are unique. In every moment, we need to be able to receive an impulse to move that will take shape as the thought or feeling or action that our participation in the moment demands. What if creativity is a capacity to move differently than we have before?
How am I going to respond when my kids miss the bus? When the stew bubbles? When I stub my toe? What am I going to think, feel, or say when my child has a bad day? When the oxen get loose? When my friend is depressed?
In this sense creativity is not only the fact of movement or even the ability to move, but the ability to recognize and receive and follow through with a new movement—whether one is shaking a potent spice or answering a question; sketching a scene or stretching a resistant mozzarella; juxtaposing words or planting the garden.
Sure I can draw on past experience to guide my actions and predict their impact. I can mobilize patterns of response that have worked in other situations in the past. I can recalibrate old patterns to meet new challenges. I can follow the example of history and tradition. At the same time, I can also hold these possibilities aloft, open to the singular nexus of reality in that moment, and find a new way through. I can remember that every moment packs an opportunity to create myself anew.
There are persons who choose to cultivate this creative potential in a particular medium as the focus and source of their life’s activity. Such people may indeed become artists or inventors, sculptors or dancers, poets or engineers. Yet their basic activity remains the same, common to every human alive: sensing and responding to what is given; finding play in the moment; and receiving and following through with impulses to move.
Creativity, in this sense, courses through the heart of human becoming, churning its way though our bodily selves, carving us into channels of movement potential. Every move we make erupts from the last, builds us in the present, and opens us to the future. We exist as a bundle of branching possibilities in relation to the realms of interaction we inhabit. Creativity is not a mystery. It is not a gift given or withheld by a power beyond us. Creativity is who we are.
Never stop creating. On the eve of 2015, our farm family mantra echoes through me, as a good one to remember. Why? Because it reframes the age-old process of setting goals and making resolutions as an expression of this fundamental human creativity.
Never stop creating. What does it mean? Never stop imagining what is possible. Never stop affirming your desire to make it real. Never stop finding the freedom to respond in line with what you know you want. Never stop seeking to make love real.
It means: don’t shy from what you can imagine. Set your goals! Dream your dreams! Go for them! Just don’t be bound by them. Don’t be judged by them. Hold them loosely, gently, knowing they are expressions of your own hope and desire—knowing that they maps for opening channels of energy you want to manifest in yourself.
“Never stop creating” means that this process of imagining what can be is not a question of muscling the mastery to overcome your failings. It is a question of giving yourself permission to experience the ever-present stream of creativity at work in you.
As you set out for your goals, you may not end up where you thought you wanted to go, but that is not the point. In the process you will learn who you have become. What patterns of sensing and responding—of anger or fear, shame or anxiety—have you created in the past? What desires have you picked up from others that are not actually relevant to you? What do you want even more than what you thought you wanted?
Sometimes we find that our goals are too small. Sometimes too large. Sometimes skewed to the side. Sometimes backwards. Regardless, we have gotten what the act of setting goals has to give: effective, visceral knowledge of how to make a better move.
It is easy to forget this fundamental creativity. It is easy to imagine that we must sense and respond to what is given in the ways we are told, or have in the past. It is easy to believe that we cannot change, that we won’t change, and even that we don’t want to change.
However, we can help ourselves remember. We can feed our fundamental creativity. We can by finding one thing to do very day that reminds us—one tiny, low-impact, non-stressful act of explicit creating that allows us to stop, listen, sense, receive, and respond.
During December I decided to make paper snowflakes to mark the days of advent. Each evening, I would take a piece of white paper, fold it in half, in thirds, and then in half again. With a pair of scissors, I would slice away small shapes—triangles and arcs, amoebas and dots. I cut carefully and carelessly. The stakes were low. It was only a snowflake. It took minutes and cost little.
Yet every day, when I unfolded the snowflake, a small gasp escaped me. Something never seen before emerged before me. I taped it to the wall, and the next day did the same, one by one, making a huge snowflake swirl. Every day, the snowflake spiral grabbed my gaze at least once and often several times, reminding me of the creativity that is endlessly flowing within, waiting to be given paper and scissors. Pen and ink. Time and space. Heart, mind and bodily self.
It may seem silly, until you try it. Fold the napkins differently. Hum a tune while you work. Step first with your opposite foot. Put your bag on the other shoulder. Alter your shower routine. Set your pillow in a different place. Try a new spice. Look in a new direction. Make a snowflake.
Remind yourself. You have permission to keep becoming who you can imagine you want to be.
Never stop creating.