Thursday, June 3, 2010

Creator's High

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." Joseph Chilton Pearce

When he was three, Nick asked a question: "Which way is right?" His innocent question goes beyond merely directional importance and strikes at the very heart of our choices in life, doesn't it? It certainly struck me and George that way.

Which way is right? I'm not sure how it got started, but early in my life, I dreaded the possibility that I might be wrong. This developed into a full-fledged phobia as I learned to define my worth as a human by my grades. If I made a 100 on a test, I was a good person. If I made a 99, I was careless, inadequate, hopelessly stupid. This thinking lead me, at the age of 16, to feel like a complete failure in life and to have thoughts that I'd be better off dead.

How ironic that in seeking to be right I was so terrifyingly wrong.

Why do we put ourselves through these sorts of judgments? Often, we're much harder on ourselves than we are on others. I never thought my friends who made 99s or 89s or 79s or 59s were stupid or bad. I loved them and thought only good of them. But for me, lurking always in the spidery recesses of my mind, was the thought that horrible things would happen if I weren't perfectly right.

There were lots of reasons for this, I suppose, but I'm more interested in solutions. How did I learn that being wrong wasn't the end of the world? How did I make peace with imperfection and lose my fear of it?

Well, aside from a helpful psychologist and some time spent being loved and loving, I cultivated my creativity. It all started with making a baby. I made this little person who coos and giggles and squirms and startles and sucks and cries and poops. That miracle lead me to quit work and stay home full time, one of the scariest and bravest things I think I've ever done.

Being a stay-at-home mom gave me time in my home, and thus made me think about how it was decorated, what was hanging on the walls, what would make it more appealing. It gave me a chance to try flower arranging (not for me), making curtains (also not for me), and papercrafts (definitely ME!). When I discovered papercrafts, I realized that my life-long obsession with office supplies, pens, and paper had a whole creative side that I'd never considered. The genie was out of the bottle, and I haven't looked back.

Still, it took time to get over my fear of being wrong. It's rather startling how persistent I was toward a goal I didn't know I had. I just wanted to make things I liked. I copied others' work, studied magazines and books, spent hours just making stuff. At some point, it stopped being work and started being joyful play. I stopped worrying so much about getting something right and let my creativity loose.

And that's when I understood why God created the universe: because it was good.

Since my epiphany, I'm more conscious of others' brave and creative endeavors and am in awe. George's creativity with food amazes me. I'm too afraid of ruining meat and have never been adventurous in the kitchen, yet he creates original works of art each weekend. My sister's creativity with photography also amazes me. My mom turns everything she touches to art. My mother-in-law makes art with fabric in quilting and applique. My friend Liz, a graphic design artist, was my original inspiration in papercrafts, and in trying to be like her, I found myself.

How do you get your creator's high? What do you do that fills you with that wonderful joy of not fearing to be wrong? Is it fashion? Home decorating? Gardening? Writing? Whittling? Music? Motherhood?

Put another way, what brave new thing would you do if you weren't afraid to be wrong?


  1. Wow! Don't have the time to really answer this! I pretty much enjoy all the same things and don't like all the same things that you've listed. As for your last question, I would publish a book. I have been trying to build up the courage to look into the possibility. I have an idea in related to our craft world, but am terrified to try! Loved your post today, Susan. You rock!

  2. Not only are you a great paper crafter you are an incredible writer!
    I found along time ago "being wrong" was a part of my whole being! It's in the mix of all that is right!

  3. I love reading your blogs, you bring up such interesting things!
    Crafts are a great outlet for me as well, stamping, knitting mainly for me, though it is a little more sporadic in my case. Trying to have everything perfect gets in the way of creativity, that is for sure! I am afraid I have past on that trait to my daughter (who makes terrific collages and can spent hours cutting out stuff).
    If I had the guts to do so, I would start quilting, because I love fabrics and I admire people who can create works of art with it, but I can't bear the thought of wasting material (which I would at first, I'm sure!)

    Have a great day!

  4. One of my favorite quotes is by Edith Schaeffer:

    A Christian, above all people, should live artistically, aesthetically, and creatively. We are supposed to be representing the Creator who is there, and whom we acknowledge to be there. It is true that all people are created in the image of God, but Christians are supposed to be conscious of that fact, and being conscious of it should recognize the importance of living artistically, aesthetically, and creatively as creative creatures of the Creator. If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for our appreciation.

    I use this when I lead women's events that involve any type of creativity.

    I am currently reading Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It is a great resource about creativity.

    I am also currently exploring Praying in Color. It is an amazing way to communicate for all ages.

    I arrived here from your Simplicity blog (which I truly enjoy reading).

