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"Imagination disposes of everything;
it creates beauty, justice and happiness,
which are everything in this world."

Blaise Pascal

This weekend I contemplated the creative process. I asked myself what is it about the creative act that is so refreshing and invigorating to the psyche? What is it that compels us to be creative? For myself it is compulsive to seek out opportunities to create new ideas or approaches to familiar tasks. Or, to invent games as well as art works that have a functional bent.

Creative Sanity

In the middle of my reverie I saw a picture of myself as a small child. I was three years old again, totally engrossed in drawing a picture. I re-experienced the sense of wonder and excitement I had in applying color to the drawing and shaping the objects exactly the way I wanted them to be. As the child I was oblivious to my surroundings. I was exhilarated and filled with joy. In short, I was enchanted with what I was drawing. I wanted to be no where else doing nothing else.

To understand why my feeling of joy as a small child is significant, I need to give a bit of background. Due to circumstances beyond her control, shortly after my birth, my mother was unable to keep me or my brother with her. At the age of two months I was placed in an orphanage. Though my mother kept track of and visited us occasionally, for all intents and purposes, she did not exist in my life. This lasted until I was six years old and my mother remarried.

The scene I described above, with my joy and contentment, I was sitting alone in the corner of the Denver orphan’s home with my back to the others in the room. When I wasn’t sitting alone engulfed in creative wonder, my memories of "the home" as we called it, were quite different. A state run institution does not allow for any nurturing or personal involvement between the staff and the children. The atmosphere was gray, drab and fairly depressing most of the time. We marched single file to all our meals, to the playground or to the rest room. I had a narrow bed amidst the neat rows of 35 other beds in one open room. There was never any privacy. There were chain link fences around the entire building. I remember distinctly standing with my fingers clutching the chain links watching other children with their mothers passing by on the sidewalk, wishing very much that I could be like them.



The point here is that though the bulk of my formative years were spent in an environment that was very depressing, and sometimes emotionally abusive, I always felt complete joy when engaged in any creative act. Something in me was driven to steal away and construct things from whatever I could find. Often I had to quietly slip away into a closet or a corner, with a few crayons and just a few slips of paper. These were my only instruments of creativity, as none of the children were allowed any personal toys. Yet these were enough to bring me profound rapture.

Finally, at age six my mother remarried. I received my first Christmas present at the age of six. My step father, a wonderful human being, bought me exactly what I’d asked for. This was a standing chalk board that I could sit down at and it had a large box of colored chalk. I never came out of my room on Christmas day. I was totally engrossed in creating colored pictures, admiring them and then erasing them, so I could create another one. I was in heaven. That day is as fresh in my memory today as it was then.

Thus, it was the act of creativity that maintained my sanity and allowed me to know as a small child what joy was. There was precious little in my world that afforded me any love or emotional nourishment. Yet, I was graced to have a compulsive need to create, and in that creative experience I was lifted to lofty heights.

I believe that we all have the creative impulse in us. I was fortunate enough to have mine alive and well, even though my environment didn’t foster it. That impulse is what sustained me during those early years. Once it is allowed to surface, whether through need, as mine did, or by desire, it will provide unending nourishment to the heart, head and soul. It is the most natural act we have, the urge to create.

The most significant way that people can encourage this creative urge in themselves is to have some kind of hobby. Something that sparks their interest and gives them joy as they engage it. It could be a sport, an art, a musical instrument or even an intellectual pursuit. The key factor is that they are fully present when they do it and feel a sense of fulfillment and excitement in the process.

Hobbies are best when they are not competitive. No one else should judge what you’ve done or created. I didn’t let anyone tell me whether what I drew and created as a small child was good or bad. I actually didn’t care if they saw it. I just needed to create it, and when it was finished I felt a sense of fulfillment I didn’t experience in any other way.

As a result I have always had a hobby. I realized in today's contemplation that my computer has become one of my hobbies, and creating this web site is a good excuse to use the computer on a regular basis, beyond my work place. I also get to vent one of my other hobbies, which is a love for mystery, puzzles and just plain venturing into the unknown.

In the final analysis I hope that everyone can vent their creative urge in the way that I was fortunate to do so as a child. Don’t let anyone else judge your creations, just enjoy the process. If other people like what you create, then that’s wonderful because they may feel the joy you felt creating it. If they don’t, it doesn’t really matter. Creative sanity and emotional well being are just a crayon away. As Joseph Campbell aptly said, "Follow your bliss." If you do, your life will unfold new horizons and opportunities hitherto undreamed of.

© J.L. Read, 1997. All Rights Reserved.
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This site is dedicated in loving memory
to its creator, Janet L. Read
1949 — 2000


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