In the summer of 2009, I paid a drop-in visit to my cousin in Ohio. She’s an extroverted introvert, so I knew my chances of catching her at home were pretty good. And home she was, just as I’d predicted.
Her house was exactly as I recollected, punctuated by the same accessories and scents that nestled themselves in memories from my previous visits. There were the beige suede sofa and love seat that she’d recently purchased to replace her old furniture, a color chosen because she’d raised 3 kids, who I suspect that though now fully grown, had robbed her of the confidence to commit to white. The beige suede matched the beige color on the walls and the beige carpet on the floor. The kitchen smelled of microwaved popcorn, and the guest bathroom in the hallway of potpourri. Upstairs was the “chill room”, where she bade me to follow her. It still carried the dank, earthy fragrance of weed, which she tried (unsuccessfully) to mask by opening the window and spraying Febreze after I’d informed her on arrival that I was not alone; Marshall was with me. To this day she is convinced that my God-adoring, deacon husband would judge or think poorly of her for harboring this ‘vice’. He doesn’t.
Amid all the familiarity, there was something visibly different about her house – or this room, rather – on this particular visit. My cousin pointed to a desk that used to house a laptop, a teacup and stacks of files.
“I make jewelry now,” she said proudly.
My eyes widened. “Really? Like…for real? You? Make jewelry?”
“Yeah, li’l nigga,” she laughed. “Come over here. Let me show you my stuff.”
You have to know my cousin to fully appreciate my surprise. She’s nothing if not analytical. Every job she’s ever held, for as long as I can remember, has been in accounting or payroll. She works with numbers. She went back to school to get her degree so that she could work with numbers in greater detail. Even when she worked with one of the country’s biggest fashion brands a few years ago, it was so that she could work with their numbers, not their clothing design team. Her idea of “freshening up her wardrobe” was to slip a silver necklace over her beige blouse to bring out the bling in the rivets of her mom jeans. So this new interest in jewel tones, baubles and jump rings came as a total shock.
The table was covered with all the trappings accessory creation, as well as some of her completed work. Some were really good; others not at all. In every piece, you could see the evolution of her new craft, not yet perfected, but getting much better with time. She tried to slip a beaded bracelet over my wrist, measured to fit her anatomy, but she’d lost a lot of weight since I’d last seen her and I’d gained far too much. It would be a shame to destroy the fruits of her hard work and send beads flying all over the room so soon upon arrival, so I told her to leave it be.
“What got you into this?” I asked with genuine interest.
“Girl! It’s therapeutic as fu…It’s therapeutic.” (Remember, The Deacon was in the room.) “It just helps me take an edge off, you know?”
I did not know, but I nodded as though I did, nevertheless.
She sat down to show me how she chose her beads, how she strung them together, how you have to make sure you tie knots securely with the whatchamacallit “so that your shi… errr…stuff don’t go flying everywhere.”
When her demonstration was completed and I had appropriately ooo’d and ahhh’d, we popped some popcorn, turned on Snapped, and caught up on family business.
I have only just begun to appreciate what ‘edge’ my cousin was referring to on that visit so many years ago. At the time, she was 42 and as I prepare to celebrate (or survive) the final year of my 30s, I see for myself how essential, how powerful it is to create something beyond what you believe is to be your scope of ability. I see this not only in myself, but in women whom I share a common generational experience with as well. I’d hazard that most women who reach their 40s are inspired to stretch their limits creatively, if they have the privilege to. By this time, life has knocked you about in myriad unforeseen ways, and it becomes natural to want to strike back.
Although I am a writer – and therefore a member of the creative arts – I have never considered myself a “creative”. Perhaps if I were a singer or a spoken word artist I might deserve the mantle…certainly if I were a visual artist…but I’m just a writer. It’s like being a daffodil in a field of sunflowers. Sure, I add color to the landscape, but even you will admit that the word “novelist” does not form an immediate association with the word “creative” in your mind’s eye. (Shhh…it’s okay.)
As a writer, I have to depend on words to create a vision, and lots of words if my inner thesaurus shuts down. But folks who are sculptors, photographers, tailors! Ahh…those are the creative arts. There’s something about conceiving a thing and seeing it manifest from raw wool, ink or cloth into item that is not just useful, but striking, that makes a part of your soul come alive. This is especially true if you’ve never seen yourself as capable of such a skill. Extending yourself beyond the norms of what you are most known for, what people would consider as “your thing”, is therapeutic as fu… It’s therapeutic.
This is how I know: On December 29th, 2016, I developed a tension headache that progressed into a full-blown migraine; my very first. It lasted twelve days. I thought I was going to have a stroke, my head was going to explode and then I was going to die. I couldn’t do much writing in that time – because I literally couldn’t THINK. But I knew I had to do something besides lie on my bed and wait out the pain. Sitting still and doing nothing for 12 days would kill a part of me I couldn’t do that. I discovered that what I could do was keep my upper body very still and use my hands to create something, even if that something wasn’t a string of coherent sentences. It was in those 12 days that I conquered my fear of the sewing machine and made fabric necklaces. Concentrating on something other than my affliction was essential to my survival. Some of you will be the fortunate recipients of the fruits of my anguish.
I discovered something else in that time. When I could bear the light emanating from my phone, I traveled around Instagram to see what my IG Tribe was up to. Everyone was ringing in the New Year creating. Nimi was knitting and Elom was taking phenomenal portraits…better portraits than she has in the past. (By the way, both women hold degrees in rocket science or volcano exploration…or something. I’ve not known them to be visual artists or craftswomen until lately.)
Similarly, my sister (who is not on IG and who will probably fly to South Africa to beat me for sharing these images without her permission) had designed, drafted and built kitchen and living room furniture from scratch.
Not “assembled”. Built.
She has a Masters in physics, and apart from those wood-planing sessions in JSS, has no formal training in carpentry. But this was IN her.
If you look around your circle of friends, you will likely discover that any number of them has some hidden, untapped talent waiting to burst forth and give them new life. You may be tempted to encourage them to sell their creation(s) once discovered, but quell that encouragement if you can. Some of us create with the intention of selling our productions, but most Secret Creatives won’t. For the latter group, the profit is in the making of the item, not in making a profit. It is my personal belief that because we’ve been so wholly programmed as a culture to monetize everything – every act, every skill, and every thought! – that the sweetness of infant invention loses its savor and we abort creativity before it has a chance to live because our first thought is “What if it doesn’t make me money?”. As though if it does not offer a pecuniary return, it’s worthless. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a wind of fresh life that fills and rejuvenates you when you create something new; and that oxygen – that feeling – is far more precious than money.
This weekend, I was having coffee and a cry with a neighbor and our conversation took an unexpected turn to the creation story. We pondered over what God could’ve possibly been thinking when S/He made crazy stuff in the beginning. Things like water moccasins and lungfish and those little electric jellyfish that live at ocean depths that will crush you if you venture there without the right equipment. What were you thinking, Lord? Why make any of that? Now I imagine God’s answer would be: “Because I CAN.”
That’s good enough for me.
What hidden treasures lay inside of you? What CAN you create?