Sunday, December 27, 2015

Creative conundrum

When people tell me I'm creative, I never know what to say, because I don't think I'm particularly creative. The other day, when someone said to me, "I didn't know you could play the piano so well," I had a sort of revelation: To someone who cannot do what you do, or does not know how to do what you do, the very fact that you can do it is amazing. But you, because you are trained, or have some knowledge of the art -- you know you are far from amazing, because you have seen or heard others do even more amazing things, things which you are painfully aware are beyond your meagre skills.

But I realised I should own my creativity, I should own my abilities and talents. And it is wonderful that I can play the piano. It is wonderful that I can read musical scores, and it is wonderful that I can improvise somewhat if I have guitar chords instead of the full score. Okay, so I cannot play by ear, and feel terribly limited because of that. And I am not fantastic at improvising and I can't play in many different styles -- jazz, for example, is still foreign to me. But I feel I should be thankful for what I can do.

Although I don't consider myself a perfectionist, in some ways when it comes to creative endeavours, I am one. Which is a bit of an oxymoron, since creativity by its very definition doesn't lend itself to perfection. It has to be fluid and free. You can't box it in, or demand it follow certain rules.

But I am the child who always coloured inside the lines and was careful to ensure the space was coloured perfectly, with not a single minute white gap remaining to be seen. I am the child who believed that if you follow the rules, you will be safe. I am the child who thought mistakes were ugly and flawlessness equalled beauty. I am the child who decided that since A + B = C, there is always a process to be followed in order to obtain optimum results.

I am now the adult who struggles to create.

People who know me would not believe that statement. To the outside eye, I suppose I have a respectable output. But they don't notice that I produce the same doodles over and over again in office meetings. If the doodles look good, it is only because I have honed them to perfection after more than two decades of doodling the same thing. You can ask my high school classmates -- some of them would remember the doodles I left in the margins of my textbooks. I also play the piano in much the same style as I always have... which frustrates me, yet is safe.

So yes... within creativity I feel there are certain rules, like if one is colouring, one ought to colour within the lines. A circle should be a perfect circle, perfectly round. If I am making jewellery, every part of the piece should align perfectly. I struggle because it is good to have standards, yet stifling to be so rules-bound. It's difficult for me to let go and explore, not knowing what will happen or where something will take me. In that sense, my creativity is limited. I don't try crazy new things; I want to be safe, to know it will work -- not just work, that it will work the way I want it to work -- before I try it. Because I hate failing; I hate making something I'm not happy with. It causes me to feel upset with myself for doing something wrong, turning out something flawed.

My rational mind knows that whatever minor flaws or imperfections become part of the object's charm, causing it to possess a beauty all its own. But my heart can't accept anything less than perfection. So I get my logical mind to analyse the possibilities and then I meticulously create according to plan. Creating is very rewarding for me and something I enjoy, but is also something I approach rather timidly. This fear, this hatred of imperfection, is killing my creativity.

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