By Jerry Waxler
Read how our collective interest in turning life into story is changing the world, one story at a time.
Look at the sky. Then look again. Nothing changed, and yet everything changed. Ticks of the clock add up and after enough of them, the earth turns again. Day by day, you brush your teeth, wash dishes, watch the news. As the days gather into years, kids grow, you learn skills, achieve goals, and your character evolves. To discover the richness of detail within these moments, look back at the landscape as the years rolled by. To bring the features into focus, ask questions.
For example, I ask myself, “How did creativity enter my life?” On my computer file, I list the decades and then peer into my life journey by answering this question for each decade.
I sewed costumes in cub scouts for a dress up performance. Sometimes we dressed up as Indians but this time we were Robin Hood’s Merry Men. I still can sew the saddle stitch.
In junior high, I assembled models of warships. In the fifties, the armaments of World War II were an important part of my fantasy life. I wished I had the knack to paint the trim more realistically, but didn’t feel confident about my color sense. (Ah-ha! An old regret lurking in an innocent childhood activity.)
In high school biology, our teacher showed us how to embed objects in clear, solid acrylic. I ordered the kit and went to work like an aspiring chemist, pouring half the concoction into a mold, and letting it harden. Then I placed a shiny penny on top and poured in the rest of the goo. My bedroom reeked but I didn’t mind. I was creating!
In college I loved to dance. I practiced moves in my room in front of the mirror, and then showed them off at parties. It felt like magic. As the music flowed through my body I converted it into motion. I also loved to sit and listen. I felt lifted by The Beatles, Joan Baez, John Coltrane. Classical music sent me to the stars, from Beethoven’s symphonies, to Bach’s choirs. I drank in operas, quartets, and soloists. Many of my friends in college were jazz musicians. I know spectating is different than creating, but my appreciation for other people’s music touches such a deep chord I consider it to be part of my own relationship with creativity.
Two decades after I wanted to paint those model battleship, I finally tried my hand at painting, in oils and acrylics on canvas. I had never learned to artistically represent objects, so I stuck with abstractions. My passion was exploring the colors on the palette and on the canvas. That encounter with painting amplified my understanding of color by a hundred fold. I still have the paintings, and I love them.
My computer programming jobs involved graphics and images. I instructed the computer to create and analyze pictures one pixel at a time. I wasn’t an artist, but my work brought me inside the technology of images. And the actual coding was a creative challenge in its own right.
I took singing lessons, first in a little neighborhood music school, and then at my voice teacher’s home. I knew from her compulsive yawning how bored she was with me. She was a frustrated opera singer, and my puny attempts must have seemed so insignificant in comparison. But she gave me enough confidence and skill to join my first choir, where I’ve been singing ever since.
Age: 50 and beyond
Many music teachers thought if you didn’t know a musical instrument by the time you were five years old, it was too late. Fortunately in the 1990’s scientists discovered that neurons can grow at any age. So I started taking piano lessons. Unlike my singing teacher, my piano teacher was interested in my adult learning. I could see in her eyes an admiration for my growing neurons.
I started to write a memoir, a process which is teaching me how writing can organize life. And the best teaching tools I can find are the stories everyone else tells. Using the lessons I learn from all other writers, I create my own story. Culture begets culture. I joined writing classes, and gathered together decades of miscellaneous writing experience into a form that will let me share my life with strangers.
On a sheet of paper or computer file list the decades of your life. Then write notes about how creativity entered your life during that period. Brainstorm connections with the arts, crafts, music, hobbies, activities with kids, or the creativity you expressed in your career.
This writing prompt reveals a broad overview. After you’ve gone through the list a few times, you may find entry points into specific scenes. For example, I could write the scene of standing at the piano next to my voice teacher, then another one in my car singing scales along with my audio taped lesson on my way to work. The scenes of creativity could be sprinkled throughout other events in my life to offer readers a connection with my inner world. Just as important as looking back, I see the tenacious place creativity has held in my life and look forward to decades of satisfaction ahead.
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