Creative People Make Messes


If you’re an orderly person like Monk on the TV show of the same name, this column is not for you. You crave things in place, all the time. Otherwise, you get agitated.

The other side of the coin is the person who is so busy creating that he/she doesn’t notice the mess. When the creative juices stop flowing, that person looks around and says, “Oh, my.”

I have a sewing room. Sewing makes a mess.  I’ve been using my sewing machine and cutting the corners off of seams before I hem them, for months. Today I decided to sweep the floor in there.  As I was doing that, it reminded me of two things.

# 1.  How I set up my worker woman’s seven year old one summer day with markers, crayons, paper, stickers and scissors at my kitchen table so she’d have something to do while her mom did my long honey-do list (no honey to do it, hence the worker woman).

Little girl was having a fine time making cards for every family member when he mom came through the kitchen to get a bucket or something and yelled at her daughter to clean up the floor.

“It’s okay,” I said. “We can do it when she’s finished.”

But Mom insisted, and suddenly the creativity bubble was broken. The daughter cleaned up the floor, then stopped her cards and wandered off to do something else.

# 2.  When I was seven, every Friday night was creativity night. It helped to have a mom who fancied herself an artist and a dad who went off to play poker. Mom was stuck with three or four or five of us, so she set us up at the round red Formica-topped table and put out paper, crayons (we couldn’t afford markers) and other interesting things to help with our creations.

Our dad was a printing pressman, so he often brought home the ends of paper reams in various colors. It was free, and our time was all we had. No one yelled at us when things fell on the floor.

To make the night even more memorable, Mom would butter up some white bread, make a chocolate chip sandwich, then bake it in the oven and roll it in powdered sugar. It wasn’t a store-bought dessert, but boy, was it melty and good. Dessert-wiches, she called them.

I have a friend who spent her childhood making doll house things for her dolls, out of anything she could get her hands on. When her mother died young, the new stepmother told the girl she was wasting her time when she should be doing something else. That girl grew up to be a picture book illustrator and author, and if I told you her name right now you might have heard of her. Guess how she illustrates her books? With collages.

Back to the point of the story. Clothes don’t magically appear in the stores without someone creating them. Sewing sweatshops have messy floors until someone comes by with a big broom and sweeps away all the cuttings. Artists rent studios to have a place to make their messes. Writers have piles and piles of works in progress on real paper, often in file folders, sometimes in corners.

I would imagine that TV writers and movie producers make messes. Think of the film editing guy or gal and what the cutting-room floor must look like.

Not everything can be done in your head or on a computer. Sometimes it takes actual hands-on manipulation to create something. Think of a cook and how the kitchen looks after a fabulous meal.

It’s important that we allow ourselves and especially children to have a place and a time to create. Otherwise, how will they ever find out what they are good at?

Thanks, Mom.