Commonplace Creativity

Commonplace Creativity ~
Finding Creativity Where You Least Expect It

I have written about it before. How our busy lives often dictate where we must be, and the rush that overwhelms us in those moments of needing to get ourselves to the next thing. Last week, I got caught yet again.

After what could be called by some a leisurely morning of stories, games, homemade math puzzles, a great mess in the kitchen and even some music making, I hurried my son to get himself dressed and buckled so we could make the first of our series of afternoon playdates and various appointments. As much as I try to savor each moment, soak up the day, and be really WITH my son when I am with him, sometimes the destination is all I can see. On this day, it was clear to me that if we'd just leave in the next two minutes, we would be able to make it in time.

Mission felt accomplished as we began our drive out that afternoon. We were minutes from our destination as I turned the corner and the bells began to ring. The crossing gates began to descend, and the lights were flashing. Just as I let go of a big defeated sigh at the thought of having to wait for the freight train to move through town, a voice came from the back of the car, "Oh this is great! We never get to see the front engine Mom!" My sigh turned to a smile as I realized his delight, and it turned into a series of moments where we guessed what kind of freight might be in each car as it passed, read the labels on the sides of each car, predicted the use for the different types of cables, and admired the graffiti in all its styles and colors. But alas, the train seemed to last forever and our delightful conversation ceased at some point.

I timed our wait. Seventeen minutes we sat there waiting for the train to clear out of the way so we could get on with our day. Just as it seemed the end of the train was near, it stopped, waiting on the tracks for who knows what, and then as if by some mysterious force of nature, the train just kept accumulating more and more cars.

Seventeen minutes while our friends must have been sitting wondering where we were. I looked back in our rearview mirror and watched my son's face. Through my mirror view, I watched as his jaw dropped and his head slowly turned to the side in a mesmerized sort of gaze. His body totally relaxed. He sunk into his seat, and with total awe in his voice, he said, "I just love to watch the shadows on the train Mommy." He commented on their shapes, their patterns, even their randomness within the patterns. He began making up stories about the shadows, what they might be saying to one another, and how they felt about getting to be dancing for us on the side of those freight cars.
I took an extra long look at the shadows myself, and joined the game.

Aristotle offered a definition of creativity as the "art of discovering the available means of persuasion for any given case." He described the art of this discovery as being systematic. He suggested looking only to the commonplace (topoi to the Ancient Greeks) to realize and discover creativity. The commonplace that our homes, our routines, and the shadows on the side of a train can offer.

Creativity Happens.
It's easy to get caught up in trying to create environments, stimulate thought, or fill up a child's day with activity. Let the creativity bubble to the surface by allowing time to just experience what might come up.

When life feels hectic, and things get too busy, if you find yourself forgetting to look to the commonplace for creativity and inspiration, don't be afraid to take the time to consciously do so. Cancel a meeting. Block out a day where you can just stay home. Turn the ringer off on your phone, or even more difficult in this age, check your email only at set intervals. Begin to incorporate commonplace creativity, and finding inspiration in the little things we take for granted, as a part of your daily routine.

Topoi in the Home.
There is nothing more familiar, or commonplace, than the home. While it is fun to introduce new toys or learning items to stimulate thought and creativity, try also to play with and create from the commonplace. Use coins to build towers. Make sculptures using all your forks. See what kind of invention you can make from that old stack of rubber bands. Listen to the rain, and see if you can recreate the tune with the squeak in the swingset.

It's often thought of as a bad thing. But it is in those moments of lull in activity, that ideas begin to percolate. As parents, caregivers, teachers, and facilitators of learning, we try hard to stimulate thinking and keeps kids from becoming bored. However, the best and most proactive thing we can do for kids thinking and creativity is allowing those moments in the day when kids have nothing but their own ideas and creative thoughts to fall back on. Instead of jumping in and providing an activity, step back and allow your kids to take initiative while you work on your own creative projects.

As we arrived home that afternoon, the leaves on the large leaf maple tree that stands guard in front of our house were just beginning to rain down. We pulled in through sun rays that had somehow managed to get through the holes the fallen leaves had left. We could hear the wind whisper to the squirrel to hurry up and get that winter stash ready. To our delight the shadows beat us home and were there waiting for us, dancing on the front porch.