Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Dirty Floor and the Creative Urge

Up till yesterday morning, my kitchen floor was filthy. Really, really dirty. When my sister and her family left, they also left behind a floor that suffered for a week beneath ten pairs of mucky feet, fresh in the door from rainy playgrounds and damp sandboxes. And I meant to clean it, honest I did. It's just so ... tiresome. I hate housework, I really do. The advent of mobile devices has assuaged my hatred somewhat, as I now can watch documentaries about the Vikings on my iPad while scrubbing the bathtub, but given the choice, I'd rather not scrub anything, ever.

While here, Emily and I talked about her now-hibernating project to co-write (with other people, not me) about being a creative mother (or maybe that should be: Creative Mother). We came to the conclusion that it's very hard to teach someone how to be creative - and probably the last thing you ought to write a book about. If you're creative, you spend every single spare minute doing things and making things and thinking about ways to do and make things. You don't need to make the conscious decision to do this, you do it because not doing it is like not scratching an itch, not removing an eyelash from your eyeball or a stone from your shoe. You do it because you have to. If you're like me, your Amazon shopping basket is possibly full of soap-making supplies, your living room is full of bags of yarn, you have pens and notebooks stashed everywhere and a crochet hook in your nightstand. You also have a dirty kitchen floor, an over-flowing hamper of unwashed laundry (and, on that subject, you probably can't remember where you put your iron, it's been so long since you used it.) You occasionally shovel a spoon of apple purée in your infant son's ear, because you're daydreaming about your next project and don't notice him bend down to fetch a fallen toy.

See? Not the kind of thing you write about, not something whose virtues you extol in connection with mothering, as much of my creative urge results in neglected household duties and an apple-eared child.

But what's creativity anyway? One of my friends is adamantly uncreative in the traditional sense. She can't draw for toffee, she says. She mangled a scarf in knitting class forty years ago and has not picked up a needle since. But she's tidy, oh my goodness, she's tidy. She cleans and tidies for fun. Her house is beautiful, her cupboards are a joy. She puts things in order - by shape, size, colour, age. She expresses herself through order and organisation and I am every bit as much in awe and envy of her skills as she is of mine. I could no sooner teach her to be spontaneously creative than she could teach me to spontaneously clean. While my kitchen floor would make her itch, I can blithely ignore it till I have done more important (to me) things, like sew together a stack of motifs, testing my latest pattern:

When the last treads were woven in, photos taken and uploaded, then I got out the mop and did the kitchen floor. I now have a clean kitchen and a new blanket - happiness all round!


Sweet Seahorse said...

I really get where you are coming from, I HATE housework too, and with three young children all of a sudden I seem to do nothing but housework, particularly of the scrubbing variety. I am currently ignoring as best I can the absolute hellhole that is my house in favour of other more fun pursuits.

But I have to ask you to consider that perhaps your friend's creativity is her organisational and cleaning skills. I have recently been watching some really interesting talks on TED (Google it and you'll find it) and my favourite speaker by far is Sir Ken Robinson whose premise is that creativity comes in many different forms and unfortunately the current model of schooling is killing creativity. Sorry to get all heavy, but it is truly interesting and something that I find very topical as the mother of a girl who starts school next year.

By the way I love your blanket it looks fantastic with that partial hex.
xXx Helen

Barbara said...

Beautiful... I love your colour combination! I would love it if you would link up this blanket (I think?) over at my link Party, it would be fun!

Have a great Day,

nordwolke said...

I envy your tidy friend. I wish I could consider cleaning, ironing and all this stuff as a hobby. I am just in the process of learning to do so because I will not have so much time for my creativity in the near future anymore. I will let you know if my experiment works out. But maybe it is like you said: neither you can teach creativity, nor you can teach someone to consider housework a pleasure ...

The Gingerbread Lady said...

Hello Helen
Thank you for taking the time to leave such a long comment!

Actually, I DO consider my friend creative ... that was kind of the point of my (obviously badly-written) post. She says she's uncreative - but really only in the traditional way. I draw or make things, she tidies and makes order from chaos. If you saw her kitchen, you would not doubt that there's a creative mind at work there. As I said, that's how she expresses herself! For the sake of my family, I wish with an envious heart that I had that overwhelming urge as well. Sadly for them and my sticky floors, I have other creative outlets :-(

I happen to believe firmly that there are varying kinds of creativity, just as there are varying kinds of intelligence (have you heard of Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences? A little old, but so interesting.) I know TED well, I know Robinson's talks ...

... However, I can only agree to a point about the school system. I think it has become very fashionable to Blame The System, but I think that it's not enough. Doing so allows some parents to abscond responsibility for their children's education - we have to look to ourselves. We should be our children's primary educators. A child spends a maximum of a third of its day at school, the other two thirds are spent (in theory) with its family. A family that places no value on creativity, that sees education only in terms of its value in pounds and pence (= will this help my child get a job? Will this look good on his resumé? Will this get him better grades?) will have no time for the perusal or promotion of creative pursuits.

