A post of three in one today.
From If You Want to Write – Brenda Ueland
…joyful, imaginative, impassioned energy dies out of us very young. Why? Because we do not see that it is great and important; because we let dry obligation take its place; because we don’t respect it in ourselves and keep it alive by using it; and because we don’t keep it alive in others by listening to them.
For when you come to think of it, the only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the God, in the poet in them. For by doing this, you keep the God and the poet alive and allow it to flourish.
How does this creative impulse die in us?
It’s criticism and measurements that so often kill people’s creative impulses.
I still remember a sunny morning in Yr 4 of primary school when I’d worked so hard on a story about a fish that got lost in the sea (I bet Finding Nemo copied me ) and I proudly held it up to show the support teacher on my table. Rather than the happy face and the interested approach I had excitedly hoped for, she exclaimed in some disgust that my handwriting was appalling and that I wouldn’t get anywhere if I didn’t improve.
Now in 2010 my handwriting has indeed improved after filling many scribbled notebooks with the letters a-z over the years, yet back in the 20th century I had been so sad! My dear fish story did get read by the main teacher of the time, who I remember now loved it and praised me for my imagination and use of colour, yet I couldn’t forget the comment on handwriting and I felt prematurely doomed to a life where nobody would read what I wrote. As time went by I learnt that she had been wrong to judge me as she did, but her snap judgement altered my life for the rest of primary school, and teaches me something about life now. I felt so conscious of my untidiness and lack of coordination back then that I felt that it was necessary to hide my creativity away from others’ eyes to protect myself. That one snap judgement prevented me from truly pouring my heart out and sharing all those poems about strawberries and purple cows I wrote, and I wonder what would have happened if instead of commenting on my handwriting, the teacher had read it before saying anything and been pleased not by first appearances, but by the depth and effort within it.
Perhaps my story is not of particular importance. I write now and use my creative impulses in every day life without many problems. I may have had one teacher who criticized me harshly, but I had many who helped me and played a part in enabling me to see and express that which is within me.
Yet these ‘judgements’ affect our lives.
I went back to my old primary school and spent a week with the youngsters. One boy was sad. When talking to him I realised that he was finding it harder than the others. Yet he had his tongue stuck out and his eyebrows clenched in concentration, and he wasn’t afraid to ask for help. Matthew was a determined young lad, and I admired him. There was a little table of girls not far away who finished their work before you could blink, giggling and chatting away. I felt confused. These children are grouped. We’re creating categories. We’re separating the cleverest to one end of the room and the least cleverest to the other end. I helped Matthew for a while, but as time passed I found it harder and harder to act against my impulses. So I didn’t. I invited a couple of the shyer girls over to the table with me and Matthew, and together we drew some nice pictures and talked through how all this maths worked, making stories up to remember the complicated stuff. Matthew was beaming and the girls were happy too. Both shared a new light. Both felt more relaxed and proud of themselves. They felt not that it had been a breeze or a difficult upsetting morning, but a morning in which they had learnt something together, discovered teamwork, and discovered joy not just in talking or break-time, but in the work which was previously just one of those things you ‘have to do’.
Every day something happens and I’m clenching my teeth a bit. I do it myself too of course sometimes without realising it. My best example is: Double Classical Civilization this morning… groan. I’d rather watch paint dry. Well perhaps not paint, but you get the idea.
For the somewhat seemingly irritating parts of life, let’s approach them in a new light. Classical Civilzation?
Yuck. Can’t believe I have to sit through another hour of something that confuses me, makes me feel incredibly slow, and demands so much concentration and time when I’d rather be reading theological novels or chilling with friends and drinking Irn Bru. Yay! Some of it actually does come in handy! I’ve found a couple of references to it in books and got more out of them. Plus some of it relates to modern society, and I can see where we still slip up, what we haven’t learnt over the last 2,400 years, and also where we’ve progressed. It’s very very ancient history, but it still means something. And if I do well it will give me a boost for getting into universities, and that means I stand a better chance of getting where I want to be in life.
Have a go. Think of something that at the very thought or mention makes you groan inwardly (or outwardly). And whilst we approach things with happiness and excitement, let’s also remember to keep our and others’ creative impulses alive. To be able to express ourselves without worrying about how others express themselves, not worrying if we get a C instead of an A whatever our target grade was, because as Benjamin Zander has beautifully expressed in The Art of Possibility, we’re all already As. If we are willing to look at ourselves in this new light, we can see that. You are an A if, like Matthew, you stick your tongue out (metaphorically or physically) and concentrate and give life your all. Live.
Let your creative impulses flow. Let your joyful, imaginative, impassioned energy flow. And don’t stifle anyone else’s either. We don’t need to be compared to anything or labelled with As or Bs or set in table orders. Mix it all up. Get the Matthews and Sophias of this world sat together, and let each new and old life know that they are something special. They are something unique. And by existing, by smiling, by living, they bring happiness not just to themselves, but to the wider world.
And of course listen. The great imperative of life. Listen and love. I speak so frequently of listening to that which is around us, and listening to ourselves. But it is so important. Such a huge, holy part of life.
You can help people by listening to them and seeing and believing in the God, in the poet in them. For by doing this, you keep the God and the poet alive and allow it to flourish. Listening brings people Alive.
When someone is sad or finding it difficult, don’t give them a dictionary, a bowl of soup or a bunch of flowers. Give them your ear. Give them your hand. Give them your heart.
Note: Just found something wonderful out. Recently I’ve been looking up the etymology of names in the Bible, to further educate myself about meaning (whether metaphorical or not) found in the Bible.
Matthew = Gift of the Lord
Sophia = Wisdom
Perhaps this will make a nice sermon one day…(chuckle)…