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Creativity: Cultural Voices That Say “No” to Us March 27, 2013

Posted by jayocallahan in Creativity.

Why does our culture squash creativity so often? Many of us were told as children that we couldn’t sing or couldn’t draw or our handwriting was terrible or an essay was awful. Or we were told we were not the right shape or size.

Why hasn’t our culture developed an eye for what’s alive, what’s beautiful, fresh and original? I found most adults put their creativity away because they’re convinced they are not creative. That’s absurd. We all are creative. I remember being at a television station when I was performing Pill Hill stories at the Merrimack Theatre in Lowell. I did part of a story called Chickie. After the story the cameraman shook his head and said, “I can’t believe it but I have stories just like that.” He was astonished.

What draws our creativity out? Encouragement, support, a listener who has an eye for what’s alive.

That eye for beauty can be developed. And if it’s truly developed we can use it in everyday life. “That soup was tasty. What herbs did you use?” or “That color is perfect on you” or “What a beautiful voice you have.” Developing the eye for beauty is not just for workshops, it’s for life.



1. Anna Higgins - March 27, 2013

Nicely stated, Jay……it is so simple, yet so rarely done, this act of encouragng and drawing out. Once a Jungian psychiatrist told me that he thinks that being an audience for the art of others is an act of creativity. I agree, the receptive aspect of creativity is as important as the active aspect. Together they form a whole.

2. Bill George - March 27, 2013

Amen, brother Jay. Amen.

3. Linda Poland - March 27, 2013


Busyness is the enemy of creativity and with all of the new gagets it seems like we are busier than ever. You have a wonderful encouraging spirit and have helped more people than you will ever know believe in their creativity. Linda

4. Robert Bela Wilhelm - March 27, 2013

Jay, I think of a five-year old who can take any story he or she hears and match it with one from their creative imagination. The five-year olds are already master storytellers… and then something happens and the magic disappears. They hear society say in many ways… Oh no, your not creative. So, keep up the good work, Jay, helping us rediscover the master storytellers we were at 5 or 6… so that we can reclaim our creative selves as adults. Thanks for all the work you have done over the years in helping us all…

5. marnigillard - March 27, 2013

Wonderful……. I can feel your passion for helping others awaken to their creative energies and to heal that place where their juices are locked away. Thank you, friend. Marni

6. Matt Herz - March 27, 2013

Your PASSION is contagious! No one can inspire creativity in people as you do!!!!!!
I too worry about the creative process and the lack of “Pretend” play in young children these days. It starts at an early age as the mind is developing. Unfortunately, learning has become nothing more then prepping for the “Tests.” Imagination, curiosity, inquisitiveness and desire are lost in the shuffle of scores. You are right, it is not encouraged or supported.
Funny, I have not seen any children playing outside in the neighborhood for a long time. Does anyone ever play tag, kickball or stickball anymore?

7. Valerie Russo - March 27, 2013

Jay – Some people think they are giving up control of their “creativity” if they accept ideas from others. Not true. When I was writing a feature story about the great local artist Polly Thayer (who was in her 90s at the time), I read her the first draft. She said she didn’t like something she had told me about one of her teachers – thought it was a tad negative – and wanted me to remove it from the story. I said, fair enough. Just tell me another anecdote to replace it. And so she did. Well, the feature story turned out even better and I had made a new friend. – Valerie

8. Jamie Grace-Duff - March 27, 2013

My daughter is 3 years old, and every day I force myself to slow down, stop and just wait and watch. I was working on a project with watercolors and she wanted to try. I tried to show her “how” watercolors are used. And then realized that say Jackson Pollock didn’t use paint “properly” so as long as no one is getting hurt, I let her paint with whatever end of the brush she wants, wet or dry, with her fingers. And then she discovered that paint splattered everywhere when she clapped her wet hands. Clothes can be washed, furniture can be cleaned, that moment was magical. And I try to keep that in my heart everyday and just give new design students tools and guidance to just do their thing – whatever that thing is, because it really is in the DOING, not the thing.

9. Bill Pruitt - March 28, 2013

In my experience, when people come to a position that seems “reasonable” but isn’t, there is a hidden emotion. That emotion, I find, is almost always fear. People are afraid. Fear of being vulnerable is ther greatest impediment to creativity.

10. Drew Willard - March 28, 2013

Thank you, Jay. Our society (and world) need to be re-enchanted with possibilities beyond devious and strong. Creative and brave still works.

