Episode 33: Creativity
Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we try…and I mean; we try really hard to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Always, in all circumstances because we are learning to trust ourselves.
As if that’s not enough, this is the podcast in which the prime descriptor of childhood, that is, in a word, Creativity, comes into its own in our everyday, grown-up Cinderella-ish lives.
The podcast in which the question “what would happen if”…gets answered over and over and over again until we start to see a fine covering of fairy dust in all the domains of our lives.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.
Before we get started, I wanted to read a piece of listener mail I got this week. I love hearing from you, by the way. If you have a question or an objection or a story about how you are making progress towards your Ideal Life, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m not a therapist, remember. I’m not a professional anything other than a professional fairy godmother. So…keep that in mind. If you need real, professional mental health support, please get it.
All right. Here goes:
Thank you for putting your podcast out there. Your voice is so nice, it could put me to sleep…I mean that in a good way.
Nah nah nah Lily Field (I hope you read that in your Cinderella voice!)
I have been catching up on the podcast over the last few weeks, and I’m confused. I love what you say about the Golden Rule. It’s so simple, but it really is the answer to 99% of the decisions I need to make everyday.
So this is why I am confused. I have been really careful lately, especially at work, about taking a second before agreeing to anything, and making sure that I’m actually making a decision, instead of just throwing my time into something because someone asks me to.
But sometimes, I feel like I’m agreeing to things for ulterior motives.
I’m starting to feel like maybe when I ask myself, “what would I want someone to do for me?“ when I have to make a decision, that maybe I‘m actually asking “how can I get someone to do for me what I want done for me.“ (Did that make sense?)
Anyway, I wonder if you have a thought about this, because something so simple has started to feel a little bit icky and I wanted some input from my favorite fairy godmother.
Love the podcast. Thanks for all you do!
Love and Fairy Dust,
Cinderella Dressed in Yellow in Amarillo, Texas
PS Luke Warford for Texas Railroad Commissioner!
Yes!!! I love this. Politics aside, I love everything about this note.
Well, Cinderella, first of all, congratulations on putting your fairy dust to work. I’m so proud of you. So, so, so proud. I hope you have found a way to celebrate yourself and this progress.
Getting into the habit of committing by making an active, informed decision is a tough bridge to cross, and it is not without a few alligators in the water. A lot of those alligators are our own mental or emotional obstacles—people pleasing, or being afraid to disappoint others is one of them. Guilt is another. Flimsy boundaries between where we start and another person ends is another.
Two of those alligators are nasty little creatures called “fear of manipulation“ and its really ugly cousin, “resentment“ I think one of these two might be nipping at your heels right now.
Now, I don’t know your situation, but from what you said in your letter, you said that you are taking time to actually make a decision rather than just throwing yourself into a project. I’m going to take a leap and guess that in the past, people might have asked you to do things because they knew you would not say no, or that you would be the kind of person who takes things on even when you don’t have the time or inclination to.
When you start to create a boundary, which, let’s be clear, is what you are doing when you start making considered decisions about what is good for you and what you want to do, it dislodges a lot of feelings…and not just from the people who are unaccustomed to a Cinderella who says, “no“, or at the very least, “can I get back to you on that?” but also in your own Cinderella’s heart.
I’m going to give an example here that isn’t entirely relevant to the topic at hand, but I want to illustrate what I mean by “dislodging feelings” in your own heart.
Let me set the stage. Remember, I, Lily Fields, your fairy godmother extraordinaire, live in France. One thing that the French do, that mercifully Americans do not, is the traditional greeting which is, at least in the region where I live, a kiss on each cheek.
There are a lot of unspoken rules and politics around “La Bise”, which is what this tradition is called. Now, keep in mind, my example comes from the pre-COVID period of history, because things have ever-so-slightly shifted due to the health situation.
As an american, I have tried really, really hard to learn those unspoken rules of “La Bise”. There are regions of the country that start on the right cheek, others that start on the left. If you are accustomed to starting on the right side, but you go for a “Bise” with someone who starts on the left size, you end up doing a weird little dance to avoid touching faces in a way that is less than comfortable.
Or…there are regions of the country where they do three kisses instead of two. Or four instead of two. If you discover these things, it’s already too late. Someone is coming at you for a third one and you have already moved onto something else and someone ends up offended. Even worse, the people who go in for a fourth one after that….ugh. It’s horrendously frustrating and can make a first meeting with someone really uncomfortable.
Long story longer, I used to work at a local radio station. We worked in a tiny little office, packed in like sardines. And every morning, everyone would do “les bises” upon arriving at the office.
