Life consists not simply in what heredity and environment do to us but in what we make out of what they do to us.
— Harry Emerson Fosdick
I’ve always been a bit of a creative. Ever since I can remember I was creating something — casting plays, writing stories, fabricating fanciful things. When I think back to my childhood I see a puddle of purple Crayola paints. I smell Scotch tape. I hear the sound of safety scissors pushing through construction paper. These are the remembered joys of my unboundaried young life.
As I grew older my creative repertoire expanded to include poetry, dance, drawing, and sculpting. I filled countless hours communing with the creative muse in one form or another, trying on all sorts of artistic expression to see if they fit. And I never really took it all that seriously; it was something that was a part of me — just for me — that I didn’t share with many people.
It’s no surprise, really. I come from a long line of closet creatives. My grandmother was a housewife who had a secret talent for painting flowers with magnificent details of shadow and light. My grandfather was an auto mechanic who could turn a solid block of wood into a wonder of intricately cut detail. My mother was a customer service representative who could sketch people like nobody’s business. Outside of the immediate family, nobody knew.
Art in our family was always something you kept for yourself. It wasn’t a real occupation; it wasn’t practical. As much as my family appreciated the personal pursuit of artistic expression, it wasn’t something you could make a life at. Not when there was a family to feed and bills to pay. It was just an amusement, a diversion from the drudgery of real life. What you really needed to find was a respectable and stable occupation.
I was the first person in my family to go to college, and everyone (myself included) expected me to follow a good academic career path ending with the title of doctor, lawyer, teacher, corporate executive. I tried; really I did. I studied biology, and then spent my spare time in the dorm writing poetry and sketching. I got my first full-time job in an admin positon, and used my down time to design posters for all of the company functions. I went back to school for anthropology, and right after graduation I got a job doing marketing and graphic design. No matter how hard I tried, I always came back to art in some form or another.
About 15 years ago I finally gave up on the guilt and reconciled myself to the fact that I’m one of those people who needs to create for a living. I’ve happily never looked back. Although as a corporate marketer/designer I do have to make some fairly regular concessions in my “artistic vision,” it still keeps me happily engaged and gainfully employed. I figure it’s a small price to pay for the daily fulfillment I receive. I also still try to honor the family tradition of creating just for me when I can, simply for the joy of it.
At the end of the day I believe we all have a calling in life, an inner voice that speaks to us about what we should really be doing with ourselves. An inner compass that we may follow in our younger years, but all too soon give up in deference to what our parents, our friends, our culture think we should be.
What about your inner voice? Did you follow it or dismiss it? Do you still hear it call now and then?
I accept now that the need for artistic expression in my life is a part of my DNA, a gift handed down through previous generations. After years of fighting against it I now do what I can— whenever I can — to honor that voice.
I wonder how differently the rest of my family would have lived if they had honored theirs…