Thursday, May 9, 2013

On Childhood Creativity and Adult Artistry...

Just about everyone on my Twitter feed is talking about Hyperbole and a Half this morning. I admit, I had never heard of the blog until so many people were commenting on and sharing the most recent post link that I had to check it out. And I'm so glad I did because the opening portion spoke directly to me. 

" I remember being endlessly entertained by the adventures of my toys. Some days they died repeated, violent deaths, other days they traveled to space or discussed my swim lessons and how I absolutely should be allowed in the deep end of the pool, especially since I was such a talented doggy-paddler. 

I didn't understand why it was fun for me, it just was. 

But as I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren't the same. 

I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse's Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled. I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience. "

That's the story of my life, as I have come to understand it lately. I used to write new, original stories all the time. From my youngest days of just gathering all of my dolls-- even the ones that were different sizes and clearly didn't belong together-- and coming up with new adventures for them, I would create character and worlds and situations. I'd play chef and mix random ingredients I found in our kitchen into a concoction I'd teach my studio audience how to prepare for themselves; I'd come up with students for my fake elementary school class I taught at my Fisher Price easel and gave them personalities, problems, and very real tests to score. At night when I couldn't fall asleep, I'd tell myself my own bedtime stories, probably half-borrowed from the books I was just learning to read. My father tape-recorded me doing that at least once. When I caught him recording my stories, I stopped saying them out-loud, but every night, well into my high school years, when my mind would race, I would let it by making sense of the ideas and working out issues I'd later jot down into notebooks. From ages ten to eighteen I kept notebook after notebook to jot down ideas and early drafts. It seemed like I couldn't buy a new one fast enough. I continued the tradition in college, always keeping a notebook in my nightstand drawer for late night or early morning inspiration, but by then I had mostly taken to banging everything out on my computer. I'd write a new story at least every week, refining it as time went on and adding it to the pile. Sometimes they'd be short-form or character profiles, sometimes poems or song lyrics, sometimes full-on screenplays. 

But over the last few years, for whatever reason, the notebooks have sat blank, still in the same spot in the drawer, and there are more unfinished story ideas on my laptop and old USB drives than there are completed pieces I'd want to show anyone or even try to get published. 

Now, I don't think this is a commentary on depression for me, even though Hyperbole and a Half used the same example to launch into a very personal story of one. I feel like what I am experiencing is the final nail in the coffin closing my childhood and burying it in the past alone. Kids are creative and imaginative, inherently, but not everyone is born a true artist. 

Those above words from Hyperbole and a Half reminded me of another quote I had taken to saving recently, from Chris Ware's "Building Stories."

" I don't think you can make yourself into an Artist... you just have to be born that way, like being gay or something... that was my problem, I think... I was just art-curious. "  

The stories I came up with when I was young were great escapes for a bored kid looking for an outlet and source of entertainment, but as time went on, it appears I got that out of my system. I don't know how else to explain the lack of writing I've been doing lately. I had so many stories within me once, but for the most part, I feel like I said all I needed to say. I still have ideas, but I'm no longer the control freak who has to deliver the ideas in my very specific way. I'd love nothing more than to see someone who still has that childlike creative spirit take my idea and run with it farther than I ever could.

I don't need the outlet anymore, so the creativity does not come as often and fluidly. Just like how I would never sit down to finger paint these days because I don't like the mess, I often tell myself I want to write-- or that I should be writing-- only to find myself sitting, staring at my laptop screen for an hour at a time, not moving, no thoughts racing through my head of how to execute a theme or an existential idea. And when I get up to do something different, I don't feel defeated the way I used to at having a blocked or otherwise unproductive day. I'm okay with what I've accomplished before. And the bursts of inspiration I do have are nice, but they're mostly nostalgic now. And maybe that's okay. Just because something is in my past doesn't mean it isn't still a part of me. It just can't be all of me. 

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