I arrived early, just after my friend and colleague Jonathan, whom you heard all about in episode 7, My Intentional Valentine, and just before my colleague Sonia, whom you probably will hear about another time. So when I arrived, theoretically I only had to do les bises with one person.
But Jonathan and I came to a silent agreement that we were not going to waste our time on this cultural tradition, (to be fair, he grew up in Québec, so his anti-bise political stance was akin to mine.) Instead, we would just tell a stupid joke or in some way make the other one laugh. It is better than any “bise” anyone ever could give. (I told you he was the best colleague a girl could have.)
However, pretty much as soon as I was settled at my desk, Sonia would arrive. Now, Sonia had been at the radio station forever. Since the radio station had started broadcasting. She is a woman who is deserving of much respect, and carries herself as such. So I would always stand when she would come into my office for “la bise.” Out of respect. It just…felt right.
What inevitably happened after that, though, was that I started standing when anyone came into my office to do “la bise”. So…throughout the morning, I would stand maybe ten times…interrupting the work I was doing to greet and chat with each person. I probably lost 30 minutes a day on this ritual.
Well. One day, when I was in therapy for my self-loathing issues which I have talked about in prior podcasts, my counselor, Georges, encouraged me to perform a small act of rebellion (because, long story short, I didn’t know how to put myself and my well-being before the pulls that other people would put on my time, talent and treasure.) So my little act of rebellion was to not stand when people would come to my desk for the morning bise routine.
That first time that I didn’t stand when Sonia came into my office was…it was one of the most singularly uncomfortable moments of my life. And then, as the morning progressed and the others came in, the sweat dribbled down my armpits.
I felt physical discomfort at setting an unspoken boundary. I don’t think a single person noticed that I didn’t stand to give them their morning “bise”. But I did. Creating this boundary dislodge tons of feelings for me…
For one, it was a feeling of taking back power. I actually felt power in my office relationship with others, that I hadn’t known before. I also felt like I was objectively being a jerk, because I was making people bend down to my height as I was seated in the desk chair. (Although it had never bothered me to see others do this before!)
I did this experiment of quiet rebellion for a week. For that week, I simply lived with the dislodged feelings as they presented themselves. And I can guarantee you that I wrote volumes about what this evoked for me…anger, resentment, and also some good things. I wasted less time. I got more done. I felt on an equal playing field with my colleagues.
In the end, I decided that I would still stand for Sonia, because for me this remained an extremely important sign of respect for her. But I managed to claw back almost all of the time I would lose every day by simply staying seated when people would come in to say “good morning.”
I learned that it wasn’t about power or being rude. It was about respecting myself and my work enough to not let myself get distracted in inane conversations and greetings.
It came to pass that during that first week, when I saw how brutal the change was in the amount of time people spent in my office now that I was no longer standing to greet them, I felt an incredible amount of resentment…towards those people who had wasted my time in the first place. It was as if…and this surely isn’t their experience of it, but it was what my dislodged feelings tried to tell me…that actually, the fact that I would stand made them feel powerful and that wasting my time made them feel powerful, and that all this time, the only reason they even cared to stay in my office was because I made them feel powerful.
So yeah. There was some resentment there.
So back to your situation, Cinderella:
It’s going to happen that you experience some resentment about the people who didn’t consider that you might not have had the time or inclination to help, but asked anyway. You might even start to see this behavior as manipulative in a way you didn’t before, kind of like in my example, when I was angry because I had the realization that Iwas feeding the power trip of certain of my colleagues by standing to greet them.
I need you to sit with those feelings for a little bit. Be curious about them, examine them. And keep on setting boundaries. Don’t let your discomfort about a safe, legal form of rebellion stop you. Write out what you’re feeling and what it evokes for you.
Your feelings are legitimate, and you need to let them complete their cycle. But they aren’t the whole story, either. Keep that in mind. Not everyone is out to manipulate you or get you to do things you don’t want to do. But when your eyes open to the power of setting boundaries, it’s really easy to see it like that.
When someone has been manipulated in the past, she develops a kind of radar for it…and sometimes, we can see manipulation even where there is none, simply because we are hyper aware.
It happens that this radar can get turned inward, and that we start to doubt our own motivations, which is exactly what I think is happening to you.
The Golden Rule says that we should do for others as we would want done for us. This is not, let me underscore this, NOT a one-to-one transaction.
