at some point in my life the word creative became a synonym for the arts. or at least creativity as an ideal has been appropriated by the arts. now I am not suggesting that they are abusing or misusing the word, more just hogging it. or rather that the rest of us have forgotten that we have just as much claim to creativity as ‘artists’ do.

for the better part of my life I knew that I was a ‘smart’ student. math and science always came easy and when directions are laid out in front of me I can follow those. however when ever I was given free reign to be artistic I would manage but not excel like other subjects. this lead me to believe for a long time that I was not creative and that creative things should be left to others. recently I concluded that I simply had no idea what it means to be creative and that is why I get lost, not because of a lack of creativity.

as a math teacher the most common statement I have heard from students is ‘I don’t have a math brain’ or ‘I just can’t do math.’ both of these statements are foolish for a number of reasons that are tightly linked with ideas of creativity. describing something like math (or any other skill) as a process where you take numbers and plug them into formulas that you have memorized is like describing painting a portrait as simply identifying colors and applying the brush strokes you have learned in the correct order. any artist will tell you there is more to painting something than a rigid formula describes and I would suggest the same is true of math or problem.

at work I spend a lot of time doing user interface design. there is an old saying in computer science that programmers should never be allowed to design the user interface and I have to say there really is a lot of truth in that saying. computer scientists are really creative when it comes to solving problems and implementing solutions in creative and efficient ways but things like UI design often fall into the category of ‘it is a feature so there should be a button for that feature.’ no thought is given to ideas like ‘does the user ever need that feature exposed’ or ‘why in the hell would a user ever need to see that!’ in my case the work I do is seen by students and professors, two groups of people who can be immensely intelligent in their chosen field but for the most part are clueless when it comes to computers. I have to spend my day coming up with creative interfaces that convey meaning and intention while remaining simple and easy to use.

conveying meaning and intention is a lot of what being creative is about. efficiency as well plays a big part of creativity usually. whether it is efficient use of space and resources, or use canvas and colors both art and unart (in this discussion that includes all things that are not consider ‘artsy’) share underlying principles. creativity isn’t a scale of not creative to more creative but instead it is a tool that can be used in any aspect of life.

go and make something, be it a work of art or a rocking spreadsheet for a tps report, just be creative.

recently I spent a friday night with some good friends in a lovely pub type restaurant in halifax. the thing that really set this evening apart from other pub type adventures I have had would be the accessories that my friends brought along. on the large table that we occupied there were at least 3 coloring books (with large numbers of crayons), a buddha board on which you paint with water and finally a chess board one which at least one epic game of chess was played. I did not partake in the game of chess myself as I do not have the attention span for such endeavors but that is the item that I want to focus on.

on my last post a friend commented about the nature of understanding people through the stereotypes that we form about people and the way that people will change to become like the way they are perceived. this is the same friend who is responsible for delivering the chess board to our night out and from whom I have learned a lot about chess and other things interesting. while I don’t disagree with what he had to say about people in his comment I am going to take it in a bit of a different direction.

people are like chess pieces.

also people do not know they are chess pieces.

the second point is the part where confusion and problems stem from, a clear understanding of the first point would improve the lives of people at large significantly. the problem is one that runs deep in people, to their very cores. culturally there is an attitude that anyone can do anything that they put their mind to if they have enough focus and determination. I will flatly suggest this is a lie. like pieces on a chess board people are different, not entirely unique, and in some cases different people can accomplish the same task albeit with varying degrees of success. I am in no way insinuating that there are classes of people and that some are better than others by suggesting people are like chess pieces. any good chess player, as my friend has taught me, knows that all pieces are valuable. I am also not saying that there is never a case where someone drastically changes their lot in life to become something else, in chess terms a pawn that reaches the opposite side of the board becomes a queen, one of the most dynamic pieces in chess.

the US army really had it right for a while with their slogan “be all that you can be.” this is a slogan that suggests that every person is already something and they should be that and nothing else. the most obvious case of this in my life is teaching. I have had a number of conversations with people about the state of education and education training and heard a number of complaints about how the program doesn’t do x, y, or z to get you ready to be a teacher. having been through the ed program and with some, albeit not much, teaching experience I have come to a simple conclusion. when you enter an education program you either already are a teacher or you aren’t. the one or two years that you spend in that program are not going to magically make you become a teacher because you learned the right things. if you already are a teacher it is a program that will make you a better teacher, much like putting cookie dough in an oven will make delicious cookies but putting applesauce in an oven will just make a mess. there is nothing wrong with applesauce, or in this case people who aren’t naturally teachers, but they don’t belong in a teaching program.

it has taken me almost 25 years to figure out that at heart I am a teacher, even still when I look back over the past ten years I can see that I had an understanding of that at some subconscious level as many decisions were impacted by my passions for teaching. deep down we all know whether or not we are a bishop that can move infinitely in a finite number of directions or if we are a knight or is never quite going in a straight line. until we really take the time to own what we are we cannot truly be happy in all aspects of our lives. the pursuit of joy and happiness requires us to know who we are, and knowing who we are requires us to understand what we are.

