Monday, September 19, 2011

I was never the creative one, though I tried; when I was a kid, I'd gather my crayons and pencils together, my colored paper, and wait for inspiration to hit, but it never did. I could never draw. My doodles devolved into awkward attempts at geometric patterns. Later, in college, when I took art classes, the professor would stare and puzzle over my attempts at sketches, and once began spouting statistics on alien abductions, apparently inspired by my drawing of a monkey. Our nanny taught my sister and me to make paste, and we went crazy with that, but it was always my sister's vision we followed.

In fact, when I was growing up, my sister was the creative one. Her imagination was somewhere between a barely-restrained wild animal and a tornado. She could turn our living room into a swamp full of aligators who'd drag us down to the depths if we touched the carpet, so we spent many afternoons hopping from couch to chair to piano. Or she pretended there were cowboys on the next ridge, waiting for a chance to pick her off with their Winchesters, poor Little Mini Haha that she was, a lone squaw searching for her Indian brethren. She made clubhouses in the tops of closets, tried to dig a swimming pool in the yard with spoons and trashbags (to line it with) and, at her peak of ambition, attempted to excavate a cliff she was sure was the collapsed tunnel of a gold mine. I went along with her, but, when asked if the Sioux Nation were coming over the hills to help fight off the Cavalry, I saw nothing, but said, "Yes."

In school, when I was given the opportunity to take a test to get into Gifted and Talented classes, I failed. I told myself the questions were esoteric; all of the kids who'd already been in GT passed because they already knew the answers from GT. When one of the questions stated I was trapped in a room with a mirror and a table and asked how I would get out, I had no idea. I'd never been asked to be creative in school, before; I didn't know it was even acceptable.

When I was growing up, my friends were creative. They could draw, write funny stories; they made movies. I helped with the movies, but I was always the awkward, out of place one. Unable to improvise with the conviction my friends showed, I suggested we write scripts, but when asked what to write, I couldn't help. So we continued improvising. I mostly just followed the others; I was just glad to be asked to participate. I was the one who told dirty jokes I'd overheard from my father; they were the ones who came up with fresh ideas.

Actually, I remember the first creative thing I wrote. It was in the sixth grade, I believe. The assignment was to make an autobiography. We were supplied a series of prompts such as What does your family do on the weekends? or What's your favorite holiday? The sad reality was that I had no answer for most of the questions. Or, rather, I was ashamed of the answers I had. On the weekends, we watched TV. My father drank. My favorite holiday--now that was a toss-up. Was it Easter when my brother hid eggs in cow piles? or the Christmas when my Uncle Wheelbarrow (it's a long story) got drunk, dressed up like Santa, and asked me if I wanted a woman for Christmas? I looked around at my classmates--most of them upper class or, at least, middle class; we were middle class on paper, but dressed as lower, at best. We didn't even have a VCR until I got into high school, saved up the money, and bought one. My classmates seemed worldly, happy, worst of all, normal. I answered the few prompts I could, but fell well below the minimum length. So I made the rest of it up. I created a normal family who did normal things; the teacher was fooled. I don't remember what grade I received, though I did well enough; I just remember being ashamed of the whole ordeal.

It was much later in the 11th grade when I discovered the usefullness of creativity. The teacher, who happened to be my aunt, gave us extra credit for creative work every so often. I was ending a relationship at the time. I wrote a terrible poem about it. My aunt was so affected that she made me stay after class and convince her I was not on drugs, suicidal, etc. I was quite pleased.


I've always surrounded myself with creative people. The high school friends I mentioned, my bandmates from my days as a musician; later, in college, I hung out with writers and artists, though most of them took themselves too seriously and lacked the real creative verve of my childhood friends. There have been a few standouts. I wanted to live in a Platonic Society but had no aspirations to be the king, just another philosopher. Maybe the treasurer.

Really, I'd give just about anything to go back to the days when we Xeroxed a zine and distributed it around the high school campus and put up flyers and rented out the Progressive Club to perform. Even when I'm nominated for an award or have a book picked up by a publisher, it doesn't quite compare to the thrill of learning that all 50 copies we made of Bert the Bemuzzled Shopping Cart issue 3 were sold.

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