  5. Interesting article. I loved the question your son came up with. Never heard that one with my kids. I've never thought about 'what if I'm wrong'. Probably because I'm not a perfectionist. I live with one, my husband and our oldest daughter is also a perfectionist. I can't tell you how it would frustrate them when I would do something that would not seem 'right' OR how my daughter went through school thinking 100 was the only way! (but then again, you just might relate to that one) I have always loved paper. Wrapping paper, note paper, cards and such. So when the explosion of scrapbooking and cardmaking came along, I was instantly drawn to it. This craft calms me and makes me feel like an artist. There really is no 'right or wrong' with creating but guidelines that can be 'bent' at times. I can play with colors and different elements to make a card to give away and place a smile on that persons face. That to me is the 'right' thing to do and in turn makes me happy and content.

  6. Must be P A T T I day so I'll jump right in. I started coming from your simplicity blog but now come straight here. I find your reflections both challenging and inspiring. Having never thought of myself as a deep thinker I am usually surprised by the questions you pose. My DH, Jim, and I created the Life Application Bible Seminar and have written a workbook to accompany the 3 day teaching sessions. Initially designed for pastors and teachers in 3rd World countries we are now doing the seminar with drug and alcohol recovery houses and in prisons. It is an amazing thing to be able to share the freedom that God has given me and that He offers to these men and women and an absolute JOY to witness that freedom being received.
    As to something new and brave that one I will have to take to my journal and think about. My first thought was "driving alone in an unfamiliar place on a busy interstate at rush hour between concrete medial barriers" Terrifying! Oh, Lord, please don't ask me. I was just kidding!!!!
    patti moffett

  7. WOW! I knew I'd get some good comments, but these are AMAZING! Thanks so much for taking time to reply with such thoughtful responses.

  8. What, you were satisfied with only scoring 100 on tests? Wimp! LOL! Actually, this reflects a quip I once made in a seminary class during a discussion of Type A personalities - wimps! Looking back I can laugh, but only because I am no longer such an unyielding task mistress to myself, though I still strive for as close to perfection as I can achieve. I still like doing things well. Very well. Okay, the best I possibly can. The important part here is not beating myself up anymore for being less than perfect me.

    I came to realizing my innate creativity late. In fact, I honestly never had a clue I was the least bit creative. Art was never part of my upbringing, or educational choices. Art was play and I was about work and 'real' learning. Even perfect was never considered enough, only the required starting point for a chance [slim?] of being valid and, maybe, worthy. Ah, just writing that makes me cringe!

    Life, however, has a way of turning us upside down in order to set us right [if we at all allow it] and so it was for me. The joy of creativity really kicked in when I, finally, allowed myself the luxury of PLAY. I think that is essential in creativity.

    Which way is right? Such a profound question, again coming to us from the mouth of a babe. The best place to start? Following the urgings of one's heart. My own journey has taught me to trust that nothing is wrong if it brings me learning and greater awareness. In fact, I firmly believe that so called mistakes are often the very doors leading us to where we are supposed to be but would likely not have reached by other means.

    In connecting with my creativity I feel I have met and befriended my soul. How funny [now] that I never knew she was there just waiting for me to find her. Now, any day without some creative activity is like a day without oxygen - it is that important.

    What would I dare in the future? So many things. I'm still working on not being afraid of not being good enough, talented enough, you know, all those olds scripts.

    Precious Lord, grant me the maturity of child-like delight in the glories of each day, and I shall want for nothing. For sure!

  9. Susan, I found this blog through your other one, and now am following both. You are such a talented writer and I must thank you for making me think.
    According to Wikipedia, a "normal" perfectionist is one who derives a very real sense of pleasure from
    the labors of a painstaking effort. That painstaking effort is innate in any form of in effect, it is our heroin!
    We are always hard on ourselves, not happy until everything is perfect, but maybe it's not the perfection we seek...but the painstaking effort it takes to make it perfect? So maybe it doesn't matter if we are 'right' of 'wrong', as long as we make what we deem to be a worthy effort?
    I think all creative people have at least a touch of perfectionism driving their creativity. We play with our creations until they look "right", even if we don't know the technical design rules...we are not finished until things look balanced to our own super-critical eyes. This applies to all areas of our life, at least with an art form we can contain it, channel it, and perhaps share that sense of pleasure with others with the final results.
    It took me many years to learn to control my perfectionist self. In my teens I was searching, in my twenties I grew, then my thirties brought babies and much frustration with the chaos. Now in my forties I've found a creative outlet where perfectionism can flourish, where I can fully control the effort and the result, it is my sanctuary from the rest of my life where I cannot control everything to my exacting standards, where I must leave things 'good enough' because I don't have the time or the energy to put in more effort.
    So, for me it's not the fear of being 'wrong', but more about the fear of not being able to make the effort it takes to make it right. I'm still learning which areas of my life are worth the effort.
    I have only recently discovered blogland, and I have found many people just like me! There's a whole community out there who 'get' me! A place I can go to see other perfectionists' sanctuaries, it's a happy place.

