How Did Creativity Manifest In Your Life?
By accident, by influence, by small degrees?
Creativity manifests in a life in any manner of ways. Sometimes it’s by accident, through the chance discovery of a passion. Sometimes it’s by degrees over years and years and years. Sometimes it’s like an avid green shoot taking root in the crags of a dry brick wall.
For me, it was at school at the the age of around 10 or 11 that the first spark struck. Young, hardly aware of myself, I came under the influence of an inspirational teacher who made me see things in a different light.
Then, like the accumulated pages of a photograph album, the idea of creativity built up in snapshots, moments of brevity but of lasting significance.
It hardly needs saying that a school teacher can have a profound effect on their students. Few ever wield such influence over the people in the their ward, and in the work of crafting of a child’s outlook, a teacher is uniquely positioned. The characteristics of children are not fixed or destined, but where there is a propensity towards certain avenues of behavior, then the influence of a teacher can be vital in cementing (or destroying) that tendency.
I doubt there was a child in his class who didn’t feel an uncommon warmth towards this teacher — whom I won’t name.
Unlike other teachers, he carried an affable and relaxed air. His most elemental feature was that he seemed to be in absolutely no hurry at all. He was calm and worldly; in my imagination — then, as now — he drove a sports car and spent his summers in the Italian countryside.
To be put at ease like this is a wonderful benefit to a child. We were introduced to a teacher whose temperament, we soon learned, would pose no threat to our well-being. I recall a tall man with a large face, naturally rotund cheeks, and a genuinely happy smile. As well as the normal school subjects, under our new teacher we were allowed to explore more unconventional diversions of learning, most crucially for me in the realm of creativity.
I remember him once playing a vinyl recording of “Morning” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt and asking us to sit and draw our responses to it in colored pencils. I can’t overstate the impact that lesson had on me as part of my understanding of the imaginative side of my human nature.
On another occasion, he brought into class a life-size cut-out of Winston Churchill. I don’t know if we understood who the image depicted, but I do remember the cut-out vividly: the typical Churchillian stare glowering over us from the corner of the classroom, a cigar in one hand and the V-for-victory sign made with the other. We spent that day drawing out speech bubbles to attach to the cut-out with tape. From those preparatory efforts, the class came up with a series of sketches that we ended up acting out to the whole school — the one and only time I overcame my shyness and accepted a role in a school performance.
And on another occasion, my best friend and I were allowed to leave the classroom and spend several days writing and acting an audio story on a tape recorder, which included as part of its plot-line an espionage-type kidnap and escape, replete with mathematical puzzles for the listener to solve along the way.
As a child I was both excruciatingly shy and also hungry for attention. Yet, through these adventures in the imagination, permitted and counseled by our teacher, I began to learn about the possibilities of my own urge for performance in spite of my outward reserve.
These experiences were my first, and in some ways the most significant, encounters with the diverse possibilities of the creative impulse, and how the impulse could elevate one’s sense of self above the ordinary into something special.
There is something tremendously powerful about a person in authority who permits and enables play, and in that leeway, demonstrates a form of generosity that even a child — or most especially a child — can understand. It is remarkable, but if I sit and think about those school classes under my old teacher, I still feel a sense of hopefulness rise up within me, something safe, impervious and true.