Recently, reading Wild Women, Wild Writing by Judy Reeves, I came across a brilliant writing exercise. The aim was to draw a map of your creativity. The instructions were simple — use a bunch of coloured pens to jot down all the ways you remember being creative, from childhood onwards.
Remembering forgotten creativity
I see myself as a writer. Writing stories goes back to early childhood memory. I kept diaries and journals as a child, for most of my teens and early twenties — all lost. And I have piles of journals without a break for the last 24 years. Many of them are beautiful artefacts as well as places where I’ve developed my writing.
Along the way there has been a great deal of poetry. I wrote screeds of bad poetry in my teens and spent A level history lessons sitting at the back of the class writing poetry. Later, the writing turned to home education articles and books. Then there were hundreds of sermons written over fourteen years. And I wrote a PhD in feminist christology of something over 100,000 words.
I returned to poetry and to writing novels in my late thirties. Now I write poetry, novels and blogs and there’s this nonfiction project building in my head. All my creativity seems to be about writing…
And yet I rarely envision myself as creative in other ways, except perhaps for cooking… Well yes, I cook every day. I love recipe books — my favourite form of comfort reading — and enjoy adapting the recipes as I go. And each year I bake a swathe of fragrant Christmas cakes — some as gifts, some for the family over the holidays. And there is a long history of birthday cakes … So I can allow that I’m a creative cook and a writer, but that’s it — the limit of my creativity…
Yet, when I was a child, I loved to sew. I gathered any scrap of material and made patches. I made patchwork bags, lots of them. I made rag dolls and sewed clothes for them. I did cross-stitch pictures and learned embroidery stitches from who knows where.
I liberated a chest of unused blankets from my Nanna’s house and made garments that I sported around 1970s Teesside — creations that were something between poncho and coat. In my teens, I bought sewing patterns and made dresses, blouses and skirts. Something I kept up into my twenties.
And I began a hand-made patchwork quilt while I was at university; an exquisite heirloom that my daughter finally completed recently, as a wedding present.
Okay, so there’s writing, cooking and sewing, though I don’t sew now except to fix on the odd button.
But before any of that, before I hadn’t realised that I ‘couldn’t draw’, I would lose whole days drawing. My favourite subject was dogs, most of whom lived in rose-trellised cottages. And when I was at university I made another foray into drawing — it didn’t last, but still…
I’ve never thought of myself as generally ‘arty’, not in the visual sense. But when the children were young and educated at home — we shared some some brilliant art projects. We learned how to make paper. We printed our own Christmas paper. We covered walls with artwork — one with the history of walls— the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Wailing wall… Another, rising up the stiarwell, sported a paper tree with leaves that changed with the season. Fun projects.
We learned silk-screening. We made tye-dyed t-shirts and duvet covers and experimented with other fabric printing techniques. We made candles, learned lino-printing and produced papier mache Christmas presents one year. I was only ever half a step ahead of the children, but still…
Something I don’t have much sense of is movement art. I’m don’t think of myself as co-ordinated, despite which I did do that year of jazz ballet in Cambridge in my twenties. And another two years afterwards in Bristol.
And there was a mediaeval dance class in Cambridge — learning caroles, pavanes and qaudrilles. Oh, and I learned Twenties dancing for my 21st birthday party. And now there is yoga. So perhaps there is a bit of movement art, but not much…
And that’s about it. Well, I sang in choirs for a while. Church choirs. Then with a school while I was teaching and more Church choirs. And on Iona, at the Abbey. I wouldn’t say I can sing. It’s a muscle and gets a bit better when used. A little better…
But, when I reflect back, my voice was more creative doing drama. I did drama lessons from the age of 11–18. How could that slip my mind? I performed in local Eisteddfods and often won. I was talent spotted and offered a place to study drama, but I chose university, which I’ve never regretted.
I acted in a local amateur dramatics society and got great reviews in the local paper. The breathing techniques and voice projection came in useful later, in teaching and in church ministry. They’re still useful when hosting book launches or doing readings. Yet I rarely remember where I learned those skills.
You’re more creative than you imagine
Doing the Reeve exercise was fascinating. I’m not someone who is forgetful or someone who doesn’t own my creative identity. Yet it was startling and delightful to reconnect with those buried areas of creativity. I’m content that only a few of them survived or became more developed. Skills take time and attention. We can dabble and play in some areas, but only a few will be long term passions that we craft. That’s fine.
But it’s also good to remember how diverse the creative possibilities were and are (people learn at every age). It’s a simple little exercise that sets off a chain of memories; more than memories — a chain of paths you’ve walked and places you stopped to find nurture.
I did my creativity map in my journal, but Reeves suggests doing it on a big sheet of paper and pinning it up so you can keep adding to it. And keep noticing it.
We live with a great deal of technology, a huge amount of noise and legions of distractions. It’s grounding and refreshing to take a step back and consider the many ways in which your creativity has blossomed, however briefly and simply, over the years.
Find a bunch of coloured pens and make your creativity map. Astonish yourself. You are more creative than you imagine.
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