Notes on Creativity

What, Exactly IS Creativity?

I’ll start with that most circular of definitions—creativity is the process of creating something new, whether wholly or partly. It is the external generation of an internal idea. Typically, creativity is applied to a subset of areas, nearly always in the arts. The painter, the filmmaker, the novelist, the singer, the actor—these are the creatives, at least in the common parlance of the average American. Frankly, that’s a very UN-creative way of defining the inventive among us. The engineer is said to be “clever”, the teacher uses “novel” pedagogical methods, the businesswoman introduces an “innovative” management system—all are outside the ordinary, but rarely described as “creative” by the masses. Sure, creativity (and creatives) are a sought-after “thing” in the tech field (along with meditation breaks and organic cafes), but the typical Hoosier or Iowan or Ohioan probably just calls them “smart”.

The Other Arts

Okay, painting a canvas, writing a poem, performing a monologue—these are clearly artistic pursuits (and creative acts). But so is developing a new ice cream flavor (culinary ARTS, anyone?). So is designing an apron for the cook with many gadgets (design is an art). And creating a life, one that not only diverges from but CELEBRATES nonconformity may be the ultimate art.

Life Can (and Should) Be a Creative Act

Many of us do creative acts every day, even if we don’t recognize them. Every time we invent a new game to play with our three-year old, we are creative. Every time we take a new route to work, we are creative. Every time we craft an intriguing stew from the dregs of the produce crisper, we are creative. Life can be a creative act. Indeed, life SHOULD be a creative act. For those of us who bypass the suburban ethos (even if we live there), eschewing the almost mandated displays of conformity is radical and creative—sometime Radical with a capital “R” and sometimes radical with a lower case “r”. Every time we forge ahead with life design that is outside of the nuclear family, every time we throw a dinner party for the fabulous misfits, every time we give a big “fuck you” to the notion that older women can’t have pink hair we are being creative.

So, What Is a Creative Life?

I posit that the creative life simply involves seeing the world through fresh eyes, different perspectives, with a liberal dose of convention-flouting. Maybe it includes sculpting and maybe it includes making marshmallows. Or both. It certainly includes a healthy disrespect for tired old norms that serve no society. And frankly, it includes a little dark chocolate.

A Suburban State of Mind: Part One

Whither, Suburbia

Let’s face it—most of the United States looks alike, at least with respect to residential zones. A stale and predictable sameness, in which one can tell the state only by the “Welcome To …” signs. Pennsylvania morphs into Ohio, which changes into Indiana, which becomes Illinois, its predictable blandness stretching for hundreds and hundreds of miles. A few regional quirks—adobe in New Mexico, saltbox in New England—but, as a general observation, you’ll find the same brick ramblers and overly roofed mini-mansions in Maryland as in Minnesota. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in America’s suburbs.

Not Dead Yet

For years, the media has been trumpeting the Death of the Suburbs. While suburbia is less attractive to more urban-focused (and mobile) millennials, the demise of the subdivision hasn’t happened yet. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he’s still building developments to sell to good little girls and boys. Our current low gas prices aren’t exactly sending suburbia’s denizens to the Big Bad City (and in the case of some cities, like Indianapolis, their morphologies and relatively low population densities are on the far side of what one typically associates with an urban environment). No, the suburb hasn’t died yet.

I Am One of Them

I am a suburbanite. I have a brick ranch house—classic American architecture—in a mature subdivision. I have a front yard (with one silver maple and one saucer magnolia) and a back yard (with two silver maples). I have a fence. I have a two-car garage and, unlike some of my neighbors, I can actually fit two cars in them, assuming I move the snowblower from its current at-the-ready position. I CHOSE to live here. And in many ways, I like it very much. There’s room for my herb garden. My patio holds a grill and a smoker, the former practically required in a development. I have a deck so I can sit outside when the weather permits, drinking my morning decaf or an evening cocktail. I can have people over for dinner without having to worry about parking. I can walk on the sidewalks or bike in the neighborhood streets for a quick burst of exercise. This. Is. Pleasant.

A Death March Toward Conformity

For many people, the word “suburban” connotes a certain blandness and conformity. The houses are designed by builders, not architects. Interiors full of too much stuff, poorly assembled trinkets made in China or perhaps old cans or boxes that “might come in handy someday”. Two-and three-car garages so full of junk that fitting in a bicycle is problematic, let alone a car. Indoors, the same wall décor or family pictures in frames probably purchased at the same Walmarts or Targets. The lives lived are the same as well—the same sports teams (formerly football, now likely soccer) or, increasingly, the same electronics and video games played indoors. Dining at the same Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesdays or Chinese buffets that inhabit strip malls differing in appearance not at all from those three states away.

And Yet I am Not One of Them

Is that characterization correct? After all, I live in suburbia and I am decidedly noncomformist (single, unapologetically childfree, intellectually driven, and agnostic for starters). Many, perhaps most, of my friends (as offbeat as me1) live in suburbs. Am I unwittingly buying into a stereotype, despite intellectual gifts? Or do I just have a knack for finding the outliers? Granted, my own neighborhood is a bit of a university ghetto, with faculty and staff comprising a substantial proportion of my neighbors. The academic milieu is known for attracting “unusual” types (although that, too, may be a bit of a stereotype, as I know plenty of colleagues living white-picket-fence sort of lives2).

In Search of, If Not an Answer, Observations

I think. I like to think. I like to question. I’m curious. And I’ll be looking. And posting about suburbia again in the future. Observing not only my own low-density, single-family-home neighborhood, but others as well. Ciao, until I write again.

1 Life is too short to spend time with intellectual dullards and shallow thinkers.

2The Academic Stereotype—that’s the subject of another post!