I will lead with a brief thought. there hasn’t been anything posted in a while. it certainly hasn’t been because of a lack of ideas. in fact at the end of november a friend of me wrote something on love that I promised to comment on. well I never got around to that and after a couple weeks I figured I would just write a blog entry on the idea in response to him. the end result is I have kept putting off writing it because I am constantly thinking on the idea more and not writing it down. this ends now of course as I am going to compile these thoughts I have been having into one single place.

to say that I am fascinated by loving unconditionally and completely would be a bit of an understatement. this is also not an attitude that I reserve for one or two people in my life, this is the attitude that I want to and try to take with all of the people that I meet through the course of a day. now of course being a simple human being I don’t usually meet this goal, often failing spectacularly (which of course is at the expense of others as there is no other way to fail at loving). the reason I continue to believe that this is the way I really want to be though is because of the times when I do succeed. those moments when you can truly care for someone with a consuming passion regardless of what they do or say, is a truly spectacular feeling.

now there are some that would suggest to me that you can’t really love unconditionally and I would agree with them but with the qualification of “unless you are working at it.” if you even stop working at it for a moment things like jealousy and selfish desires will creep back into your mind and muddy everything up. I think the best advice I have ever heard on the matter of how to love people came specifically talking about romantic relationships but can be applied anywhere. I read it in Donald Miller’s newest book and here is the quote, “she had married a guy, and he was just a guy. He wasn’t going to make all her problems go away, because he was just a guy. And that freed her to really love him as a guy, not as an ultimate problem solver. And her husband believed she was  just a girl, he was free to love her too.” too often we try to push our problems off to others in hopes that they will solve them, whether in a romantic relationship or any other relationship we form. generally we don’t decide that someone will be our problem solver until we decide to engage with them and lower our guard to love them. the connection between these two decisions creates an unsustainable dependence on the problem solving nature.

one of the most natural reasons we avoid this kind of engagement with the people we meet is that there are risks associated with loving deeply. there is pain and heartbreak that many people know well when the person fails to live up to our expectations of them. for some the idea of even opening up to one person is a terrifying ordeal simple for the fear of being hurt or rejected. recently I said on the internet “to agree to love is to agree to have your heart continuously broken.” I can honestly say that nothing I have ever said has generated so much discussion before. it was a statement that had come out of a lot of thought about the idea of having your heart broken and why it happens. I will say that I meant it in a beautiful fabulous way and didn’t even notice how depressing or cynical it sounds. 

I have come to have a great appreciation for heartbreak in the last couple weeks. while in no way do I mean to belittle that pain of it all or suggest that it should be easy to deal with if you aren’t weak, those are not the aspects of heartbreak that I am going to dwell on. those aspects suck a lot but there is a lot to be said in a positive light about heartbreak that generally goes unsaid. if there really was nothing positive about it then I don’t think anyone would ever take a risk that involved heartbreak. even the chance of a life long partner who loves you completely wouldn’t be enough to risk something that is only negative.

so what about heartbreak is good then? well it is a place in life where you have absolutely no use for the masks or performances that you use daily when meeting people. your emotions and thoughts are so close to the surface that just about anything can set you off. it is this closeness that makes this state of being the perfect place to change. now no one really likes change but then again deep down very few people are happy with who they are and they crave change. normally change is really hard to affect and to handle because it is pushing you out of your comfort zone, however when you are already so far outside of a comfort zone – completely broken and open – change just seems like a good idea. so this process of heartbreak is really just a process of transformation where we can learn about ourselves and open ourselves to being a better person.

I believe there is great value and power in just accepting people for exactly who they are and providing them with a love that, as far as they can tell, they have done nothing to earn or deserve. I think it is something that can be painful or beautiful, often both at the same time. it really isn’t something that can be ignored though.