When I was a little, my younger brother, Jon, and I would create elaborate adventures for our stuffed animals. Together the brown teddy bear (Doc Bear), the well-loved Carebear (Bluebell), and the orange dinosaur (Anna Kate) would sail around the world on the guest bed, or scale castle walls via a bunk bed ladder.
They are some of my very fondest memories of playing with my brother, pulling out the plastic tub of furry kittens, monkeys, lions, and one very small hippo and negotiating where we would be taking the crew next. There was a lot of history with those stuffed friends—the frog puppet had been our Dad’s and the scratchy pig had been a gift from a great Aunt we’d never met. Then there were the eighteen different stuffed animals named Sarah, because at age five I had fallen in love with the name and would not deprive any giraffe or rabbit the honor of being “Sarah.”
It is also my first clear memory of creative space. We always played in either Jon’s room or the guest room. Jon’s room was bigger, had most of the stuffed animals, and a bunk bed. And the guest room had nothing but a king sized bed and a framed Henri Matisse poster of dancing ladies.
As I think about how to be intentional about making room for creativity in my life, I am drawn to think back to that first creative space that I shared with my brother. The bunk bed was a little dangerous; Jon still has a scar on his eyebrow from where he cracked his head on its metal frame. Creative space should incorporate a bit of risk. And it was a space that was set apart from my regular space, but conveniently located right down the hall. Creative space needs to be like that—set apart but accessible. Overall, though, I think that it was most important that those spaces were simultaneously private and communal and that they were clean but welcomed a mess.
Creative Space is both private and communal. With the exception of one set of very fun cousins who grew up in Cameroon, my brother and I never played imaginary games with anyone else. It was an unspoken agreement that we did not invite our other friends over to play these games. We’d play basketball or a board game with them instead. Perhaps I’ve repressed memories of botched attempts at including others in these private games, or perhaps Jon and I just intuitively protected our space from those who might not understand. But in any case, I think that creativity can only flourish if we don’t expose our fragile, whimsical ideas to just anyone and everyone—to those who can unknowingly stomp on sacred places in our hearts. However, creativity also is a community event. Without my brother to share in the adventures, my quests would not have been as rich or my negotiating skills as refined. And I would have missed out of the joy of creating together.
Creative Space is both clean and messy. My brother has never been one to accumulate a lot of stuff. He always had a big open space, and a free top bunk for setting out the menagerie. The guest room was an ideal sailing vessel, as that room had little more than a few boxes in the closet. Creative space needs to be just that—space. If you can’t move about, either physically, or emotionally and psychologically, then your creativity is going to be cramped. And to have space, you need to have things put away. And yet, we could also create messes there. We could have quilts rumpled, and piles of pillows and various stuffed friends in various locales. There was nothing overly valuable or breakable in these rooms, and no need to immediately clean them up if a great romp through the jungle had to be interrupted for dinner. Creative space needs to be a place where you can make a mess without ruining something expensive. It also needs to be a place where you don’t spend half your time setting it up just to turn around and spend nearly as much time cleaning it back up.
Making this a blog a creative space. These two facets of creative space are not only things I think about as I set my schedule, arrange my apartment, and scribble in notebooks, but are also principles for this online space as well. I want this space to be about sharing creativity with a community. I’ll probably share more about the process than the content for a while as I let my own novel grow, but I want to share in the joy of making space for the creative, making time for stories, with friends. And this has to be a space that can be for the process—that doesn’t always need everything to be polished and perfect. Recipes can flop, and tales of misadventures can be shared. I’ll try to keep things organized and clean so we can all find what we need when we need it. Together we can set sail into the great blue unknown of the creative life.
What are your memories of the space you were creative in as a child?
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