All children begin creative. We played imaginary friends or imaginary worlds with our human friends, or create whole worlds on paper.
All children begin emotional. We cried and laughed and spoke our beautifully unrefined emotional language with the world.
After some time, some of these gifts disappeared. Even for those of us who consider ourselves artists, or work as artists, certain emotional color palettes get locked away.
I grew up extremely emotional, creative, and expressive, with regular outbursts into my teen years. I struggled to control or manage my emotions, especially darker ones like anger, hatred, and resentment. I don’t specifically remember art becoming an outlet for my emotions, but I also don’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing art.
My first grade teacher once had to pull me aside. Teachers rarely receive enough praise for teaching, let alone all the unacknowledged therapeutic guidance they offer kids. She had noticed my emotional outbursts were especially hard to regulate in her already-full classroom of rowdy kids. She noticed that I got defensive when kids teased me, though I was no scrawny kid or victim of bullying per se. I’ll never forget the lesson Mrs. Pyzyk (an epic scrabble word, btw) taught me:
“Just like water off a duck’s back.”
She very carefully hammered in a point that I simply could not afford to go through life taking every last criticism personally. In fact, even insults could be circumvented (or at least vented off) internally with this pithy bit of guidance.
“It’s like water off a duck’s back, Cary. Do you know what I mean?”
I told her I didn’t exactly (and lessons were hard-delivered to my stubborn ears, even on a good day.) She explained that ducks float on top of water and don’t get wet. Not really. The feathers act like water-resistant fabric, rolling beads of fluid right off.
I nodded and said I understood.
Like most of my elementary school teachers, Mrs. Pyzyk saw my potential even amidst the tumult of my emotional character. She noted that I want to be an artist when I grew up (specifically in grade one a “producer who makes movies about dragons.”)
I don’t know how she did it, and perhaps neither did she, but she managed to un-ruffle my feathers. She managed to fold them into each other – emotional awareness and creative potential back to emotional awareness.
Not until my late 20s did this lesson truly sink in, truly absorb like that water on the back didn’t. A connection between emotions and creativity had been established that day in my childhood and only now could I set to exploring it.
On the continuum between emotional awareness and creativity we find all of the states in which I thrive and survive and dive: mania, elation, depression, sadness, fear, and the prized one of the flow state. In the wilder of times, I give full license to my own creative-emotional self and let it splash paint around, scream and dance, even. Other times, like a good dad, I offer the firm grip of discipline, meting out the creative flow in measured pieces, attempting something like practice mixed with just a healthy amount of spontaneity and fire.
In this life, creative or not, we all walk the line between building up and breaking down. We all throw together colors and hope for the best. We all give up and give in and give over power that we could at any point take back. We go back into our past and rescue our subtlest lessons, only to forge forward, adults with the wild, creative hearts of children.
To see or purchase my artwork.
To purchase my memoir, The Naked Unicyclist.
For anything else, like social media and other blogs.