When I was moving into my fifties, I was consumed by an enormous hunger to express myself creatively. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been creative earlier in my life, but, up until then, creativity had been a byproduct of my work, an interest. Now, it became an intention, almost an obsession. After so many years of working to produce for others, my heart yearned to let my imagination out to play, to work more artfully, and to follow my creative yearnings.
Working on writing the story of this awakening, I inspired myself with quotes on creativity that I want to share with you. Here are some of my favorite quotes, chosen from the hundreds out there.
(I’ll provide the source of these quotes because it bugs me that so many quotes on the Internet are wrongly credited, misquoted, or can’t be verified.)
1. “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle
2. “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”
John Cleese (lecture 1991)
3. “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
Mary Oliver Upstream: Selected Essays
4. “To create anything…is to believe, if only momentarily, you are capable of magic…That magic…is sometimes perilous, sometimes infectious, sometimes fragile, sometimes failed, sometimes infuriating, sometimes triumphant, and sometimes tragic.”
Tom Bissell, Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
5. “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Albert Einstein as interviewed by George Sylvester Viereck in the October 26, 1929 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.
6. “In our later years, it becomes imperative to increase our capacity to hold creative tension, allowing far greater and more inclusive solutions and options to emerge. By befriending and strengthening our capacity to hold paradox, we can explore the realm of deep spiritual growth.”
Angeles Arrien The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom
“Creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to encourage that fertile froth is to keep your mind engaged with your project. When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.”
Gretchen Rubin, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind
7. “C.G.Jung once wrote that creativity is an instinct, not an optional gift granted to a lucky few. If you don’t find a way to be creative in life, that instinct goes repressed and frustrated, You feel its loss as a deflation, the spirit leaking out of your sense of self. You feel empty, disengaged, and unfulfilled.”
Thomas Moore, A Life at Work
8. “There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Thomas Berry, Standing by Words
9. “The trick to creativity, if there is a single useful thing to say about it, is to identify your own peculiar talent and then to settle down to work with it for a good long time.”
Denise Shekerjian, author of Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born
10. “At every level of life – from personal to political – our creativity is being shut down because we are so vulnerable to fear. And there are so many forces out there working hard to manipulate our fear to keep us shut down, in line, and under control.”
Parker Palmer, in Yale University Reflections on-line magazine.
11. “Creativity or talent, like electricity, is something I don’t understand but something I’m able to harness and use. While electricity remains a mystery, I know I can plug into it and light up a cathedral or a synagogue or an operating room and use it to help save a life. Or I can use it to electrocute someone. Like electricity, creativity makes no judgment. I can use it productively or destructively.
The important thing is to use it. You can’t use up creativity. The more you use it, the more you have.”
Maya Angelou conversation with Bill Moyers in Conversations with Maya Angelou
12. The picture below is from Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing, by Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.
Let the beauty we love be what we do!
Do you have a big project waiting in the wings that you can’t get started?
Maybe it’s de-cluttering part of your house, writing a proposal, redesigning your website, or fixing that piece of equipment that’s been out of commission for two years.
But when you contemplate starting, all you can say is “Ugh!”
Remember that proverb, “Don’t let the camel stick his nose under the tent.” The idea is that once the camel gets his nose in, he’s going to keep coming in.
Although this is usually spoken about as something NOT to do, it might be a GREAT idea if you want a camel in your tent.
Using similar logic, perhaps we can stick our noses into our big project a bit at a time until we find our groove with it.
Big projects can be daunting.
Sometimes our brains resist “big.” We may need to trick them to get started.
In an interview in CU Boulder Today Colorado University professor of psychology and neuroscience Randall O’Reilly, was quoted as saying:
“The brain is wired to be very cautious and conservative in starting big projects, because once you do start, it takes over your brain.
The brain, researchers think, is wired to track progress towards whatever it is you’ve decided to do, like spring cleaning, which is hard work. You have to make a lot of difficult decisions and the outcome is uncertain.
Your brain recognizes that and says, ‘Maybe I won’t start on that project after all.’
It’s an adaptive property of the brain.”
In other words, your brain smells something BIG and, as a result, puts up a natural defense.
Which is probably why I have found it so hard to get started weeding my mammoth garden.
There’s an alternative: Start small.
Recently, I’ve been contemplating the art of taking very small steps. I invent ways to use the breaks and cracks in my schedule, rather than waiting for the perfect moment when I have time to tackle a project that I’ve tried to ignore.
I tell myself, “you can do this,” and take a bite of work – for maybe ten or twenty minutes. Once I’ve faced the project and begun to chew on it, I’ll probably discover it isn’t as distasteful as I thought.
Think small bites.
At the Pacific Northwest’s famous Bite of Seattle, local restaurants lure you with petite servings you can purchase from their food trucks. They hope that a taste will entice you to try their fuller fare.
