Be Creative – It’s not a waste of time


With the Oscars coming up, I’m reminded of one of my favourite speeches by composer Michael Giacchino for (coincidentally) one of my favourite animation features, UP.

Of all the things he could have said, he spoke about the pervading myth/belief that doing something creative is a waste of time.  Sure, we honour those at the top and authors are often on the receiving end of comments like, ‘Why don’t you write something like Harry Potter?’  Either your creativity wins you fame and fortune, or you’re wasting your time.

Since time immemorial, parents have been telling their kids to get a ‘real job’, so there’s nothing new there, but that doesn’t mean we have to discourage them from exploring their creative side.  It’s all well and good plastering the fridge with abstract works of art in the early years, but what’s the real message from society when we try to carry this creative spirit forward in our lives?  In an article I wrote for the Irish Times last year, I considered the impact of paying lip service to creativity.

When our children are very young, we teach them that they can be anything they want to be. Yet at some point, this wonderful sense of openness and opportunity changes. We ask them to pick courses that will lead to good job opportunities. We even have “feeder schools” for universities, which sound more like something out of a dystopian novel than an inclusive education system. The artistic talent you showed as a child is suddenly frowned upon as you edge ever closer to the first round of state exams. Facing into adulthood, we are told to put away childish things.

Yet, for so many of us, that hunger to create persists.

It doesn’t matter if we don’t go on to become Oscar-winning performers.  Creativity leaks into everything, how you play with your kids, how you approach a project at work, your relationships.  The ability to think creatively isn’t just a soundbyte for your CV, it’s a way of life that brings an element of playfulness and lateral thinking to everything you do.  As children, we learn through play.  Why does that have to stop when we get older?

One of the hardest parts about starting out as a writer is not giving up.  We always hear the same rhetoric; there’s no money in it, it’s impossible to get published, you’re not good enough anyway.  It’s really hard to persist with something when everyone and everything is telling you that it’s a waste of time and that it’ll never go anywhere.  We are compared and compare ourselves with people who are at the pinnacle of their career and see our own efforts as falling miserably short of these standards.  And yet, there are so many of us, persisting, creating.  Why?  For me, it was simple.  It made me happy.  No, not happy, fulfilled.  It was a kind of compulsion.  First, I wanted to see if I could do it.  Then, I wanted to see if I could do it better.

My whole life I have been inspired by other peoples’ creative expression, in the movies I’ve watched, music I’ve listened to and books I’ve read.  More recently I’ve been inspired by visual artists and sometimes I wonder what it is that they have given me, by pursuing their creative passions…  And I suppose, at the end of the day, we’re sharing parts of ourselves and our experience of the world.  When I see a beautiful painting that resonates with me, I can’t say exactly why it does, it just does.  And it connects me to the artist, to humanity.  It makes me feel like I belong.

That’s how important creativity is.  I can only hope that my books make people feel something and I know every author is the same – when you get a review from a reader that says, ‘I loved that character’, or ‘The story really stayed with me’, it’s such a wonderful sense of connection.  Then there is the sense of fulfillment, purpose and self-expression that I feel when I write – I know myself better through writing and painting.  Making stuff gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the world.  Of possibility.  So I guess it depends on your definition of value and worth, but for me, creativity is most certainly not a waste of time.  You need to give yourself permission to express who you are creatively, even if those around you do not.


Lefties of the World Unite!

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2I am left-handed, which not only makes me far superior to all you ‘righties’ out there (unless you need a cheque signed, that’s a bit of a struggle!) but also leaves me open to some odd cultural misconceptions.  Are we the devil’s handmaidens, or are we highly gifted?  I think you already know the route this blog will take 😉

Known as a ‘Citog’ in my own native tongue, I’m sometimes called a ‘Leftie’, or when I was stateside, a ‘Southpaw’.  All of these names basically have the same connotation;  You’re different.  Which, to a person like me, is the highest of compliments!  Although it hasn’t always been that way.  The root of our ‘otherness’ may lie in any one or all of the following sources.  Organised religion; they seemed to consider the left as being evil and connected with the devil.  Medieval society; they invented the whole shaking hands with your right hand in order to show that you were not carrying arms.  Or a more recent theory basing the cause on the left hand’s use for hygiene purposes in the non-industrialised world.  However, our very language demonstrates that ‘left’ has been associated with at best strangeness and at worst badness for centuries.  The Latin word for left is Sinistre  and we don’t need a dictionary to work out that that’s not good.  In French, it is Gauche, meaning awkward or tactless (quelle horreur!)  And apparently in old English, lyft meant weak.

As a result of all this anti-left brainwashing, many left-handed children were forced to write with their right hands at school – for no better reason than an outdated superstition.  Thankfully, I began school just as this practice was dying out, yet I still remember that fateful day when the teacher came to my desk and noticed that I was carefully shaping the letter ‘A’ on my copybook with my left hand.  She hesitated; I knew what was coming and gave her what I hoped were these eyes.

I’d been forewarned you see, by my predecessors.  They were going to try to change me. ‘You’re a citog,’ she remarked.  I said nothing.  I could see that she was mulling it over… what to do.  And then, with a simple gesture that would impact the rest of my writing years, she simply batted the idea away and said, ‘You’re alright.’  The irony!  I’m all left lady, but what’s a dominant hand between friends.

So everytime I sign my name, fill in a form or initial a receipt, people feel the need to comment on the fact that I write with my left.  It’s like we are some kind of an enigma in an otherwise predictable world.  What’s more, I hold my pen between my index finger and my middle finger, which does tend to draw some queer looks.  ‘How can you write like that?’ they ask.  ‘Probably with better control of the pen,’ I mumble.

Our numbers are estimated at about 10% of the population and you can even buy left-handed products now like scissors (totes awky to use) and spiral notebooks.  Although I’m not sure they’ve found a solution to the smudge-fest that is your hand trailing over the words you’ve just written.

Oh if only I’d learnt Arabic – they write right to left, right?  Anyway, the upside to all of this is that left-handed people learn to adapt very quickly.  Like Einstein (ahem) I have become mixed-handed, which as opposed to ambidextrous, means I can use my right hand for some things and my left hand for others.  While nobody really understands the evolutionary mystery of why some people are left-handed and the rest of you sad sacks aren’t (sorry!), things have really turned around for us lefties in the last few decades.  Neuroscience has shown that the brain functions in a criss-cross manner; that is to say that the right hemisphere controls the left hand side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right hand side of the body.  The left hemisphere, once considered dominant as it is the side that controls speech and language, is the side that analyses and rationalises using logic.  The right hemisphere however controls spatial awareness, perception, imagination and creativity.  Moreover, studies have shown that left-handed people tend to think less laterally, i.e. they process both language and spatial awareness in both hemispheres producing ‘superior mental abilities’.  I had often heard it said that left-handed people tended to be more creative and I never fully understood this until I began reading ‘Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain’ by Betty Edwards (which I would highly recommend for lefties and righties alike!)

Using the right hemisphere, we ‘see’ things in this mode that may be imaginary – existing only in the mind’s eye.  We understand metaphors, we dream, we create new combinations of ideas.

Edwards points out how important it is for our school system to cultivate the right hand side of the brain, which has been left largely neglected by our curriculum.  Thankfully, we now live in an age where difference can be celebrated rather than demonized and at the risk of developing a left-handed superiority complex, here is a list of some of the august company in which we, as lefties, find ourselves!

Leonardo Da Vinci – Darwin – Marie Curie – Charlie Chaplin – Lewis Carroll – David Bowie