This is not, “I’m going to watch your kids today so that you watch mine tomorrow“. That is an agreement, a negotiation, it is something that is completely valid. But that is not the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule says, “I see your situation and I want to do something to help.“ (We talked about this compulsion to action, the Philosopher Princess calls it Compassion, that is love in action) When we experience this compulsion to act, then we ask ourselves, “What would I want done for me if I were in the same situation…?“ If that solution is one that you have the resources and bandwidth to accomplish, then the decision is easy.
The Golden Rule asks for nothing in return. It’s simply a measuring stick for kindness and proportionate response.
Now. There is another answer to your question, because it sounds like you might also be facing a situation at work in which you need help and don’t know how to go about asking for it. Heads up, Cinderella: Manipulation is not how to get what you need.
The antidote to manipulation is learning how to express your needs clearly, with your big-girl words. This, my dear, is where the rubber meets the road. It’s incredibly hard for people pleasers to learn how to ask for what they need, especially ones like us who have always turned ourselves into pretzels to avoid giving the impression of having any needs at all.
Are you with me?
So what I want is for you to practice asking for what you need, in front of the mirror, by saying “what I need from you is…“ You might even have to write out the sentences first, and then read them off the page at first. But practice hearing yourself say. Practice looking at yourself saying it. Get comfortable with speaking up for yourself. If you have to, consider past-you an underdog who needs someone to speak up for her, someone who is outside of you, and needs someone to compassionately act on her behalf.
I’m also, as I always do, going to suggest that if this dislodging of feelings gets overwhelming or is destabilizing to you, that you meet with a professional counselor or a therapist who can meet with you one on one and help you get across that bridge and tame your alligators.
Thank you for writing, and I hope you got something out of my long winded answer. I’m sending a ton of fairy dust your way.
If you are stuck in an Ideal Life rut and need some help singing with your feet, drop me a line: email@example.com
Shifting gears a bit on our horse-drawn carriage that was once a garden-variety pumpkin, we are going to start talking about Craft and Creativity.
Many years ago, I had to take a bus to work. Every day, I would ride that bus down busy downtown streets between skyscrapers and I would wonder what inspired someone to believe that they could…or even…should…try to build a building 90 stories tall. Who was the first person to get that idea? Because he must have been insanely creative and probably pretty misunderstood.
On that note, I want us to define the parameters of today’s topic.
Craft is something that many of us just lump in with those activities we gave up in order to grow up and become responsible. Finger painting, making paper airplanes, the fabulous world of noodle jewelry.
But I believe that Craft is not something that we just outgrow. Craft is using our hands, mouths or imagination to make or do things, either useful or fanciful. It’s as simple as that.
Craft can be painting the garage door or it can be playing the piano. It can be wordsmithing or metalworking. It can be sewing or it can be gluing toys back together. Craft can be making brownies or it can be doing calligraphy. Clearing a mountain path or setting a beautiful table.
There are, like I said, useful kinds of Craft, and there are fanciful kinds of Craft. There are useful kinds of Craft that can bring us immense joy to create, just like there are useful kinds of Craft that can be a pain in the rear end.
Either way, Craft can be time-consuming and might require a certain amount of talent or a minimum of know-how. Which means that it requires us to invest some of our three precious resources (which are, as a refresher, our time, talent and treasure) to accomplish, especially if we want to get good at it.
I differentiate this from the Malcolm Gladwell 10000 hours to become an expert on something, which is something more akin to what I would consider “work“ and which we talked about earlier in the season in an episode entitled “Take this Job and Love It“. Craft, for most of us, is not necessarily our profession (although it can be, for those lucky few who can parlay their craft into a salary!)
I lump together the topics of Craft and Creativity, because they meld nicely together for me. It’s not a 100% overlap, but they are close enough for me to want to consider them together. If you, in the big beautiful Venn Diagram of your life, see Craft and Creativity to be separate, then by all means. Separate them out.
So we said that Craft was the act of making something, either useful or fanciful. This is different from, but related to, Creativity, which is the human impulse to create, to question and to understand and improve.
Creativity is fueled by curiosity…Science (what would happen if I put these two substances together) is as creative an endeavor as composing a work of art (what would it look like if I mixed these two colors together?)
Curiosity is, as the Philosopher Princess likes to say, « the spice of life ». And as the old adage says, « Necessity is the mother of invention. »
Curiosity pushed the ancients to develop theories as to what the lights in the night sky were—to study their courses and to name them. Curiosity pushed Galileo to take a telescope and direct it at the stars.
I get goosebumps when I think about what those astronomers would think if they saw some of those images that the James Webb telescope has returned.
Curiosity did that. Creativity in each generation, each generation adding their own twist on the question’ « What would happen if… » What would happen if we used a mirrored surface ? What would happen if we made the telescope even bigger? What if we put it as close as we could to the sky? What if we launched it into space?
