Creativity is the act of creating something new.
It is the ability to develop new ideas and discover new ways of looking at problems and opportunities.
When I was young and living in St. Vincent, my two younger sisters and I attended Catholic school. We were required to wear bright blue uniforms and white shirts each day. On the first day of school, all the students came in looking bright, fresh, and crisp in their new uniforms, but by the end of the school year, all the uniforms were faded from sun and washings, turning a dull blue, almost white.
As we neared the end of one school year, I worried that we would not have new uniforms for the new session because my grandmother did not have the money to buy them. Our mother had always made the uniforms because she was a dressmaker, but when I was 12 my mother left us in my grandmother’s care and headed to America in search of a better life. My grandmother was in her fifties, which in those days was old. Even though she was there and I knew she loved us, her age meant a lot of the responsibility for caretaking fell on me. And so I worried about our uniforms.
There was no mother to make the uniforms and no money to buy them. A year in the island sun and our uniforms were faded and tired looking. Not the way I wanted my sisters and me to start a new school year. I felt the only option was to wait for my mother to send money from America so we could buy the fabric that the dressmaker would use to make a new uniform.
We only got mail from America once a week, so each week, fingers crossed and full of expectation, I ran to the mailbox looking for that stamp from America and my mother’s handwriting. On the first, second, and third week, there was no mail from America. My hopes for new uniforms were slowly dying. I was anxious; all I could think about was how the children at school with new uniforms would make fun of me and my sisters.
Finally, week four came. I ran to the mailbox filled with hope and this time there was mail. I excitedly ripped open the envelope looking for crisp dollar notes but instead found a letter in which my mother expressed her sadness about not being able to send money. Her landlord had raised her rent and she’d been looking for a second job but was unable to find one. She promised to send money as soon as she was able. With tears running down my face, I ran into my bedroom, closed the door, covered myself up, and cried my eyes out in despair, dejection, sadness, and disappointment.
Two days before the start of the school, I felt tortured imagining all the other children laughing and making fun of us in our faded uniforms. I’m not sure if each of the other children even got new uniforms every year, but I was always afraid of being teased regardless; kids can be very cruel. I felt ashamed that we would look as though we were poor, and I was used to having new uniforms each year and fitting in with my friends.
In the midst of my depression, a light bulb went off in my head. I thought, “Why don’t you go back and look at those uniforms?” I dried my tears, got up out of bed, went to my closet, and took out my uniform. I began turning it inside out and back and forth until it sunk in: the inside was bright and not faded.
My mom had left her sewing basket when she left. I went to the basket, took out the old scissors, and, because I was so concerned about possibly ruining the uniform, started painstakingly snipping away at the stitches one by one until the whole thing came undone. I ended up with three pieces of the uniform: the waistband, the zipper, and the skirt.
I hadn’t had much experience sewing, but I had made doll clothes and sewed buttons for my mom when she made clothes for local laborers. I put this background to use as I gingerly proceeded to put the skirt back together using my sister’s uniform as the pattern. I didn’t consider checking whether it would fit; I just began to work. I used an old-fashioned sewing machine with a pedal that you push back and forth with your foot to make the needle go up and down as you sew. I reversed the pleats, hemmed the skirt, and redid the waistband. The waistband was the trickiest part.
After several hours, I had a bright blue skirt and was ecstatic with my success. I felt like I’d really accomplished something and this gave me the confidence to tackle the other two. I spent all day and night engaged in this process. When I was done, we were able to wash, press, and hang the uniforms, and they looked brand new.
I felt such pride about having faced this seemingly insurmountable problem, coming up with a solution, and implementing it in time! My sense of accomplishment was exhilarating. Two days later, when school started, we all stepped proudly into school with bright blue, crisp uniforms. I felt like I was walking on air, so proud of this accomplishment that only my sisters and I were aware of. There was an empowering feeling of having pulled something off that nobody knew about. Just the fact that I was wearing the bright blue skirt that I’d made possible had me feeling invincible.
I don’t remember what I did about the uniforms in the succeeding years; my feat during this particular year seems to be the only thing that counts.
A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.
What kinds of creativity are you best at? Are you a maker, a thinker, an innovator, or a problem solver? Does your creativity shine most with your hands, your mind, or your heart?
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