Creative doing remedies powerlessness. It brings a degree of healthy control to our speed wobble days and our monster-laden dark nights.
If we take what we’ve got and transform it we see ourselves as creators, not victims:
- You cook a meal and substitute an ingredient or deviate from the recipe (you are clever, not cash strapped)
- You make your morning cup of coffee and put it just so next to your toast because you find it pleasing and balanced (the ceremony makes eating alone for nearly two decades less pitiful)
- You stand back to admire how you’ve arranged all the tools on the shed wall in a logical, space-saving configuration (you had to sell the house with the double garage when you lost your job)
It’s the creative doing of humdrum living. The small gestures that reverberate through our bigger, daunting life and often plug holes to make us whole again
Purposeful, deliberate doing creates beauty and meaning in chaotic, challenging times. It is not ostentatious or grand, but simple and mundane. Your best doing might be my despised chore: mopping the floor makes you feel at peace with your world; it makes me feel the word drudgery. If, however, I approach the chore creatively with music in my ears and a sway in my hips it is transformed into empowered, creative doing. Feeling empowered means selecting tasks and rituals that uplift us, and uplifting those that don’t, no matter how indiscernible the elevation. Every little bit counts.
The potency is increased when we give new life to discarded, unwanted or unappreciated emotions, circumstances and things.
I’m overly fond of the scene in The Sound Of Music where troubled noviciate/governess Maria has a light bulb moment while gazing at the heavy drapes in her bedroom that are going to be replaced. The seven Von Trapp children urgently need play clothes and the wealthy father is not inclined to fund frivolous purchases (his children wear smart uniforms and don’t play). The singing-herself-confident, industrious Maria sews those old, resilient curtains into pinafores and shorts and dresses. The children have recycled curtain clothing and Captain Von Trapp a moment of comical distaste when confronted with the evidence of Maria’s ingenuity and determination.
We were seven children without the Von Trapp wardrobes or finances. One exciting day a big box arrived from England filled with blouses and corduroy skirts (a step-uncle worked for a clothing factory).
There wasn’t much room for personal style or being a slave to fashion. So I learnt to be alternative – not necessarily tastefully so; altering what I had, or resurrecting items with an idea and a needle and thread. I enjoyed the process.
I would wear a male relative’s discarded suede jacket studded menacingly with all the brooches I could find in my mom’s jewellery box (inspired by Madonna’s dubious but riveting dress code – I even had a staggeringly big bow in my distressed hair). I gave my dad’s frayed, collared shirt a mandarin collar (cutting off the ‘turnover’) and attached black ribbons on either side to make a feminine line of three vintage bows; wearing it with the 50’s looking button-through corduroy skirts that would’ve been mortifying without a deliberate retro punch line.
As soon as I was earning money I visited a 2nd-hand clothing shop and bought items I could refresh in some way – it was cheap and satisfying. I was asserting my right to be interesting and worthwhile even if I wasn’t materially wealthy. I had little money but I wasn’t poor – I was different.
When our self-esteem and chin-up attitude is being threatened by people or circumstances I find it helpful to approach the negativity with dignity and, if at all possible, flair – making what I have to do or endure as tolerable (or even hip) as I can.
I give what I find difficult a cheap facelift, pulling up all the ‘wrinkles’ and securing the sag under a functional hairline (I saw this in a series. I was astonished and amused when the woman unclipped her skin and it fell into its daytime creases). I elevate the ‘wrinkles’ so I can face my world with a measure of grace.
It can be as simple as looking at a thing of beauty, to see with appreciation what you missed before. I remember the godawful time when I asked my husband for a divorce but hadn’t moved out yet – one of the actions I took to cope was greeting my neighbors cerise-pink Bougainvillea each day when I went to hang the washing on the line. I had not appreciated its blooming splendor nearly enough and I knew I would miss it when I left. I reached up high and cut a piece off, putting it in a vase – it lifted my spirits. I brought its life force indoors and found its unflustered, bold loveliness a fine example to follow.
I was consciously doing to alleviate emotions and conditions that threatened to annihilate my resolve to reach for myself again. I made simple actions and rituals an anchor for my soul – checking on the fish in the pond and tank, listening to music that made me feel strong, ironing shirts with deep concentration, writing in my journal, singing in the car, taking care of my children.
When I felt confused, afraid or disheartened I turned to do something – making a cup of tea has never been overrated…in our culture how many times have you read, heard, or seen a shall I put the kettle on? It’s the generic response to trouble brewing. You make a comforting hot drink. If I’m facing ruin or rancor my internal compass takes me straight to the kettle. The doing is a salve as much as the tea is.
Children do it without deliberation or prompting – in the crummiest places, with only the companionship of cement and dirt, children find their way to creative doing to put a smile in their hearts. They’ll see ants marching and gather dirt to make a miniscule sand dune obstacle for the invading soldiers. While occupied as creative engineers they are distracted, forgetting how hungry, cold and miserable they are.
We can recreate and creatively do, whichever one suits the situation. I can recreate a blouse, I have to creatively do the dishes.
When we recreate and creatively do, we renew – ourselves, others and our capacity to endure with hope and heart.
So what are you doing today?
Thank you, as always, for your love, interest and support.