Both Craft and Creativity are at play in this example. Just like they are both at play when I tried to figure out how to use a spinning wheel for the first time. « What would happen if… » is the juncture of Craft and Creativity.
Part One: The Ideal Life
If you’ve been with us for any length of time, then you know by heart the prompt “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…”
It’s what helps us define the parameters and overlap and opacity of each circle on the venn Diagram of our lives.
I want you to do this exercise for yourself, answering it in as many ways as possible.
When it comes to Craft and Creativity:
In my Ideal Life I am a person who:
- Uses my creativity in productive ways
- Inspires other people to get creative
- Creates meaningful, useful objects out of otherwise condemned or unused things
- Reuses elastic, snaps, buttons, ribbons, wrapping paper, holed socks…
- Finds peace in the act of creating
- Is always learning new techniques
- Always has a project on the burner to turn to when life gets to be too much
- Proudly says “Yeah. I made it.”
- Does not buy supplies for which I don’t have an immediate purpose
Part Two: The Usefulness of Creativity
If you are on the fence as to whether or not you even care to know what your fairy godmother has to say about Creativity, let me cut to the chase: whether or not you consider yourself a « creative person », you need creativity. It is what will help you face uncertainty and redraw the outlines of a life that is less-than-satisfying. Please, just listen to what I have to say about the usefulness of creativity.
My children can…for hours at a time, speak into existence worlds that do not exist. They may have a Playmobil toy in their hand, but the actions that the Playmobil guy is taking are being entirely invented by the sparks of creativity occurring inside their little minds.
They play out scenarios together, ones that, were they to occur in real life between two brothers and not between two Playmobil guys, would result in one of them getting kicked in the face by the other. Whereas my youngest child would never dare say « no » to his older, more unpredictable brother, when they play together, his characters are the most antagonistic naysayers…but this never seems to bother his older brother.
But in this world being created by both of them, together, they get an opportunity to forge different endings to conflicts. As if my youngest is testing limits by proxy, and my eldest is testing out different reactions (that don’t involve kicking his brother in the face.).
This playtime ritual is more than what it appears to be….I mean, what it appears to be is an army of forty Playmobil guys strewn around with all their vehicles and accessories dumped out on the floor and two little boys making sound effects and barking orders at each other.
What it is, though, is a psychological experiment. A laboratory. One boy saying, « what would happen if I… » and then adapting his responses accordingly. It is a weight room in which their resolve and their coping skills are strengthened so that they can take on the real world.
So the first of my dictums on Creativity : Never underestimate the power of play. It is so much more than it appears to be.
This is likewise true for many creatives of the written word… The catharsis of safely exploring thoughts, memories and ideas can be a healing experience. I’m not going to get into that today, but it is a topic we will look at when we talk in-depth about Curiosity in a few weeks: rewriting our stories to bring healing.
So here is my second dictum on Creativity : Words are surgery for the soul.
In an article in the New York Times about Lynda Barry, a cartoonist and MacArthur Foundation Genius grant recipient, she is quoted as saying that “For a lot of people, being creative and making things can be a helpful way to deal with uncertainty.“
Isn’t that thought-provoking?
I like to think that this is part of the reason why children are so effortlessly creative. Everything is uncertain to a child. I mean…they have little control or say in where they go, what they have for dinner, what time they go to bed or what they wear. So Creativity is a power tool. Creativity gives children the power to build something certain…certain because the idea for it comes from the only place a child fully controls: his own mind.
Certainty grows with agency. The more « certainty » we have in our lives, the less we « need » to resort to creativity as a tool to gain some power over our lives.
And that’s when many people stall out creatively, only to completely fall apart when uncertainty rears its ugly head again later in life.
So here is my third dictum on Creativity: Creativity is key to resilience.
This is where Creativity is relevant to even you, Cinderella. Sure, you may have everything you need. You have your job, your home, your family, your handsome Prince. You have certainty. Today.
Life comes at you fast, though, and while I do not wish anything but magic and fairy dust for you, I want you to be resilient and ready for anything that comes your way.
This is why we’ll be talking about Curiosity in the weeks to come.
Part Three: The Ideal Life Exercise
Since we are running out of time today on the podcast, I am going to give you your homework now. Answer the four questions about your Creative and Crafting Ideal Life.
Here are the four questions
- What is working?
- What isn’t working?
- What do I need to think about?
- What can I do today to get me closer to my ideal life?
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
Episode 33 is the final episode in our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Craft and Creativity.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
You can contact Lily by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.