Obey the rules, or obey the muse?

In all my years as a professional creative, probably the most influential teacher has been my son. (If you’ve been following along here, you already know that. If not, check out the  “little lessons” category at the top of the page.) 



He’s been helping me rediscover all the cool stuff we instinctively know as kids but lose along the way to adulthood. He’s kind of like my creative Yoda, only without the big ears and disturbing muppet voice.

This Christmas he taught me yet another lesson about exploring things creatively, instead of just doing things the way they’re “supposed” to be done.

Like every other little boy, this year my son is head-over-heels in love with Buzz Lightyear. “Santa Mom” decided to score big with the Buzz Lightyear Star Command Lego set. Little did I know, “Santa Dad” was planning to score big with said set as well. Over the holiday vacation dad beat me to the punch and they put the set together at his house first. When it was my turn, my little one wasn’t so interested in building the space ship anymore; he just wanted to play with the pieces.

Not a big deal, really, except that I had spent $30 for a 250-piece space ship model. For that same $30 I could have bought a plain old box of Legos with twice as many pieces. Shouldn’t we really build the space ship, since that’s what the present was intended to be?

After a bit of silent internal wrestling I decided to let him mix up all three bags of pieces, forever dashing any hope of sorting them out again to follow the assembly instructions. It’s his gift, so I figured I should let him make the call on this one.

You know what? It was the best decision I ever made. He’s played with those legos nearly every day now, building that little Lego Buzz more space vehicles than Starfleet Command could have ever dreamed of. He’s using his imagination to come up with all these things. He’s giving his young problem-solving skills a workout by solving the “design flaws” when pieces fall off. And most importantly, he’s having a BLAST. If we had put the kit together like we were supposed to, dollars to donuts it would be discarded in a corner collecting dust already.

This month’s lesson at the feet of the young muse: “supposed to” doesn’t mean “have to” in the realm of the creative mind. Put things together the way you see them; it opens up greater possibilities, and it’s much more fun.

Colleen Clifford

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