The Gingerbread Lady said...


It's true - I'm biassed. I'm a teacher, so I'm sick of seeing the other side of the coin. I gave a colleague that teaches at secondary school a whole heap of activities to teach English through music and song. She looked at it and handed it back. If she deviated from the coursebook, or indeed, if parents found out that the kiddies were not going to finish chapter X by a certain date, they'd ring up the principal and complain. The pressure not to be creative was coming from the children's homes, not from within The System. This happens A LOT. It's part of the reason why music and art classes get chopped from curricula - they're not going to get you a job, are they? God forbid some chop my child's maths class!

Likewise, a recent debate about the "value" of the Irish language on Irish radio turned my stomach. The Irish language is taught at school from the age of 5 onwards, yet most people leave school with barely a working knowledge of the language - if at all. The presenter asked callers whether they thought it was "worthwhile" to teach Irish at school nowadays. The majority of the callers said no - would it earn you money? No. Would it get you a job? No. Its value was purely viewed in a monetary sense. Not one person rang in to say, "Yes - it's worth learning! It's a beautiful language! Its poetry is unparalleled! Its ability to express a concept in a lyrical manner, rich in imagery, is practically unsurpassed! It would teach you a lot about how Celtic languages are structured, how their syntax and grammar differ from Germanic and Romance languages... " Goodness, I could have spoken for a half hour on its "value" - but my view of "value" appears radically different to most.In short, if you come from a home where expressing yourself creatively (whatever way you care to do it) is valued, it's unlikely that school will stomp out your creative urge. If you don't come from a family with this ethos, school certainly won't foster it and if it does, chances are, you will also have to face resistance from your parents as well.

Playing Hooky said...

Wow. That is lovely. Cleaning is all very well (in part, I do it for a living. Never touch my own place of course) but that blanket is art. And *so* much more fun to do. :o)

The Gingerbread Lady said...

deally, I would like to see a reform of the school system and I'd like to people to stop thinking in terms of "educational value". *Everything* has value. I don't see it happening any time soon, though. However, I think there is a growing interest in all kinds of creative outlets that have been immensely helped by the Internet and the availability of information online. Thus, I hope there will be a resurgence in the interest of art (whether it be painting or cupboard organisation) for art's sake and education for education's sake from the ground up, from the cradle onwards, so that there'll be a demand for creative schooling and creativity in schooling.

And that, officially, is the longest comment I've ever written :-)

Connie said...

Sticky floors - oh, yeah. I'm not uber-creative, but I write and crochet and make cakes and sometimes sew and only then do I do the housework.

This is why, when we had a kitchen floor which never looked clean no matter how much you cleaned it, I decided I wouldn't bother to clean it until it was really tacky. And so came my ultimate Slummy Mummy moment. One day, as I made my hungry toddler her lunch, and she fretted round my knees, she suddenly stopped fretting. I looked down. She was lying on the floor, licking a blot of dried-on gravy off the lino.

So I did clean the floor a little more often after that.

On the plus side, all that dirt seems to have primed her immune system: she has no allergies, and the constitution of an ox.

Also agree about schools and creativity. I went to a talk at my kids' school about how to help your kid get top grades in English in the annual tests. They had to do x and y and z, and use 'connectives' and 'openers' and - given the example that was read to us - shove in an adjective, any old adjective, to show they could. Everything had to be done to the formula: imagination was entirely optional and almost discouraged.

The Foggy Knitter said...

This crushing of everything non-academic happened to me and it's taking me years to untangle myself from it and enjoy different types of creativity and skill. I wish I'd had more chance to explore creativity at school, everything was regulated and examined, even things like art or music.

The Gingerbread Lady said...

@ The Foggy Knitter
I'm sorry that was the case - and it happens to a lot of people. Were your parents creative? Did they encourage you to do things that you liked? Did you have their input and their support?

Sadly, education is often only seen in terms of grades, achievements measured by exam results. I learned to knit, sew and crochet in school, skills that have accompanied me throughout life. They're no longer taught at school - they're "useless" activities. The time could be spent teaching geography or maths. Sigh :-(

Gracey is not my name.... said...

Hear, hear!!!!!! We have 3 1/2 days left...yeah (it has officially been my toughest year ever) and I am moving grade levels again...back to the littles (second grade - age 7)..very happy about that..yesterday we spent the day celebrating Flag Day...with songs, and pictures, and some reading..and then we made some paper quilt squares to work with fractions and tessellations...

Autumn said...

Love your blog! I have found a like minded creative soul! I'm surrounded by neat nicks and I can't seem to catch on. The pull of making something is much greater than my need to be tidy! My four kids mess things up so fast anyway... I'll wait until someone calls and comes over!