Thursday, April 23, 2009

On creativity and contentment

I was riding around in the car today with my six-year-old son, thinking. (Oddly enough, despite the many distractions including other drivers, my son's chatter and nonstop NPR, my car is the place where I do some of my best and biggest thinking.)

Like so many other days, today I was noticing that a great many people look just plain miserable. I look at them as they walk down the sidewalk and navigate the parking lots. Grimaces and frowns sometimes seem the default facial expression--people burdened by who knows what assortment of woes. Horrible shoes, old age, heavy bags, 50 extra pounds or, these days, plain old existential dread. I think how easy it is to fall into that trap of just reacting in a miserable way to everything...hurrying to beat the clock, cursing the driver who just cut us off while yammering on his cell phone, reflexively looking at our watches in line at the post office (as though someplace else is more important than where we are)....and how much of that reflexive unhappiness is so very unnecessary.

This is where the creativity comes in. "You know, honey..." I say, raising my voice so it can be heard in the back seat. I look in the rear view mirror at my little boy, whose eyes are gazing out the window. "It's important to question everything." And then I make my usual futile attempt to explain what I mean. "...So many people are so unhappy, and they don't need to be. We don't have to try for so much. We don't have to need and want so much. It's OK to be happy with simple things."

That doesn't sound particularly creative. But it is, because from sunup to sundown we are bombarded by things that tell us to be dissatisfied. The news, for one thing. Advertisements. Arbitrary authority, like schools, which lock us into thinking one way--one way which just happens to put us on a crazy stressful rat-race track that starts with high-academic kindergartens and ends with MCAS and college admissions. We're homeschoolers (unschoolers, mostly) so I am able to keep my son's life very free, very unstructured. His creativity can soar nonstop and nothing gets in his way; no one tells him to close that book, change the subject, get up, go out, sit down, study this, think that. It might sound like I am digressing, but I'm not, really. Keeping him free--his body, his mind, his spirit--for as long as possible is my way of arming him for that world out there, where corporations or institutions tell us what we should buy all day long, but whose products clearly don't deliver what we all seem to desperately need: an unshakeable, detached contentment from whatever it is they're trying to sell.

If we had that, I think I'd see a lot fewer furrowed brows out there as I run my daily errands. Mine included.

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