Is your creativity guided more when given structure or chaos? An overly simple query, perhaps, but a topic that has generated some compelling discussions here at The Artist’s Road. Today I’m offering a beautiful new contribution to the discussion from guest blogger Callie Feyen. Callie is a blogger, an MFA student, a freelance writer, a wife, and a mother. It is the lessons she learns from her children that power her blog and much of her creative nonfiction. And I’ve been fortunate enough to read a great deal of her marvelous prose, because we are in a writer’s group together here in the D.C. metro area. Meet Callie, and her two muses, Hadley and Harper:
My daughters, Hadley and Harper, play with Legos differently. Hadley, my five year old, will only attempt to build something if she has the directions in front of her. She will work silently and studiously, meticulously following each step until a fire truck, sports car, or flower shop are in front of her. She never questions the directions, and puts her faith in the fact that if she follows each step, she will arrive at a satisfactory ending.
Harper, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with directions. My three year old will take a blue slab for a foundation, stack several Legos on top of it, and say she’s created a city. A few changes to the small blocks and she calls it a toy store. Once, she made an ice-cream shop, though the pieces didn’t do what she wanted them to, so she ripped up a Kleenex and placed it on the black Legos (the cones). “This shop only sells vanilla ice-cream,” she told me.
This kind of process drives Hadley crazy. How can you say you’ve created something if you haven’t followed the directions? Further, don’t you need to at least have an idea of what you’re creating? My girls look at their play very differently. For Harper, the fun is in the process and discovery. For Hadley, the fun is in the assurance that at the end of the process, she will have a product.
While I tend to think more like Harper, I know the way Hadley arrives at creativity is important, too. For example, I often submit what I believe are braided essays to my writers group or MFA advisor. Their feedback, always critically kind, often suggests I take a look at the structure of a braided essay to help with my revisions. Follow the steps.
Another example: I am not consistent with verb tenses (ask Patrick, he will vouch for me). This bad habit can only be fixed if I look at the structure of my work (and perhaps start my writing time with some DOL exercises). In my fervor to tell a story, I tend to get wrapped up in the swirl of creation and forget to slow down, and take it one step at a time. As a writer, as any kind of artist, I think it’s important to pay attention to both the rules and the process of our product. Through my girls, I see that one enhances the other.
A few weeks ago, Hadley decided to make a semi-truck out of Legos. This is about 25 steps, the longest Lego creation she’s ever made. She spent all day working on it, stopping only once for lunch. Around early evening, as Hadley was putting on the last few Legos on the truck, Harper came over and stood above the remaining pieces scattered about. She put her foot in the middle of the mess, then stepped back. She kneeled down, fiddled with several pieces, and stood up, studying the Legos.
“Look, guys! I made a heart!”
Sure enough, a perfect heart had been shaped out of the leftovers.
Hadley walked over to see Harper’s creation, “How’d you do that?”
Harper shrugged. “I don’t know. Can I play with your truck?”
“Sure,” Hadley mumbled, never taking her eyes off Harper’s heart.
Harper pushed the truck around the living room making zooming noises while Hadley separated a bunch of Legos to see whether she could create what Harper made.
I know that, had Harper attempted to make that truck, she would have grown frustrated trying to follow the directions. And while Hadley was out of her comfort zone trying to create a heart from a big mess, what I saw as my two girls played, was a new world that had been opened by the other sibling. That seems like quite a high compliment of one’s work.
Callie is an MFA student at Seattle Pacific University studying Creative Nonfiction. She is a news correspondent for The Banner, and writes book reviews for Christian Home and School. Her latest personal essay, “Girl on A Bike” will be published in Christian Home and School this fall. Visit her at http://www.calliefeyen.com.