Literary Journal – Spring 2017

You are Creative…You Just Don’t Know It…. Yet

By Meredith Betz

When I was in sixth grade, my art teacher was Miss Weathersby. She probably weighed in at 250 pounds and had stringy greasy mousy hair. She’d slouch at her desk, her fat legs spread apart under the desk rarely left it.

Only with an extraordinary amount of effort could she walk over to Maria Sanchez’s desk to marvel at Maria’s work. She’d exclaim, “See how Maria’s drawing gets to the heart of the character? Maria is a gifted artist!” I would never be any kind of artist at all.

In my other classes I was an A student. In this class I squeaked by with a C. When my parents inquired how I could get a better grade, Miss Weatherby suggested that perhaps I could clean the blackboards after school. I carried that experience with me for a very long time.

Too many people have had Miss Weatherby’s in their lives. They swear they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies. They were probably told that the orange cow they drew was stupid or that they couldn’t sing their way out of a paper bag.

I am convinced, though, that everyone has untapped creativity. She just needs to jettison those false narratives and be open to possibilities. I am not suggesting anyone could paint the Mona Lisa or write a symphony. I am saying that everyone has the ability to put her creative stamp on everyday life.

Back in the early 90’s, I worked as a director of education at the Newhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art on Staten Island. Wacky creativity ruled in the Newhouse Gallery.  Dead trees in sleeping bags or a toilet filled with fake daisies took creativity to a new galaxy far far away.

In sharp contrast, was Bayonne, New Jersey, a working class town only minutes away from the Newhouse. My route to work from Maplewood, a middle and upper class commuter town, took me through Bayonne, a working class community. I had to pass through the town to reach the Bayonne Bridge to Staten Island. I’d drive down the same street everyday past rows of drab monochromatic houses crammed together and lined up like old chipped chicklets.

The houses, for the most part, were all the same. That is, until the day after Thanksgiving. As I passed through the old route on the way home, the houses took on a different aspect.

Red, green, blue, and white lights draped or wrapped around rails and pillars or outlined the edges of the homes. Reindeers on roofs, Santas on lawns or handmade crèches donned houses and yards. Each house was a little bit different than the next.

The first time I experienced Bayonne at Christmas, I realized that I needed to change my perspective of the chicklet dwellings and their inhabitants. I had an “aha moment” when I realized that at Christmas, everyone was an artist!

Famous choreographer Twyla Tharp said it beautifully.

“Creativity is not just for artists.  It’s for business people looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”

Carol Dweck, author of the best seller Mindset, argues that there are two types of people in the world. Those with fixed mind-sets reject change and ignore possibilities. Those with open mindsets do the opposite. To make the shift takes work and practice. However, it is possible for people to widen their creativity lenses.

So what can you do to change your mindset? Reconsider your attachment to your beliefs about being creative. Abandon what others may have told you .

Practice awareness and look for connections. Stand on your head to get a whole new perspective on the world. Look for rabbits or boats or dinosaurs in clouds.

Notice one new thing that you hadn’t seen before and take a picture of it. Maybe it’s as simple as noticing that your thumbnails are slightly different shapes.

Pay attention to the difference in how musicians like Alicia Keyes and Lady Gaga put their own spin on the Star Spangled Banner. Write down your dreams.

Try something new—something that’s uniquely yours. Take a walk on the wild side.  Tweak a recipe or make a beautiful presentation of appetizers for a party

Take a picture on your IPhone and play with the editing app. Sing your favorite song in the shower like your favorite artist. Wear a fuchsia tie. Tell your kids a story about Cinderella through the eyes of the fairy godmother or the wicked step sisters.

Write a crazy subject line in your email to a friend.

Be curious and open to possibilities.

In one of the most compelling TED talks of all time, Dr. Ken Robinson, thought leader in creativity in education and in business, argues that schools kill creativity.

He recounts the story of choreographer Gillian Lynne and how she became a dancer. When she was a student in the 1930’s, she was having a tough time in school. School administrators believed that she had learning disabilities because she was always fidgeting.

Today she might have been diagnosed with ADHD but that term was an unfamiliar one back then. Lynne’s mother sought out a specialist to help her daughter. After listening to her for 20 minutes, he asked to speak to her mother privately. Before he did, he turned on the radio in the room.

When they got out of the room, the doctor told her mother, “Just stand and watch her.”  The minute they left the room, Lynne was on her feet, moving to the music. They watched for a few minutes after which the physician said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer.” Gillian later went on to dance school, danced with the Royal Ballet and later became the choreographer for some of the greatest musicals of all time.

My creativity story changed with my best friend’s artist-mother, Mrs. Riga. One day, when I was in eighth grade, Mrs. Riga sat down with us to paint at her easel. She asked me to paint a flower. I painted a thin, squeaky daisy–you know the kind with a circle in the middle and oblong petals.

She took the brush from me.  She loaded her brush with a glob of titanium white paint and painted a sloppy oval with a dot in the middle and a green line suspended from it.  Her flower was a lot better than mine because it sparked my imagination.  She gave me the freedom to experiment.

What Mrs. Riga gave me was transformational. I embraced the part of myself that Miss Weathersby tried to squelch. Years later, I exhibited my woven sculptures in an exhibit at the Empire State Building.

I have spent much of my life jumpstarting imagination and encouraging others to be open to their untapped creativity. I encourage you to find yours.

Draw orange cows, dance with the stars, paint lopsided flowers, write a poem or two.

Laugh at your brilliance.

Meredith Betz is a former high school Communications/English teacher whose avocation is coaching students of all ages in writing and delivering presentations. Currently she writes for the Nonprofit Quarterly. Her vocation is executive coaching and organizational consulting to for profit and nonprofit organizations.