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Ways of Seeing: Joyful creativity leads to a full life

When I was a little girl, I used to draw on the flyleaves of my mother’s books. She was an avid reader. Books were fairly inexpensive at that time, and my mom was one of the readers enticed to subscribe to book clubs by introductory offers such as five books for one dollar.
Our house was filled with books of all kinds — mysteries, histories, poetry — so there were many canvases for my stick figures. Though I was enjoying my artwork, my mother saw my expressions as defacements, not as the developing phase of a burgeoning talent. Years afterward, she talked about how many of her books were ruined by my pictures. For my part, I simply liked to draw. With pen or pencil in hand and a blank page, I was ready to play. My skills did not rise to the level of artist. Still, whenever I remember those drawings, I feel the pleasure that I felt then, telling my stories in pictures.
Not having talent has never stopped me from exercising my creative impulses. I have sung with community groups, played the saxophone and bassoon, been an amateur performer in a professional dance company, and taken up collaging and photography. Becoming an expert has never been the point. These activities are not intended to make a living, but to make a life, one in which I experience a thing just for the joy of it.
As a writer, I know that there are some places where words cannot carry me. In addition to drafts of stories and essays, my journals contain sketches, including one of a cardinal that I imagined I’d heard; a landscape that represents the setting of a story I was working on; several phases of the solar eclipse that I witnessed.
Using my digital camera, I create photographic and videographic narratives. Sometimes after hours of writing on my computer, I jump up and dance. The mere act of movement shakes loose the tensions that block my imagination.
My framed collages are scattered throughout the house. From where I am sitting, I can look at two hummingbirds; a self-portrait; a rabbit flourishing a feather while dancing; and a raccoon conducting a choir of bears, dogs, and fish. Every time I look at these creations, I feel joy.
Joyful creativity is an essential aspect of living a full life. Not everything is done to earn money or meet standards laid out by arbiters of what is considered “good.” My mother may have found my sketches more appealing if they had not appeared in her books. That did not stop me. As I grow older, I am ever more grateful for the teachers and facilitators I encounter who welcome amateurs like myself, who heartily throw themselves into doing a thing just because it is fun.
Sometimes I think of my younger self, repurposing the blank pages of books by creating visual stories as I am dancing around the house or singing a song loudly and — inevitably — out of tune. I know that she would approve.
Ruth Farmer  is a published essayist and poet. She directs the Goddard Graduate Institute in Plainfield, and is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (ruthfarmer.com).

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