Making things is an experience integral to the human condition. Bold to say, I know! “We make things.” But defining what constitutes “art” and the meaning of creativity is an argument as old as time — as old as the first cave drawings sketched on stone walls. To me art is anything I have made or created with my own body, mind, and intention. How frustratingly vague is that? Art reflects the complicated nature of our lives and our struggles to understand our place in the world — there are uncountable ways in which we tell stories and stamp the environment around us with our presence. I recently visited the United Kingdom and was struck by the familiarity of the graffiti and stickers on light posts. Just like at home, there are people who leave more than memory behind. Here is something we have made.
Young Maika, too, understood this. She scribbled out story after story, drew terrible fairies, tried and failed to learn how to knit several times. She never imagined her life any other way. But in recent years, some of this energy has dried up. Run out. In what a professor appropriately called “dark nights of the soul,” when my workload and self-imposed burden of extracurriculars feed burnout and exhaustion, it feels like creating anything at all is impossible, much less anything good.
But I still want to be creative. I still have the urge to tell stories, to write, to draw, even as a voice creeping up behind me as I age whispers, “is it worth it?”
In moments like these, I think about the value of creative spirit in my life. I think of my experiences of isolation during the pandemic. How poems and videos by other lonely people felt like a lifeline: “you are not alone.” I think of how hard my friends and I laugh playing terrible pictionary, how we stick awful cartoon drawings on the fridge with pride. I think about a zine I once drew about feeling lost, how I showed it to a coworker. She looked up at me. “This hits close to home,” she said. It is through art that I find connection. I find meaning and can reflect on my life.
So how do we rediscover that creative spirit? First, by letting ourselves create truly awful things, for one. Ugly art and misshapen apple pies. Late-night Maika hates the idea of being imperfect but I love the people despite their flaws. I see the effort that goes into their projects, not the shortcomings.
Second, by expanding our definition of creativity. Almost anything can be art. Baking, graphite drawing, hair styling, slam poetry, podcasting. Fiction writing and (very) amateur painting, doodles on the margins of notes, dramatic eye makeup, knitting myself coasters. All of this to me is creation and so all of it is art.
All of these projects, too, are a reminder that we each have a voice. So scream it into the void. Leave your mark on the world. Write it. Sing it. Scribble it. We are here, how wonderful is that?