In starting your project, ask yourself what you can do to gather momentum so that your brain can relax its defenses, you can earn a little dopamine (feel-good) booster for having achieved something, and you end up wanting to do more.
In my garden, I gave myself the assignment to “Go outside and weed for ten or twenty minutes, max.”
In that time, I could only do one thing, so I chose to weed the front walkway. I stayed focused on the weeds that had grown between the bricks, rather than on the jillion other tasks awaiting me in the garden.
It was very satisfying.
I neither exhausted my body nor overwhelmed my spirit.
I’ve become curious about what can be done (or at least started) in the small chinks in my schedule.
I can begin a writing project by composing a few paragraphs, even if I trash them later. With the proposal waiting for me, I can open the document and read the requirements (done in ten minutes!). With de-cluttering my bedroom, I can start with one drawer. (Yes, I know that some organizers like Marie Kondo want you to tackle a whole area of your house at once…but that can come later.)
I’ve begun to make a cool list of things I can do in ten minutes as I lure myself from avoidance into action.
Now to go find that wandering camel and invite him to put his moist and furry nose under the corner of my tent.
I woke up this morning thinking about what to write and…and my brain was empty.
What do you say when your brain has gone blank?
This is what introverts face all the time (self-included)…when we have to say to people that we don’t have anything to say (or talk about not wanting to talk.)
This is also an issue when my husband comes home and wants to greet me and I’m in the middle of writing a sentence that will fly away forever if I even murmur a word…and he say’s “Hi, Honey…”
(We’ve developed a code.)
To help us introverts and others, I’m designing a line of T-shirts you can wear to avoid this problem. (You can send me your order…we don’t even need to talk.)
Do you have any suggestions for the line? You can post them below…quietly.
Patience Is NOT my middle name.
As I age and am aware of the years passing, I still want to do so much, and my tendency is to hurry up. But this week, I was wondering if the path to more creativity later in life might actually require learning to wait.
Many have written, over time, of the virtues of patience:
The poet Rainier Maria Rilke wrote in his famous Letters to a Young Poet, “I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart.”
The writer Leo Tolstoy wrote, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Even Elon Musk, the fast-moving founder of Tesla said, “Patience is a virtue, and I’m learning patience. It’s a tough lesson.” (I understand that!)
This week I interviewed the founder of the blog site “Later Bloomer,” Debra Eve, for my about-to-be-relaunched Vital Presence podcast. Debra shares stories of people, throughout history, who have blossomed creatively at midlife or beyond.
She inspires with accounts of artists, explorers, and writers such as:
The beloved folk artist Grandma Moses, who became the poster girl for launching a creative career late in life, when she started painting at age 78.
The poet Wallace Stevens, who was particularly prolific late in life, even though he never quit his day job in an insurance company. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry at age 75, just months before he died.
The artist Mary Granville Delany (1700-1788) who began her life’s work in her seventies, creating botanical prints now held by the British Museum. She is also said to be the founder of the art of collage.
The lexicographer Dr. Peter Mark Roget who embarked on his most important work after retiring from medicine in 1849. The world knows him for the Thesaurus that he published at age 74
The adventurer Alexandra David-Néel, who became the first Western woman to visit Tibet’s forbidden city of Lhasa when, at 56, she slipped into the city disguised as a sooty-faced male servant.
Check out the Later Bloomer website for many more fascinating examples.
Advice for later bloomers
When I asked Debra what advice she would give someone like her who is embarking on a creative venture in midlife, she offered this:
“Be gentle with yourself. Have patience.”
I knew Debra had been working on a book of her stories, but when I asked her about it, she told me that she was choosing to slow down the project. She’s not ready to quit her job as a legal assistant, and she’s OK letting the book project wait for a while longer, perhaps until she retires from a demanding, yet rewarding, job.
If a younger coach was working with her, he or she might try to pep Debra up with phrases like: “Take a risk.” “Don’t wait.” “Just do it.” “Quit your day job,” etc.
They may have not yet learned that patience is part of later-bloomer wisdom.
Transformation in a week or a weekend
During my 30’s and 40’s, I attended a lot of transformational workshops that championed thinking big, pushing the edges of possibility, transforming participants (in a week or weekend) and moving projects forward with urgency. Often “breakthroughs” came as you felt yourself being pummeled by a transformational two-by-four.
Today, I don’t need to go to a workshop to be pummeled. Life can do that for me, thank you very much. I can be gentler. I can let time transform.
As Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist) wrote:
“It is very strange that the years teach us patience–that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”
It isn’t easy
Like Elon Musk, I don’t come by patience easily. I’m learning that some projects, like the book I’m writing, have their own life and will take the time that they take.
Dang! I wanted to do it fast.
As I work on my practice of patience, I’d love to hear what you have learned. Have you experimented with stepping back and letting a project follow its own natural rhythm?
Where have you allowed the future to pull you forward rather than thinking that you had to do all the pushing?
I know it may take me a while to learn patience. Fortunately, I can wait.