Sunday, November 15, 2009


So why did I start this blog, anyway? After many years as a scientist and professor of science courses, I discovered that I have lost my creative edge (anyone surprised by that?). I am terrific at reciting things I have memorized (and good at memorizing them), but I have a difficult time coming up with new ideas. In contrast, my children come up with wonderful, fantastical stories on a regular basis. I used to do that! Where does that imagination go?

I read an article, well, more of an interview, really, in Scientific American Mind about creativity ("Let Your Creativity Soar", June/July 2008), and the interviewees had some interesting things to say. Consider this statement by Robert Epstein (researcher on creativity):

"When children are very young, they all express creativity, but by the end of the first grade, very few do so. This is because of socialization. They learn in school to stay on task and to stop daydreaming and asking silly questions. As a result, the expression of new ideas is largely shut down. We end up leaving creative expression to the misfits—the people who can't be socialized. It's a tragedy."

I used to be creative. It lasted through high school, even (and I don't think I qualified as a "misfit", I socialized reasonably well). I used to play the piano, draw, paint, dance, and write.... Until I went to college and had to declare a major. Yikes!  I narrowed it down to my two favorite subjects, English and Biology.

I chose biology. Why? Rather ironic reasons, it turns out: I decided that with an English degree, my only career option would be teaching, and I'd have to write all of the time. Instead, I got a biology degree, went on to graduate school (wrote all of the time), discovered that I love teaching and left the research bit behind to work at a teaching college. As for that writing bit, I found it to be less enjoyable doing the (substantial amount of) writing for science papers than writing just for fun.

But how do I get the inspiration for creative writing (or painting/piano playing/dancing) again? Once you've lost it, how do you get it back? The people interviewed in the aforementioned article noted that people must work at creativity:

"I think if we want everyone to have a way to be more creative, we have to convey the message that they have to work at it; creativity isn't necessarily going to come naturally." (John Houtz, psychologist and professor)

Robert Epstein and Julia Cameron (poet, playwright and filmmaker) agree that people need to take several steps to bring out their creative side: capture ideas (by writing or recording them, as soon as you have them!), by challenging yourself with new problems to solve, broadening your exposure to thoughts and ideas and surrounding yourself with interesting people and places (Julia Cameron suggests taking a weekly "outing" to expose yourself to new things).

This blog helps me in several ways, first by broadening and challenging (I am a very private person, by nature), second by forcing me to write (capturing my ideas). I hope that daily writing (blogging) sessions will carry over into my attempts at writing stories for my children, so that I can be more productive at that, as well.

As for how to help my children retain their creativity? I bought a tape recorder. Every time a story begins (which can take place anywhere, at any time), I turn it on to capture the wonderful imaginings of my children. They love to hear themselves telling the stories, and we illustrate the stories and make books out of them. I hope this small act will help to feed their imaginations as they continue to grow and develop, making them better problem-solvers and more creative people as they age.

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