Tess performing in "Bodily"
Creativity

What creativity means to me

I’ve been creative for as long as I can remember.

I started piano lessons at age five. Soon afterward, I started ballet, and after-school art classes. And then I was unstoppable. Over the last 35 years, I’ve played saxophone and guitar, taken oil painting lessons, crocheted, cross-stitched, and embroidered, practiced photography and videography, started making comics, and became a voiceover actor.

Oh, and obtained a PhD in performing arts.

In my PhD performance, Bodily, in 2006

Those first piano lessons were too long ago to remember what drove me to be creative at the time. However, I do remember feeling a kind of awe and freedom when I was able to make melodies with my fingertips, to drive my fists into clay, or to move my body in interesting ways. It was much more interesting to me than sports. Or maths.

And creativity, in many forms, has been a guiding light throughout my life.

I don’t remember my parents forcing me into anything too much, except when I’d get bored with an activity and needed encouragement to continue it. In some cases (like with piano lessons), that meant switching from learning classical pieces and doing stressful exams, to learning chords, standards, and improvisation from a jazz pianist. When I got tired of ballet, I switched to jazz, and then tap. Bouncing between different types of creative activity became something of a theme throughout my life, and something that continues to this day.

I’ve long considered my creative pursuits to be somewhat random. I flit from project to project, usually completing them, but not sticking with the same medium for too long. It’s the creative process I crave, not so much the outcome or the medium.

An outsider looking at my life’s pursuits would describe me as a “creative person.” But it’s only been recently that I’ve started to dig deeper into why creativity is so important to me, and how it continues to shape my self-identity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the creative process as “flow.” In a flow state, everything else melts away as the creative practitioner is completely present in the moment of creation.

When engaged in creating something new, it’s like existence is temporarily suspended. The body disappears from consciousness, because it’s impossible to be in creative flow and simultaneously feel (for example) hungry or tired. The creator is merged with the creation.

For me, the active and expressive escapism of creative flow is enthralling to the point of being addictive.

It’s about being inventive and solving problems in a way that is wholly authentic. It’s about going through life with an openness to inspiration, and pulling these inputs together, and filtering them through my own experience, to create something new.

Through creativity, I can look inwards and discover myself, and also turn outwards to connect this expression authentically with the world.

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