I'm eavesdropping on two builders who are going to dismantle and then rebuild the front stairs to my house. They're talking about how they'll work around the bottom step, which was originally made of cement instead of wood. They estimate the cement has been poured three feet deep into the ground. None of us want them to have to remove it.
The men each propose their ideas, offering up different ways they could build around the concrete step and the tools they could use. They brainstorm until they agree on the best option, then get to work. When something doesn't go quite the way they planned, they down tools, discuss it, try a few different things, and then begin to work again.
I don't understand much of what they're saying, but I recognise the process they're working through. They are problem solving, niggling away at an obstacle until they can see a path past it. It's the same process I use when I'm writing.
Like the builders use hammers, grinders and the rules of geometry, when I'm working, I have words, structure and storytelling devices. While our finished products aren't similar, the ways we get to them are more alike than it might appear on the surface. We use our creativity to solve the problems in our way, until we can get to where we need to go.
It's mid-morning, and I go out to let the builders know I’ll be leaving to run an errand.
“Day off today?” one man asks.
I tell them I’m working from home today; every week I spend two days at home putting down words.
“Ah, a creative type,” he says. “I’ve always admired people like that. You must have a good imagination.”
I shrug. So far, today has been mainly reading and responding to emails and getting tax documents ready for the accountant. That’s the thing about creative businesses; there’s only so much the imagination can be stretched during admin hours, and the admin must get done.
On the drive to the supermarket I think about that label, ‘creative type’. It’s always irked me. It’s not a label I’ve ever felt really fit me, mostly to my own shame and completely of my own imagination; there are so many reasons I’ve made up to tell myself the creative type club is not where I belong (not pretty enough, not sad enough, not interesting enough, not whimsical enough, not damaged enough, not spontaneous enough, not quiet enough, not loud enough).
But now that I make my living from ‘creative’ pursuits, I dislike even more that it’s used as a term of exclusion. A way for others, like the builder, to categorically rule themselves out of creative endeavours, even when they spend whole mornings dreaming up staircases out of air.
I’ve worked with enough children to believe that no one comes out of the womb without creativity. In the early years a child might have experiences that make them become scared to take risks or rely on others to solve their problems, but that doesn’t mean that they’re an inherently uncreative soul. They were never the wrong ‘type’ for imagination, creation and play.
I’ve worked with enough adults to realise that creativity doesn’t always result in aesthetically pleasing objects or words or visions. Plumbers, nurses, teachers and HR managers might all employ creativity to solve problems in their job, to innovate and inspire.
So, these days, I don’t call myself a creative type because I don’t want to buy in a culture so binary, the idea of a ‘non-creative type’ for every person like me sits badly in my stomach. Something as fluid and as fundamentally human as creativity should never be so black and white.
(Side note: at the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is self-actualisation: achieving one’s potential, including creative activities. Once our basic needs are met: first enough food, shelter and water, then safety and companionship, and after we have built a sense self-esteem and confidence, humans are driven to find ways to express ourselves. Creativity is literally a way of fulfilling our most advanced needs.)
Too often, the label of creative type is also used to excuse poor choices. Drinking too much and too often, being shitty in relationships and not taking care of one’s physical or mental health are all proud hallmarks of the creative type persona. I want no part of that. None of these habits are conducive to meeting my end goal, which is to become a better writer. I want to live long and well enough to do that. And none of these habits will keep my friends who are pursuing ‘creative’ careers alive alongside me.
So, I’m shunning the label of creative type. What am I instead? That’s a question I’m still figuring out. In the meantime, I’ll keep putting down words, working to solve the many obstacles that block my path, from blank page to final edit, and hoping that all those around me feel free to identify with their creativity whenever and however they please.