    My brave new thing is jumping into blogland! I just let go and put it out there...I have allowed others to peek into my sanctuary, and I have found support for my addiction! I'm getting my 'creator's high' fix, but is that right or wrong? ;0

  10. I get my creator's high from singing. This is the only thing I do during which I'm not afraid of making a mistake. God sings, not me. I just open my mouth.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure how I got to this place. I'd love to get to that place in my paper crafts as well, and I'd be interested in hearing more about how it all became "play" for you, and not "work". I usually feel like I'm working at and thinking too hard about it.

    Great topic, Susan! You've had me thinking about it since I read the post.

  11. You echo my experience very closely! The ONE thing I love about being over 40 is that I'm finally starting to accept who I am and understand my limits - I still push them but try not to feel horrible when I hit them. As for the rest of the things about being over 40, well...... It's a whole lot better than the alternative! LOL!

  12. Geez, this is tough. I honestly don't know. I try to stick pretty flowering plants in the ground; they bring me cheer and make me feel like I am improving the front of my house for myself and others.

    Ummmm ...

    I honestly don't know. What was the question again?

  13. Susan, this is a great topic and yes, I am a perfectionist and I won't apologise for it....I have ripped up more projects because there was something probably titchy to others which I didn't like....I enjoy creating and I do use my talents to praise God and to thank Him for the gifts He has given me. This is beginning to sound like I am big headed - no - I consider myself to be a very humble person...and have been told so...if other people want to praise my work that's fine but I'll not be blowing my own trumpet. Folk will say you have been given a great gift...and yes, I probably have but gifts have often to be worked on, practiced, improved and then, down the line will be almost perfect. Let's all remember that only God is perfect....I am a calligrapher and I know that if the scribes of old felt a manuscript was too perfect they deliberately flawed it so that God would have the high place.
    Creating anything is such a satisfying thing to start with raw materials and gradually make a work of art is something which I never tire of...and I trust that God will grant me the use of my hands until the day I join him in Heaven. I enjoy Simplicity so much and read it every day. I, too, have recently started to blog which for me is a very very big step - if it weren't for Blogger I couldn't do it.... - should you wish to follow my little 'imperfect' world

  14. Oh Susan - Creativity. Funny you should mention it. I have to lead a class on this very subject this month at work - perhaps I'll get some hints from the posts. You are truly an inspiration to me each day. Your lessongs in Simplicity show us that we can be elegantly creative without too much stuff needed. What else would I try? Maybe I'd find a solution to that horrible oil spill...

  15. I loved this entry! I see myself, my best friend and my husband in the description of being "afraid to be wrong"!

    Out of the three of us: I think I've let go of it the most but I know I am still held back a little on a personal level. Being a Mom kind of knocked that need to be perfect feeling out of me. Of course I want to do the best for my son but I know mistakes are inevitable and I believe teaching him faith, and lots of love go a long way in glossing over any lack of perfection!

    I love your crafting style! I enjoy your creations so much. They are beautiful and RELAXING to look at! I can take a deep breath, let out a sigh and say "oh, how pretty".

    I too have had a lifelong obsession with pens, markers, paper and office supplies. When I went to my very first SU workshop it was a true "lightbulb" moment as Oprah would say.

    I don't know what I would do differently if I weren't afraid to fail or be wrong. I haven't taken the time to examine myself that closely for years. I am too busy taking care of everyone else to give myself much thought honestly. The time I take to make cards or scrapbook is the one thing I do for myself but I've never tried to be "professional" about it.

  16. What you said about your life-long obsession with office supplies, pens, and paper totally resonated with me. When I was a child, my favourite day was going to buy the new school supplies - all those lovely brand new notebooks, pens, pencil crayons, etc. just made me feel so excited. I never connected that with the fact that I love making cards so much until I read your post. I think that the things we love or learn to love as children are part of our true selves and if we open up to that as adults, we can be incredibly happy in that hobby, occupation, or whatever. I learned to love gardening from my parents and grandparents, and now in my 50s, nothing makes me happier and more peaceful than working in my garden. Card-making is a recent activity - something I started as a way to remake beautiful Christmas cards that I couldn't bear to throw away, and then I discovered the world of rubber stamps. I question whether my cards are good enough - it took me several years to start posting on SCS as I didn't think I made the grade - my cards weren't fancy enough or complex enough and because I couldn't make them like that, I wasn't clever or artistic enough. And then I discovered CAS cards and realized that that was more my style and I felt so much better about what I was doing. Thanks for your blog - I learn so much from it.

