A (Sad) Creative Realization

Switching back to questions about myself and my upbringing, today I find myself wondering about the role of creativity in my life and upbringing.

I was having a discussion with friends about Pintrest, which both of them love.

But for me, I’m finding I just don’t “get” it. I’ve looked at it a few times now and find myself just staring at the screen thinking to myself that I have no idea what to do with this. It’s almost like what someone who’s illiterate might feel when plopped down in front of a typewriter.

Me being me, this turned into a discussion as I try to understand what it means and why I don’t get it. Both of them talked about it as a tool for fostering creativity, right-brained thinking and play. That it’s exercising the creative muscle really.

And in reading what they both had to say, it really hit me: I think I don’t get it because creativity was never valued or really fostered in my growing up. I never really doodled, I never drew. When I played with Legos I almost never built anything except what the set was meant to be (like a house, spaceship etc). In my family there was no music, no art. In my elementary school we didn’t have art (but we sure did have religion class!). To be fair, I did play saxophone and my mother supported my doing that, but she didn’t get it. And there was this very definite sense in where I grew up that these things were frivolous.

When I was in middle school (we had moved from small town Ohio to the DC area by then), they did have us take classes like art and shop. And as I think of it, I remember this overwhelming sense of helplessness and frustration. I was being told to make something but I had no idea how to. Worse yet, I was paralyzed because of my overwhelming need to do it right. I would get so upset I would want to cry. Part of that frustration was because I wanted to do it but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the ability but also there was this sense that I wasn’t allowed: I wasn’t good enough and anyway, I felt I had to grow up to be able to support my mother and family.

I remember wanting to be creative: I would read composer biographies in elementary school and wish I could one day be a composer myself. But we couldn’t afford violin or piano (though my last year of high school I did take violin, paying for it myself). And so as a kid and later teenager, I would always look on people who were creative like the cold, starving person looks at those attending a dinner party from outside: this overwhelming mixture of envy, shame, misery, an awareness that you’re not like them, that you don’t belong and, worst, that you’ll never belong.

When I was in high school and college I would write poetry for myself, but I never shared it and never thought it was “real”. In college, I dropped saxophone and violin because I went to a school with a conservatory and felt I wasn’t really a musician. After college, it was time to work and that’s where I’ve been ever since really. I have taken creative writing courses over the past few years but, again, those fade away, buried under the sense that I’m just playing at it.

Over the years, people have encouraged me to do what I want around creativity. And yet I don’t. I continue to be saddled with this voice that says I’m not a “real” writer (even though my list of publications on my CV stretches for two pages), that I’m not good enough, and that it’s a waste of time and I should focus on doing things that make money.

The sad thing is that objectively, I do think I’m naturally a very creative person. In spite of the lack of fostering I’m talking about, you can see it in my sense of humor, my puns, and my work in communications and problem solving. I think if I had been raised to value that and foster that I could well have done great things with that creativity. Instead, trapped in the hell of small town catholic Ohio I was forcibly fashioned into something entirely not me. It’s a telling thing that I tested as an ISTJ for so long but now test as an ENFP. The former is what they made me, the latter is what I am. That’s how drastically my upbringing deformed me.

This is another post that has no solution. All it really is is a realization of  the scope of the problem. And an overwhelming feeling of sadness, loss, anger and frustration around this all.

Maybe I’ll find a way to start being creative like I want. Maybe this is a step towards excising those voices at last.

I don’t know. All I do know is that it’s a good thing I see my counselor in a couple of hours. And that I’m lucky to have people to help me with things like this.