Monday, November 15, 2010

Creating something out of nothing

My mom lightheartedly describes me as a beer budget girl with champagne taste.  I find it a crime to apply this statement to just me.  Who doesn’t yearn for more than they have, especially my can’t-resist-a-bargain mother?  She grew up in a low-income family with four siblings, which means she knows what it is to want and long for something of your own.  Fortunately for our family, she remembered that exhilarating feeling of obtaining a desired object and managed to almost always meet her three children’s never-ending material wishes.  Growing up in the ‘80s, my siblings and I were completely captivated by the attractive experiences that commercials and advertising promised.  Somehow on a meager income, our parents managed to spring for the expensive athletic shoes, dolls and action figures that we all coveted. I fondly remember my sister, brother and I appreciating our possessions or finding them extra special if we didn’t get them instantly.  On the other hand, I had an insatiable appetite for books and fashion (I’m still looking for the perfect brown boots) so I learned to make do by borrowing books from the library and reproducing the latest trends with second hand clothes or what we could find on the sales rack.  Though my parents attest that I was consumed with bouts of envy, I reveled that my family had limited means.  It meant my dad went to work and my mom stayed at home. It meant that we lived in an old ranch house filled with history, surrounded by untamed pastures not a stark, modern home with a neatly manicured lawn. It meant that I didn’t have dance class after school but I produced my own routines in my bedroom.  Most notably, it meant that if we couldn’t buy it then we had to make it.
My mother describes me as the creative one and she encourages my artistic abilities with endless materials.  At thirty-one with a family of my own, mom still makes me feel like an excitable little girl again by sending me a box full of craft supplies.  She’s a hunter on the prowl for bargains in the sales bin or at garage sales.  She’s the epitome of thrifty.  Once when I lost the brush to my watercolor set, she furnished me with a handful of Q-tips.  While she was being penny-wise, I was discovering that objects had more potential than their intended use.  As a result, I spent a lot of time hovering in the kitchen waiting for empty cans or packages and hunting for scraps of fabric to create new things.  The best part was these things were going to be tossed out.  Anything I created had to have greater value than trash.
When I was nine, my mom showed me the wonders of a hot glue gun. With her help, I was turning my plain headbands and barrettes into garish works of art (á la Madonna, pre-Gaga period).  I sought after bits and pieces of fabric, lace, ribbon and old jewelry to make new creations. It was rewarding for friends and strangers to ask, “Where’d you get that?” only to reply, “I made it.”  I found it thrilling for people to admire my crafts that I created.  I had the same manufactured clothing and accessories as everyone else, but I doctored mine up to fit my style.  Thank God for the brash style of the ‘80s, otherwise, it wouldn’t have been permissible for me to bedazzle, bleach and splatter paint half of my clothes.  

While I experimented with styling, I realized that no one in the world can bring your ideas to life in the way that you can.  So when others copied my art projects or ideas, I wasn’t irritated because each of us creates with a combination of unique gifts.  This notion became apparent to me in first grade when we were instructed to complete a paper bag puppet project.  Our teacher handed out the materials including templates for an owl and scraps of construction paper.  We were to color and paste the owly elements on the bag and then we could personalize our puppets.  I chose to make glasses for my owl and noticed that several others began to do the same. It was a bit annoying to feel imitated.  Did they steal my idea or was it their own? I sat at my desk carefully cutting and realized how ridiculous it was to be upset when I lifted the idea from Mr. Owl from the Tootsie Roll commercial. In essence, we all create wonderful unique things, making our own distinctions on old ideas.  Approximately six billion people are living in the world; each of us armed with one-of-a-kind creative gifts, talents, and goals.  For example one individual may have a strong desire to become a model parent, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in another it may be expressed  in enjoying nature, painting, singing or inventing.  We all need to express ourselves.  We have a need to express our ideas, make a home and most importantly create ourselves.
Day in and day out, we discover more about whom we are just by living life, taking in information through our senses, learning by doing, observing others and trying things on our own.  This ignites our interest and generates our desire to self-discover and ultimately create.  Just like life, creating is both a satisfying and frustrating process.  Taking a single concept to conception is a problem solving journey, you’ll always come out on the other end with experience (a.k.a. mistakes).  When creating, you have to approach your project knowing that your plan may not turn out flawlessly but those mistakes may push you to look from a new perspective.  Life and creating are learning processes.  Let’s face it.  Sooner or later, something is going to go awry.  Still, we all crave that rewarding feeling from working with your hands and creating something out of nothing.  It’s about getting your hands dirty and making use of what you’ve been given. It’s about enjoying the process rather than the perfect result.  It’s how you handle your mistakes that will show you what you’re made of.  If you need a convincing metaphor then take a quote from my clever daughter.  While sketching the peonies in our garden, she wrote: “Life is like a potted plant.  You can’t go anywhere unless you grow.”   Go where no one else has ever been. Follow your intuition and discover something wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.  So go out there, grow and create your voice in the world.