  17. Enjoyed your post! I think paper crafting is the PERFECT hobby for a perfectionist --- of which I am --- for it's the attention to detail that really adds to the overall look of my final creations...It's so interesting, though, how paper crafting has helped me view mistakes in a whole new light --- I now affectionately call mistakes "happy little opportunities!" - like getting an ink spot on a finish card. These mistakes actually cause me to use my brain and creativity skills to find solutions to the problem! --- and sometimes (more often than not) those solutions take me to another level of design that wouldn't have been possible without those happy little opportunities! This same way of viewing mistakes works in my day-to-day life as well. Some infamous person once stated: A perfect life is hardly worth living --- and he meant it because you learn so much more from mistakes AND you also gain compassion for others when they make them, too!

  18. I am a recovering perfectionist too - didn't expect my marks to be that perfect, but liked things to be done or organised in a particular way. A great definition of a perfectionist is "someone who takes great pains and passes them on to others"! Having kids is great teaching area for learning to let go of our "perfect" expectations. That in fact there are many ways to be right - what is right for one is not necessarily right for another.

    But I still take pleasure is making my projects well. I agree completely with Happy Little Crafter that our mistakes can help us discover new techniques. I always tell those new crafters who are afraid of making mistakes, that in having to deal with them we may come up with a completely new idea or effect. No one can live without making mistakes.

    I find it easier to deal with the mistakes in my studio than in my life - am still pretty hard on myself there!

  19. I am a recovering perfectionist too - didn't expect my marks to be that perfect, but liked things to be done or organised in a particular way. A great definition of a perfectionist is "someone who takes great pains and passes them on to others"! Having kids is great teaching area for learning to let go of our "perfect" expectations. That in fact there are many ways to be right - what is right for one is not necessarily right for another.

    But I still take pleasure is making my projects well. I agree completely with Happy Little Crafter that our mistakes can help us discover new techniques. I always tell those new crafters who are afraid of making mistakes, that in having to deal with them we may come up with a completely new idea or effect. No one can live without making mistakes.

    I find it easier to deal with the mistakes in my studio than in my life - am still pretty hard on myself there!

  20. One of the women I used to work with was a lot like me - always 'right'. It's something I've struggled with for a long time. I guess I'm one of those people that plans ahead, considers every angle and makes a final decision. I KNOW that I'm going to be wrong, it's happened before and will happen again (which doesn't bother me), but what does bother me is that other people have labeled me as 'always right'. I've told my DH time and again that I don't want to be the one responsible for blowing up the space shuttle because NO ONE bothered to check my math! My coworker said it best when she said 'I hate it when I'm right!'.
    As for creativity, I also love paper! I love cooking too, but that has been a long, slow journey. While I don't have the ability to do CAS like you (I'm more of an inky/technique stamper) I'd love to finally get over myself and try to sell some cards locally. I know it's fear holding me back... I'm working on it. ;)

  21. I too found my creative voice when I realized a couple years ago that playing with paper was an "artful" process!! I had scissors and paper in my hands from the time I was a little girl. As I read through these comments, I am amazed at how much the same we are in loving what we do. If I found the courage I would begin to post my cards and projects online-I have not done that yet because I keep thinking they aren't as good as the ones I look at every day.
    There are so many things I want to do before I die,read a tone of books, write the story of my life to leave for my girls, so many things. If I thought I was good enough I would also decorate my home, but I don't think I have the decorators "eye" and so my home is pretty plain. I guess I have some thinking to do now and some more journaling to do, since this post has given me permission to say yes to some of the things I'd like to do but felt unqualified to do!

  22. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. It is truly helpful to know that someone else has the same struggles and fears.

  23. I think for me, not only afraid of being wrong but being noticed for that. I do agree with Ardyth (I think it was) that once you hit 40+ so many of those cares become 'whatevers' and I like that freedom. I would like to have more confidence in my professional ability (scientific rather than creative) which is probably why I derive such pleasure from a well designed card or seeing something artistically exciting, because I can do it.

    You have definitely started me thinking, and it's always good to be challenged. Thanks for the redirection, you write beautifully, wittily(if there is such a word and probably better spelt), with thought and feeling.

  24. Insert my favorite quote here: "Done is better than perfect."

    Ah, how freeing!

  25. What a great post. Fear is the great inhibitor. I like starting things I have no idea how to finish. That makes me be creative. I've started a novel, a wood crafts business, an outdoor classroom, a teen singing group, all without having a clue how they might turn out. But, wow what fun to try to figure it out.

    Thanks for posts that are so beautifully written and make me think.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!