The Choice to Create

“If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing-- it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.”

--Brene Brown "The Gifts of Imperfection"

In the past,  people spent much more of their time creating. Creating was what people did instead of buying something. Creating was what people did instead of sitting and taking something in. Singing instead of listening to music. Putting on a show or playing a game instead of watching tv. There was no other choice but to participate.

Nowadays, we have a choice, and creating is always the more difficult choice. We have to make an effort to create. It is a conscious choice to create a meal rather than buy it pre-made, for example. I’m not lamenting the fact that easier options exist, and I’m not suggesting that we should pretend that we don’t have the choice whether or not to create.

Brown’s quote just reminds me that we CAN still participate in the act of creation-- and that it is transformative. Brown says that when we create we are cultivating meaning. What is cultivating meaning? When we create, we investigate our own view of the world, our own thoughts about what our life is for, and about what is important. This is quite a contrast to simply taking in what others have created.

Here’s an example. I love to cook. My favorite way to cook is to start with an idea of what I want to make, maybe read through a recipe online as an inspiration, and then modify and add as I go. I look through the fridge and see what could go together, what could spice it up...I don’t actually know what I do, really. I start cooking and an hour or so later, there is a dish or three on the table that were not there before, and nine times out of ten, they’re very tasty.

Now, how is cooking cultivating meaning? I’ve sort of been thinking about this all morning because, even though I love this quote, I didn’t quite get it. What does cooking tell me about my view of the world? When I cook, I am saying that I think it is worth my time to create a composed meal. I’m saying that I love being in my home, and that I value what is homemade. I’m taking time to cook, but at the same time taking time to think and reflect. When I cook, I am choosing all of this, and it means certain things about me and my values.

What does cooking say about what my life is for? My life is for playing in the kitchen, for creating beauty through surprising and complementary combinations. My life is for nourishing myself and my beloved, for expressing love by spending my time on that which sustains us.

That’s getting deep, and it’s just cooking dinner! Creating meaning is even more obvious when we’re doing something like writing. For me, writing is thinking, the way that I process unspoken thoughts. I often find problems or mysteries knocking around in my head for days until I finally sit down and write about them. As I write, I break down the various elements of whatever the problem is and end up coming up with ideas and solutions that I can’t always seem to always find without the use of writing. The act of putting the words on the page leads to meaning for me, and often has a positive effect on my life because I have finally put something to rest that is bothering me or discovered something that I think is true.

When was the last time you created? What did you do? Brown writes that there’s no such thing as people who are creative and people who are not creative, there are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t...and she argues that life goes better when we use our creativity. Why not try it and find out?