The Elegance of Creativity

My husband has rekindled his hobby of making stained glass art. It has been a joy to watch him set up his work space, assemble his supplies, tinker for hours with his designs, and hang the finished products in the window for sunshine to bring them to life. Mike’s creativity had been lying dormant like a seed just below the surface, ready to emerge when the time was right. 

His inspiration was refueled a few weeks ago when we visited a friend’s garage art studio. As Mindy showed us her work area filled with her collection of beautiful handmade jewelry and pottery, my husband’s blue eyes lit up like fire in a kiln. The tipping point was our friend’s casual comment, “I make art as a creative release, and it makes me happy.” And just like that, my husband was an artist again. 

In his book The Courage to Create, Rollo May wrote, “We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.” May believed creativity is an essential component of a successful and fulfilling life. We were created to create. 

Our desire to create is seen in the popularity of television programs featuring ordinary people being creative. Watching other people bake cakes, plant gardens, and build tree houses makes for good television, but it doesn’t garner the same positive benefits as rolling up our sleeves and doing it ourselves. Maybe that explains the success of stores like Hobby Lobby.

There’s something innately elegant about being thoroughly engrossed in making something. When we’re creating, our personal problems melt away along with the cares of the world. We fall into a rhythm psychologists refer to as flow, defined as a mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and utter enjoyment.

Minutes flow into happy hours as Mike grinds pieces of glass, as Mindy shapes clay, as my mother-in-law stitches a quilt, as my neighbor decorates sugar cookies. Mihaly Csikszentmihali, a psychologist who died this week at 87, said during intense creativity, “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” 

Even if you haven’t made anything since that diorama for your seventh grade English class, you are creative. Boldly answer your call to create. Paint. Dance. Weave. Sing. Bake. Carve. Invent. Cook. Design. Sculpt. Fix. Plant. Film. Decorate, Sew. Draw. Write. Act. Quilt. Build. 

So what stops us from exploring our creativity? Here are my top excuses and what I tell myself in response.

  1. I don’t know how. You’re smart; you’ll figure it out. Take advantage of resources at the library, bookstore, and the Internet. Remember, we learn by doing.  
  2. What if I’m not good at it. At first, you probably won’t be. Create for creativity’s sake. If it turns out great, that’s just a bonus. 
  3. I’m not inspired. Go outside. Nature holds all of the inspiration we ever need. Hang out with other creatives. Become a patron of the arts.  
  4. I’m feeling lazy. Life is short. Get up and carpe the heck out of the diem!

Research shows being creative can improve happiness, stress, confidence, focus, problem-solving, authenticity, anxiety, self-expression, sense of freedom, resilience, open-mindedness, risk-taking, decision-making, and clarity. How wonderfully elegant. §

“The creator made us creative. Our creativity is our gift from God. Our use of it is our gift to God.”
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

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The Elegance of Going to the Theater

I haven’t been to the theater since the pandemic closed the curtains nearly two years ago, and I miss it like a dear friend. I fondly recall the many times I took my language arts students to see a live production of a play or musical. I’m retired now, but I remember how those field trips to the theater filled an ordinary school day with excitement and elegance. 

Learning a little about a performance before going almost always enhances the experience. I enjoyed preparing my students for a production by familiarizing them with the story, the setting, and the writer. Several years ago, my daughter memorized every note of the soundtrack to Wicked before we saw it, and I was glad I studied up on the life of Alexander Hamilton before seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius musical, Hamilton

Another important part of the educational experience is understanding that appropriate conduct and dress show respect for the performers and the venue. A curious thing happens when teenagers dress up; they behave better. I would say that’s true for most of us. When we’re feeling polished, our best manners tend to shine. Going to the theater is a wonderful chance to learn and practice proper etiquette. The more we frequent the arts, the more comfortable we become. 

Every sight and sound at the theater is punctuated with beauty and anticipation. Theaters are often housed in exquisite buildings that stir a feeling of reverence and awe. I loved watching the faces of my students as they looked around the unfamiliar space, some giddy with excitement, others strangely quiet. Before a show begins, we bask in the ornate architecture, dim lights, heavy velvet curtain, and sounds of an orchestra tuning up. 

Finally, there is the elegance of the production itself. Each element, including lighting, costumes, music, dialogue, and movement, is carefully chosen to transport the audience to another time and place. Together, we experience shared emotions we didn’t even know we had, let alone had in common. We applaud the cast and crew as we learn to understand and appreciate theater as a magnificent form of art.   

I realize many of my students liked going to the theater because they got to ride the bus, sit next to their friends, and get out of a few classes. Still, I hold on to the hope that those trips enriched their education and their lives and that as adults they continue to explore and treasure the elegance of going to the theater. Even if I must don a mask and show my vaccination card, I can hardly wait to go back to the theater. §

“I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
~ Oscar Wilde

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The Elegance of a Daily Walk

I have a penchant for novels and movies set during the 1800s. My favorite scenes feature characters gracefully strolling through the beautiful countryside. Without the invention of the automobile or the luxury of a horse-drawn carriage, walking was the only way most people could visit friends or go to church, school, or shops. These days, walking is primarily done for exercise, but taking a daily stroll has many more benefits that can add elegance to our lives. 

There’s no denying the simplicity of taking a walk. It requires no special equipment, it’s free, and we can do it on our own schedule. Whether walking through a misty moor or around the block, all one needs to do is put on shoes and go. We can even do as they did during the Regency era and “take a turn” around the living room after enjoying tea or a rich meal. 

Nature is the main reason I head out the door for my daily walk. Though my route may stay constant, each walk tells a different story with a unique setting that includes the weather and colors of the sky at that particular hour. One never knows what may appear in the unfolding scenes of a walk ~ a bunny in the neighbor’s yard, a fawn at the edge of the woods, Queen Anne’s Lace growing alongside the road. 

Walks can also provide much-needed solitude. One of my most beloved characters in literature is Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. This complex introvert frequently takes long walks alone to sort her thoughts and clear her head. About Lizzie, Jane Austen wrote, “Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk.” 

On the other hand, walks can provide a connection to our community. I often walk down the sidewalk of the busiest road in town. Hardly a day passes that I don’t run into someone I know who honks, waves, or stops for a quick chat. No one tips their hat or curtsies, as they do in my favorite movies, but walking in my hometown makes me feel grateful to be part of a place I love.  

Finally, taking a long solitary walk feels like a romantic nod to the past. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon strolling across a field of wildflowers, stopping under a large shade tree to read a book of poetry or write a few lines of my own. I usually walk in a baseball cap and sneakers, but I dream of the day that I confidently go for a stroll wearing a flowing dress and carrying a parasol. §

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

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