11. Cynthia Changaris - March 28, 2013

Dear Jay,
My personal sentiments exactly. I have a personal commitment (and have had so for a long time) to be an encourager, to notice the good, to be patient when a clerk is frazzled, to smile at strangers, to greet the world with as much love and positive regard as possible. I also learned from a friend of mine who died with leukemia that I want to treat the physical world this way, regarding the spits of beauty and the elegance of small things, llike dew drops shining, fog lifting and swirling and tiny first flowers after winter. I believe it is in noticing and honoring our observations that our creativity can flourish.

I believe this noticing of people and their positive actions, creations and understandings, opens the way for a little more creativity to enter the world. We need space from the onslaught each day brings, to give the chance to open up and be free.

I say it is a critical culture that wse live in. A blaming culture. We are taught by the critique method mostly. When I work in storytelling in the schools, and teach the children how to give affirmations, (which I learned from Doug Lipman) I find that they struggle at first to find good honest obserations that are positive. It seems to be a new concept for them. We thrive and improve under affirmations.

I don’t share my commitment to affirmations, as stated in the first paragraph, to be prideful or boasting, but just to say that this commitment to being an encourager has enriched my life, and I hope hope hope the lives of others and maybe maybe maybe the world. We need a national office of affirmations and creativity in this country, to make us strong.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment. What fun.

Cynthia Changaris

12. Pat Schneider - March 28, 2013

Hi Jay — I found another email whee it is easier to make a comment on your new blog entry. Yes! Yes! You are a wizard stirring the pot of our creativity — blessings and joy as the crocus shout that spring is finally here, stirring the earth’s creativity.
Love, Pat

13. Pat Schneider - March 28, 2013

Dear Jay,

You may have seen this beautiful poem on Writers Almanac recently, but I send it to you and Linda as an Easter/springtime gift:

Love, Pat

14. Merrilee Hindman - March 29, 2013

Dear Jay,
Thank you for this post. I am one who has suffered from my potential creativity being blocked. I was always told I would never be able to write. My freshman English teacher told me to give it up, I would never succeed at writing. That was before I became a storyteller. Years later when I was studying for my masters, I discovered I could write and be successful. I was amazed when two professors told me my papers were the best they had received and could they use them for examples to future students. I was dumbfounded as I assumed I could not write and would never be able to succeed in any writing project. Even though those two papers were accepted, I still hesitate anytime I am called to write something. I have a block about journaling, or writing anything. Recently I took a workshop with Bill Harley and he said you just need to write at least an hour a day. I have thought about it, however, that old “you can’t write” block comes to my mind.
Now that I am older and wiser I realize what damage that teacher did to me so long ago when he told me I would never succeed as a writer. How sad he was not able to guide, instruct and encourage instead of dismissing me so easily. Becoming a storyteller was what I needed to understand writing. Too bad he couldn’t have been creative with his teaching instead of negative.
Thanks Jay for your message.

15. thelionsroarblog - April 1, 2013

Thank you for this posting and for all the comments that are inspiring. To me, Encouraging creativity is the essential task and the great cure of our times. if we encourage, nurture, and cherish our creativity and that of others we transform the negativity and fear that is at the heart of marketing – greed that is encouraging want and disappointment, rather than resourcefulness, delight and appreciation. When I was twenty years old, a time my son calls “the olden days” , I told stories in classrooms in Brooklyn. A very strict teacher disapproved of my presence. When the children relaxed and opened like flowers, responding and laughing, she hushed them up turning her voice into a punishing stick. It took all of my young courage to keep going as best I could without angering her or compromising the joy we shared. I recognized that I was engaged in the most subversive activity at that moment: keeping the imagination (our life enhancing birthright) alive. I felt the classroom listening secretly pretending to be unreactive. It was nothing short of miraculous skill. the hunger was that deepl. When the bell rang, and the children arranged themselves into orderly rows to depart, I looked back before walking out of the room. A boy in the second row, who the teacher had pointed out to me as unable to learn, opened his closed fist. He had written in red magic marker: THANK YOU. I LOVE YOU on the palm of his hand. Our eyes met. that moment haunts me with intense joy and sadness. Joy because he knew that what had happened was precious. And sadness for those that might have closed down again. Let’s keep this door wide open!

16. Drew Willard - April 15, 2013

Have heard of the terrible event that happened today and hoping that Jay and any of you in the Boston-area are OK. This is the kind of thing that our creative ones must defiantly arise to oppose – overcoming evil with good.

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