If I had to form a new religion, I would classify it as Creativism, and its believers would be the Creatives. I pulled the name from a conversation I had with my friend Rachel and her pals during a karaoke cocktail night. And yes, I’m well aware that I’m not the first to use these terms, but let me explain why I choose this path.
I mentioned to one of her friends that I’m a writer. The guy, an executive with a great smile and crushed peppercorn hair, said, “Oh, you’re a creative type? At my office, they put the creatives in business development.”
I understood the sentiment. In most companies, especially in the Washington D.C. Beltway, writers are corralled into the proposal-writing division. With a committee consisting of an office-based project team, field-based team, “thought expert”/chief of party, and the head of business development, all determining the best way to complete a Request For Proposal (RFP) before the deadline established by the client. In my case, those clients were either the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the U.S. State Department.
My job often consisted of taking the ideas of a thought expert and editing the prose to fit the prerequisites of the client’s RFP. If the thought expert crafted a proposal narrative that was 40-pages long, half-inch margins, 10-point type, Arial font, with grammatical errors, my job entailed revising the narrative into a 20 page, one-inch margined, 12-point type, Times New Roman font document, with the final approval of a committee scattered across several time zones.
Oh, and the turn-around time was often four weeks, with a deadline of December 24th, or January 2nd, or July 3rd. You know, the practical dates.
In my experience, if a Beltway writer was lucky, instead they got the chance to write online articles, technical reports, and briefs discussing best practices of a project. Those who were most fortunate received the opportunity to travel for a site review, where they took photos, maybe filmed a bit of videography for the company’s blog, Twitter, or YouTube channel, and wrote a compelling story for a fully immersive experience. All for the purpose of validating the company’s work to its shareholders, external clients, and the general public.
Creatives are at their best when given the opportunity to create; otherwise they’re as fulfilled and useful as a fish on a unicycle. During half of my career, I’ve been a tuna, a trout, a catfish, and a flounder. And I can only pedal so fast.
Despite all this, I’ll be the first to admit that business development divisions need craftsmen – not creatives. A craftsman can listen to the thought expert or project head and retool the proposal to format and read exactly as it should. The craftsman can churn out the work, with precision and within deadline. Craftsmen are essential. And although I can write as a craftsman, within the context of writing a proposal, I’m at least honest enough to now admit that I no longer wish to write proposals.
There’s no creative way to craft a horseshoe. There’s a specific way to curve the steel shoe to the horse’s hoof. There’s an exact way to nail the shoe to the hoof. And before the shoe is set, there’s a proper way to clean and scrap the hoof to best fit the shoe – all before December 24th, or January 2nd, or July 3rd. Accountants, engineers, plumbers, mechanics, proposal writers, and blacksmiths: God bless the craftsmen, one and all. But let’s get back to creativity.
One of the travesties of adulthood is the belief that creativity is a luxury for children, artists, and people of leisure – the elite. Once, while on an escalator, I heard an improvised melody. A random collection of vocal notes sung by a little girl in the company of her parents. The kid, no older than six, sang joyfully, not even caring if any of it made sense, not even caring if anyone saw her. In twenty years, she might be persuaded to sing a karaoke tune if coerced by her friends and a Long Island Ice Tea. In thirty years, there’s a 75 percent chance that she’ll forget there was a time when she could sing without a care in the world. I pray that she protects that small creative flame within her. I hope her parents fan her flame.
We all possess the capacity to create. I know writers, musicians, illustrators, a wondrous yoga instructor, cooks, DJs, and seamstresses. Each have found creativity, whether as a hobby or as their profession. I may not always appreciate the aesthetics of their creativity; however, I still value the inherent beauty of it. But let me add that this religion, this spiritual practice, isn’t restricted to the bohemian, the hipster, or the Brooklyn, Berkeley, Portland resident that conventional wisdom expects to promote this belief. No, far from it.
About a century ago, in the mountains of Appalachia, after a hard day’s work in the coal mine, folks sat on the porch of their homes and played fiddles and banjos to express their world, to glorify their culture. Sharecroppers, who had grandparents as slaves, sang Negro spirituals to pass the time, find the joy of the sound, and if for a moment to vocalize their connection to God. The coal miner, the sharecropper, they were Creatives; they just didn’t slap that name on their artistic expression.
Creativism would be my religion, and it would require no priests, no rabbis, no reverends, nor clerics; although I do generally respect the holders of such titles. The only two edicts would be: 1) To Create, and 2) Not to claim someone else’s creativity as your own. I’d say those were two fairly simple commandments.
Each person with a creative outlet experiences inspiration in different ways; sometimes the Muse whispers and sometimes she smacks you across the face with an idea. For me, inspiration is rare, but I seldom need a reminder of the moment’s significance.
Once, I ran through an early evening thunderstorm, one of those weather events in which the air is pregnant with humidity and the scent of grass just before the first fat droplet. While hurrying to my friend’s apartment, I notice a young woman in a nice car. She sat in the driver’s seat, eating what appeared to be a burrito, while raindrops performed a concert against her windshield. I felt awash in thought about her:
- Did she wait in the car because she didn’t have an umbrella?
- Did she eat her burrito because she wanted to enjoy it while still warm or because it was in a paper bag that would have soaked through?
- Was she spying on someone?
- Was there already someone home, so she preferred to eat it in the car? To avoid some conflict.
Those are the types of thoughts I held for months until the moment I recounted the girl from my mind to my tapping fingertips. And now the questions are at rest; they found a vessel to swirl around for a reader to drink and wonder. Creativism.
One of the fears of stating an epiphany is that the declaration could be obvious, common, or hampered by some logical flaw. Maybe people don’t have time to create. A single mother of three kids has more immediate concerns than opening her old painting kit and canvases. An 80 year-old man may have convinced himself that he’s too old to take ballroom dancing. There are a lot of folks who justifiably forgot the exhilaration of turning an idea into a visual, audible, visceral result. It is a beautiful sensation; it’s almost divine. And there are times when I wished people would feel that joy again, to have an oasis from reconciling expense reports and completing invoices.
Like a prophet wandering in from the wilderness, wrapped in garments of camel hair, and eating locusts and wild honey, I challenge you to create something this week. I don’t care if it sounds horrible, looks shitty, tastes like ash, or smells awful. It’s okay. Create, refine, and create again. Create from a moment of love. Create from a moment of hatred. Harness your mind, listen to your heart, and create.