“Why is it important to be creative?” This is the question posed by my local writing group as a blog post topic.
I’ve thought about creativity for most of my life. I am the third of six children and early on I realised that my siblings could do thing I couldn’t, like draw, dance, make up songs and play musical instruments well.
Our much-loved great-uncle Tom Doerer, was a successful cartoonist and newspaper man, who started his career as a copy-boy for the legendary satirist HL Mencken. Allan Holtz, a comic strip historian and author, wrote an very informative post regarding my great uncle here.
Our grandmother, Anna Mezzacappa, cooked with the radio on and sang along to the Italian opera programs in perfect pitch. Our grandfather, Giovanni Pergolini, was a tailor ‘un sarto’ who created beautiful coats and hats for us children out of seemingly little fabric, no more leftover scraps from his tailoring business.
To me, these people in my life were ‘creative types’. My notion of creativity was tied to expression in writing, painting, drawing, sewing and musical ability.
My parents, Owen and Louise, however, were not what I thought of as creative. Our father studied accounting and worked in project management finance for a contractor to the burgeoning US Space Program. Our mother was a nurse. They were both well-read, kind, funny and incredibly supportive of us six kids. They loved music and introduced us to the likes of Mario Lanza, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Neither could play an instrument and dad used to say he had two left feet on the dance floor.
My own path to creativity has been a slow road. I won a spelling bee in 5th grade. I remember my teacher telling me that to win, I would not only have to spell the words, but I would also have to use each word correctly in a sentence.
More than 50 years later I can’t recall my winning word but I do remember sitting in bed with my pencil and exercise book visualising verbs and nouns and subjects and objects. Fascinated with the combinations that could be created I’d fall asleep, pencil in hand, and awake with sounds and visions of ‘Ships sail on azure seas’ or ‘Rhythmic music is played on bongo drums’, ‘azure’, ‘rhythmic’ and ‘bongo’ being words I had studied. To this day I have a recurring dream of waking up with my pencil poking me in the side.
I knew one day I would write. I didn’t know what I would write though. At University I studied one class in Creative Writing. I wrote short stories and sketches for the class. Although my writing was good enough for a beginner, I knew I couldn’t expect to repay my student loan as a Theatre Technician or a Writer. Eventually, with a love of new, emerging technology and an ability to write I landed a contract as a Technical Writer. It turned into a 30+ year career working in different industries.
For some years I thought I had settled for a cop-out career and was suppressing a creative writer urge. But slowly, I began to see the creativity in the work I was doing, finding ways to turn technical information into language the lay-person could understand, or designing a graphic to appeal to visual learners. I’ve worked for publishers, financial institutions, government IT departments, software companies, utilities, consulting firms and more. In each of these places I have worked with creative people.
I have come to recognize creativity outside of the traditional creative (Arts) industries. A large part of creativity is ability to solve problems, to connect the dots, to recognise patterns, to see what others don’t see, and to use that knowledge to better our lives.
The application interface that you love on your smartphone was designed by a creative person (who also knows how to write elegant code). Your favourite restaurant meal was conceived by a clever chef (and cooked by a team of passionate and creative people with great knife skills). The botanic garden that you stroll through was laid out by a master horticulturist (and planted by a group of strong souls with an eye for beauty).
I see now that my parents were genuinely creative. My accountant dad dreamed of the future of space and used his considerable analytical skills to support that passion for the future of exploration. My mother managed a job and a household on a shoestring, cooked delicious and healthy meals and encouraged each of us kids to pursue our own diverse paths – all with no preconceived notion of how we should conduct our lives.
Why is creativity important? Our survival depends on it. Imagining new ways to not just live, but thrive, in an ever-changing world requires some divergent thinking. Fortunately, most of us are capable of that.
This piece is part of the August 2018 Writers of Adelaide blog chain. To read what others in the group have to say on the subject of creativity, check out their blog posts:
Follow the group on Facebook here.