Inalienable, Indispensable & Praise-worthy
The Creativity Column
By Staff Writer J. K. McDowell
Welcome to The Wayfarer’s column on Creativity. As we explore the various aspects of creativity and the creative life in this column I want to start some initial notions to get us going on this adventure. I believe that these first notions will hold or at least not hold us back.
Let’s start with declarations. We all know the document and those lines penned by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
While Jefferson, Adams and Franklin labored long hours to succinctly define a document that would lead to the birth of our nation, this is not an exhaustive, exclusive treatment. I believe that Creativity is another inalienable right. Your creativity is your sovereign own. My creativity is my sovereign own. No law of government grants you your creative right nor can the same instrument deny this right. The creative right itself cannot be sold, bartered or given away, yet its works may be. The creative right is essential in the same way that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are. The creative right is so important that no longer can we accept phrases like “I am not very creative.” as self-talk or “He is not creative.” as casual judgments. To counter such cliché’s we must go deeper to the chains that bind us and to the fears that block us. This correct recognition of the creative right is an important starting point for me.
Next we move from inalienable to indispensable. You might know this quote from Henry David Thoreau:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, … A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work.”
These often-misquoted words from Walden are 160 years old and the sicknesses they describe still have us in their grip. Quiet desperation is the silenced creative spirit. We need to awaken this spirit in ourselves and in others to loosen the grip of hopelessness that plagues this modern world. We are enrapt by distractions as we are cheered on to answer the calls of consumer and media culture. Is everything so wound around selling, urging the sale of widget A to sell advertising to sell widget B and on and on? There are more important challenges in our lives and in the world and they will not be solved in these “amusements of mankind” like consumerism. We need the creative spirit in all of us to move us forward into a new era. An unexercised creative spirit leads to despair, leads to numbness and leads to hopelessness.
The creative spirit is celebratory. The creative eye, when opened, pays attention to the miraculous in the so-called mundane.
We need to say that the creative spirit is a thousand strong. No, a million strong. No, a billion strong. Yes, a billion strong. The creative spirit is a billion strong. You think this is impossible? That is only one in seven of every one of us on this planet. The challenges are great. The world is more complex and more precious than previously imagined. We need the creative spirit to move from “quiet desperation” to a sense of richness in ourselves and the world around us.
Now moving from indispensable to praise-worthy. Here is one of my favorite quotes from William Butler Yeats, from his poem Vacillation:
“My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.”
Yeats describes a singular precious event, unplanned and unexpected. We need to do better than this. There is no longer any time to wait till you are over fifty and twenty minutes more or less, is not long enough. The creative needs to be praised and encouraged and blessed. Now, often, in your life and in other people’s lives. The praise needs to be genuine. Spend some time in praise and gratitude.
Creativity is an inalienable right. Yours, mine, no permission necessary, no one can take it away. Creativity is needed in these times, to address the challenges, the small and the big ones in life. Creativity needs fed with praise. No time to hold the applause. These three small notions will sustain us on this adventure into creativity.
The autumn issue of The Wayfarer will celebrate New England, its writers and themes. I have already mentioned two men of New England, Adams and Thoreau. In the autumn issue of The Wayfarer I will explore Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas around and about creativity. I know Emerson’s essay “On Self-Reliance” shaped my thinking early on and revisiting his wisdom will be refreshing to this pursuit of the creative.
Enjoy the summer; make the season shine with creativity. See you in the autumn.
J.K. McDowell is a poet, an artist and a mystic celebrating the creative spirit. His poetry collection Night, Mystery & Light is published by Hiraeth Press. An expatriate Ohioan, welcomed in the arms of Acadie, McDowell lives 20 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.