Whenever anyone says, “Oh, I’m not creative,” I don’t buy it. You don’t have to believe that you are creating the universe with every neuron that fires to admit that sensory input is just that, input, and still needs to be processed and organized by your amazing human brain. The world you live in every day is an interactive representation fabricated by the mind using color, shape, sound, etc., and then projected outside of yourself through the magic of psychic self-deception.
Now, you might argue that this magnificent illusion is created through involuntary bodily mechanisms similar to breathing and digestion, and, in some degree, I would agree with you. But your daily life is not involuntary. Every word out of your mouth is an original event, speech written in time, carved into existence where it will remain, unchangeable forever, in our collective past. Every movement you make, every time you opt to take a step, turn around, move right, or stop, you are inventing a brand new story. You are writing your narrative in the world with each choice you make and every thought that passes. If the entire world’s a page, then how can anything you do not be creation?
So let’s say, hypothetically, that I have broken my conditioning. Perhaps all of my life I’ve been taught that art is for wealthy elitists, that poets and painters are stuck-up intellectuals, thumbing their pointy noses at us, thinking they are better than the likes of you or me. But as a child I loved cartoons, and so I started drawing pictures. Or else comic books gave way to graphic novels gave way to my own fantasy stories. Or maybe I was so stunned by Rock music that I couldn’t live another day without drumming a beat out of everything in sight. Whatever it was, I got a taste for the sheer pleasure of creation, and now I’m hooked. So what am I supposed to do about it?
It has taken me 14 years of devoutly studying poetry to understand that you don’t need to study poetry a day in your life to write a poem. You don’t even need to read any. You just have to write.
Let’s say I’ve never read a poem or even heard of poetry. We don’t have to concoct an impossibly complex scenario to imagine how this might be true. There was a time when there was no such thing as “Poetry,” only songs and stories, traveling troubadours bringing the news on their lute-strings. There were no anthologies, because there was no literacy, no printing press; one couldn’t go to the local bookstore and pick up the latest revised edition of the Norton Contemporary. Does that mean there was no word art? No rhyme or meter? No public pontification?
Poetry, in its modern incarnation as a printed verbal art form, is relatively new in the life of the species. It had to be discovered and developed over time out of the raw creative impulses of sensible humans. If all of poetry were suddenly lost and our artistic memories wiped clean, we would make it again. Sooner or later, somebody would notice that slight and height sound alike, that speech bounces according to recognizable patterns, and that, when words that don’t normally go together find themselves in juxtaposition, something happens in the brain—something entirely new.
So I’ve never heard of reading or writing, but I’ve heard of speaking and singing, and to entertain myself when I’m bored, I sing little songs, nonsense songs that I am making up. After a while, though, singing the same tunes and the same words all the time, I start to get bored. I want to keep my entertainment exciting, so I begin mixing up the notes, singing off-key, trying out different rhythms and deliberately breaking them. I get tired of singing about what I’m doing and seeing, so I imagine what other people are doing and sing stories about them. Then I remember about singing off-key and run that experiment with the words as well. What might it mean to speak in off-key language? How can I make you misunderstand me?
Or maybe I have heard of reading and writing, but not art, not poetry, and one day I discover that, when there’s no one around to talk to, I can talk to the page. So I just let it all out, everything I am thinking and feeling, in a jumble even I can’t understand. But over time, as I write in my journal every day, I begin to pick myself apart, notice patterns in my thinking and behavior as I record them. I find I like the words and what they can do, and sometimes, by accident, something interesting happens. I am trying to understand an emotion I have and decide to use an analogy to explain how it feels, and I stumble upon the symbolic power of the image.
All of the great, early Blues musicians were self-taught. Many even made their first instruments out of whatever was lying around. What did they know that we don’t? If you want to sing, sing. If you want to paint, paint. If you want to write, you have to write. There is no other way.
As you maintain your regular practice, unoriginal language will fall by the wayside. You will begin to notice the clichés and easy phrases that occur most often and, inevitably, you will be bored by them. Uninspired by constant repetition, your writing will organically change. Through trial and error you will discover the same tools and techniques that all the other poets have found before you. The advantage, of course, to reading these poets is that they have already done much of the work. You can spend a lifetime in metered rhyme to come to the revelation of free-verse, or you can read Whitman today. They have been building this tower for centuries that we might stand at the top and lay new brick. But they were no more alive, no more human than you. Anyone can do this. You can.
So you want to be a writer? Grab a pen and the nearest piece of paper and start scribbling. Set an alarm for 20 minutes and don’t stop until the bell rings. Give yourself rules to follow, games to play. Test the limits of the page with the firm knowledge that you have no limits. You want to be a painter? Grab a blue pen and a red sharpie and whatever else you can find in the house and draw anything. You can go to the art store later, but start drawing right now. You want to be a musician? Hum. Sing. Beat on your desk and the walls of your room. And, when you are able, go get yourself an instrument.
Living is an act of creation. Even reading this, you are engaging your creativity by analyzing and processing, agreeing or disagreeing. It’s the very essence of your humanity: the ability to choose.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a beautiful black electric bass that I don’t know how to play.
-Eric Raanan Fischman