Clasping her cup of coffee across from me, DeAnna confessed, “I couldn’t sleep last night at all. I kept thinking: ‘How am I going to tell Christy that I’m sorry, but I’m just not creative?’ I honestly sat up all night last night worrying about this!” We were following up together by videoconference almost two years after The Enrichment Project began. I had been noticing a definite trend in these one-on-one sessions; none of the women felt like they belonged, or deserved to belong in The Enrichment Project. Not because they felt alienated from the group, but because they didn’t feel themselves to be especially creative.
I smiled to realize we were going to start talking about definitions, which can only mean I am that sort of nerd . . . . In a move that may have been a stroke of ignorance, a stroke of genius, or perhaps two licks of both, I did not define “creativity” with the Enrichment participants at the outset of this project. Oh, I’m acquainted with various definitions, but I didn’t want to bias what got shared with me. I wanted to experience what the word meant to each of these women. Or has come to mean. And indeed, one of the gifts of this project has been listening to their individual understandings of creativity unfurl and blossom.
I listened to Majda dance around her definitions: Of herself as “straightlaced and corporate,” in opposition to her definition of creativity as “the art of making.” She elaborated on what she meant with a hypothetical situation: “I want this box to be something. The wanting-to-be causes the act of the box, um,” and here she paused, casting about for an image, “ the wanting-to be causes to box to get perforated. And then there’s this slinky that gets attached, and wrapped around . . .” and here, her imagination outpaced itself, “but that’s not important. What I’m trying to say is: I have always thought of a creative act as an end product.”
As I listened across several years, nearly every woman described a shift in her understanding of creativity from a thing to a process, from a noun to a verb. And here I touched mystery: How had we all grown up believing creativity was a thing? Why did each woman note the mental shift as a milestone? What made it so foundation-shaking?
And while my imagination was still wrapped around where she was going with that slinky, Majda named her last creative act as a complicated bit of costuming, a bra with a swoosh of rhinestones that defied gravity. “Yeah, how did you get that to work?” I asked. “Shhh . . .” she said conspiratorially, “Don’t talk about it.” The costume’s creation, it seems, was ‘slinking outside the box,’ as it were: Part engineering and part divine luck. To inquire too closely into the exact equation, Majda felt, might cause it to unravel. That superstition felt both silly and true. There’s a mystery to creativity. An otherness that eludes description and can’t be controlled. Which is perhaps why so many of us in this project struggle to identify ourselves with something we can’t control. As if there were no room for mystery in the mix of ourselves.
I keep returning to the last line of this excerpt from my rough draft of this book. So much so, that it’s become a new battle cry on my bathroom mirror: “Make Way for Mystery in the Mix of Myself!”
As a woman who focuses so hard on finding certainty, I have tried at various junctures in my life to root out the questions and strip the mystery from my motives. Certainly, without this tendency, I never would have embarked on this project almost 4 years ago. But I’m delighted that the subject matter can still surprise me. That the words can somehow tumble out onto a page and articulate a concept I never had words for before.
- Slinking Outside the Box