Over the past few days, I have been slowly dismantling a greenhouse in my garden. Things have changed. Trees have grown. Others have been felled. The distribution of light in the garden is no longer what it was when we first sited the greenhouse. It doesn’t get enough light. It is no longer in the right place.
We are at a loss as to where to put it. Nowhere is right. There’s either not enough light or not enough space. But we want to grow tomatoes. So, it has to go somewhere.
If nowhere is big enough to accommodate the greenhouse as it is, then I am going to have to shrink the greenhouse. That’s partly why I am taking it down slowly. As I carefully remove the glass panes (interesting job for a man with Parkinson’s), I am allowing time for the construction of the thing to seep into my unconscious. And I am waiting for my brain to come up with a solution, a way to shrink the greenhouse. I feel sure that an answer will come to me eventually. One I haven’t yet thought of. I am comfortable with this process. I have used it a lot and I know it works. For me it is the core essence of the creative process. I call it Being Happy In The Fog of Unknowing. It served me well in my time as a teacher. When I was a member of the Senior Leadership Team at my last school, my boss, the headteacher, used to make gentle fun at my expense as we tried to come up with a new solution to some problem:
“Are we in The Fog Of Unknowing now, Andy?”
“That we are, Jim. That we are.”
Me, I love the creative process. It is central in my life. Always has been. I really enjoy making things. I particularly enjoy making new things out of old things. Taking something that no longer works as was originally intended and giving it a new purpose, a new life.
Here is a table I made from a broken stool and a rusty tray I found in the garden.
Here is this year’s BBQ made out of old pallets and bits and pieces I found in the shed.
They are not pretty. But they work. I think they are beautiful. I like the old, the broken, the ugly, the rough. I dislike the smooth, the perfect, the flawless, the finished. Fortunately, my taste matches my level of ability. Maybe my lack of skill has defined my taste. I don’t know. As I grew up, my teenage years, important formative years, were hugely informed by Punk Rock whose D.I.Y. /torn clothes/here’s 3 chords: now form a band approach became my dominant aesthetic. Don’t sit around waiting for something to happen. Go out and make it happen. Nobody is more qualified than yourself to create what you dream. Take control of your life.
This Punk Rock Aesthetic is largely frowned upon by polite society. Because we live in a Consumer Society. It functions on the basis that we allow ourselves to be de-skilled in the majority of skills we need to live. Precious few of us know how to grow our own food, find water that is safe to drink, provide ourselves with warmth and shelter. Instead, we tend to specialise in developing one skill that we can then sell to other people who have lost that skill. And, with the money we earn from selling our skill, we can buy the time of someone who has a skill that we have lost and that we need. It is a complicated system but it has worked pretty well and enabled us to build big, impressive civilisations.
But, and this is a big but, it is a system that has made us all into Consumers. In order for the system to function, we have to keep consuming. The bigger, more complicated, more sophisticated our civilisation becomes, the more we have to consume. Who actually knows how a mobile phone works? It might as well be by magic. WiFi? JuJu! The IT technicians at my last school used to laugh at me when I reported that the little men who normally carried the messages from my laptop through space and put them in other people’s computers were failing to do so today. At least I made people smile.
The danger is that we spend all of our time Consuming. That we have no time left for Creating. Because, I would argue that Consuming is, ultimately, not a satisfying activity. Whereas Creating most definitely is. Consuming tends to leave a hole. A feeling that we need to still consume more. Creating something gives a deep sense of satisfaction. Creating makes you feel full. Consuming too much takes you away from yourself. It is easy to slip into the trap of defining yourself by what you consume – the stuff you have. In fact, as a society, we in the UK have a tendency to define success in terms of how much you consume. If you have a big house, a big car, sorry cars, big big tv – than you are doing well. Trouble is, it’s never quite enough, is it? Have you seen next door’s TV? It’s hUGE! Bigger than ours. I want one….
Thing is …. if you define your self by things that are outside your self. Well, just reconsider that sentence. It doesn’t make sense. Because, if you are always looking outside to establish who you are, you will never get to know your self. In fact you will get further and further away from yourself. You will alienate yourself from yourself. It is foolish and will never end well.
Whereas, if you choose to create, then you tend to have to examine your self more closely. Draw on your inner resources. You tend to get to know yourself better. Which is sometimes not pleasant. But generally life affirming.
Creativity is often confused with the Arts. People think that because they are not gifted musically or artistically they are not creative. I would argue strongly that everyone is creative. Creativity is just using your imagination to make something new, that wasn’t there before. Tony makes himself a walking stick out of a snooker cue. Creative. Brian makes a shed out of pallets. Creative. Vera makes a meal out of what’s left in the fridge. Creative. Paul goes into the meeting and sits down on the wrong side of the table. On purpose. Creative. Sam can’t be bothered to light a fire so gets the dog to lie next to him. Now he’s nice and warm. Creative.
Creativity is often viewed as a luxury. We can afford to be creative once the job is done. I say that creativity is absolutely the core. It is not an add on. It is how we get the job done. I spent the majority of my time in education arguing this point. It was not always easy. The trouble is that schools tend by their nature to reward compliance. Just keep your head down and get the work done. Whereas Creativity is all about none compliance. You don’t break new ground by following the rules. There is a tension here. A tension between two different worlds: the world of Compliance where rules are followed, routines are established, conformity is encouraged, where everyone knows where they are, where everybody feels safe. And the world of Creativity where rules are broken, innovation is rewarded, novelty is positive, the way forward is unclear and people feel excited. Or scared. It is not healthy to stay exclusively in either of these worlds. The trick is knowing when to move from one to another.
And I would say that we are in a place now, as a planet, where we have to get Creative. The old ways of doing things isn’t working any more. The cracks are showing. Getting bigger day by day. Financial crisis. Social breakdown. Climate change. It is clear that simply consuming more is not the answer. In fact, it’s a large part of the problem. We need to consume less and create more. And the beauty of it is in doing so we will enjoy life more anyway.