The Value of Rethinking

Last week I learned the value of suspending judgment and listening with an open heart. “Hey,” you say. “You are within a few million breaths of completing seven decades of a passingly happy and successful life and you just figured this out?”

To that I can only say, “Yes and no.” Of course I’ve known this most of those nearly seventy years. But a few days ago my eight-year-old granddaughter inadvertently put new spin on the concept.

Let me back up. Compare this picture featured in a blog post on September 1, 2009


with this picture from last week.

Both pictures feature clothespin dolls. I made the dolls in the top picture four years ago for my daughter’s girls. Sarah, the oldest, was four at the time. When they came for a visit last week, Sarah, who is now eight, wanted to make clothespin dolls. My mind whirled at the thought of teaching her to sew the tiny seams along the sides of the dresses, but Sarah immediately took charge of the situation.

She selected a rust-colored pipe cleaner from a pile on my desk. “What can I cut this with?” “Why do you need to cut it?” “To make hair!” Huh, what? Hair made from pipe cleaner? Why not? I pulled out my stash of craft pliers, and Sarah snipped a couple of pieces and twisted them into hair that I hot-glued on. To my surprise, it looked great.

With barely a pause, she chose fabric for the dress, and before I realized what she was doing, she had snipped a ragged rectangle from one corner, wrapped it around the doll and taped it shut. “I want to use this ribbon for a belt.”

Heckuva deal, I thought. So much for me teaching Sarah how to make these things. “Do you want to learn to sew dresses like the ones I made?” I asked. “No! I know how to sew, but that’s not what I want them to look like.” Oh! KAY! New page, new doll story.

Sarah eagerly accepted a sparkly silver hair suggestion for her next doll (third from the left). A taped scrap of “silky” black lining fabric formed the perfect dress, adorned by a snip of lacy fabric and slinky silver spandex cape.

I quickly realized that my job was to provide resources and explain the advantages of hot (faster than white) glue over tape (doesn’t stick well to fabric). Based on her whims, I found strands of yarn for hair, and Sarah did the rest, cranking out dolls at warp speed, intuitively mixing snips of this with scraps of that. She never paused to cogitate, and in an hour or two she had exhausted my clothespin supply .

I admit I was stunned at the results. Her dolls have panache! They sizzle with character. When I made the initial batch, I was thinking inside the nostalgia box, making dolls recalled from the past. Dolls that look like real people. With no limiting beliefs, Sarah was drawing on unbridled imagination and fairy tales. My dolls are dressed to milk cows and bake gingerbread. Her dolls cast spells and eat poison apples. My dolls are for playing house. Hers are for populating fantasy stories.

My post four years ago was titled “Memories I Wish I’d Had.” If you read that post closely, you’ll notice that the memories I longed for would have been about making things, making dolls for playing house with classic roles. I wanted to capture the past.

Sarah took a version of this concept to a new level. Her focus was on making things, but she was future oriented. She wanted dolls, but not for playing house. Sarah was creating adventure stories. She selected, snipped and wrapped her emerging characters, creating her story bit by bit.

Did I remember to tell her these awesome glam scraps are left over from her great-grandmother’s doll-making days? Maybe not. But Sarah’s dolls capture the spirit of stuffed fairy and mermaid art dolls Mother made near the end of her life. Did Mother imagine stories as she stitched her dolls? I bet she did. Mother and I both made traditional dolls for playthings early in life. Mother got wild and crazy much later. She rethought what dolls were about.

Sarah is skipping the traditional phase. By suspending judgment and giving her free reign to follow her muse, I gave her space to follow her dreams, and in doing so, she unwittingly cracked open a limiting shell around my creativity that I had nor realized was there. That drawer of glimmer and glam has been patiently waiting in my physical work room for nearly twenty years. Sarah began pulling it into her stories. Now it’s time for me to follow her lead into that larger space, making new use of old materials, both manifest and remembered.

Write now: recall a time if you can when you showed someone how to do something (formally or otherwise) and learned something yourself in the process. If you can’t remember such a time, teach someone something soon and write about it. That something may be as simple as using a new seasoning in a favorite recipe or as complex as designing a web page. Teach, then write, including an account of how your thinking changed in the process.


Amber Lea Starfire said...

Sharon, I love, love, LOVE this story! What a wonderful way to be reminded of how creativity works when we don't pre-suppose the final product. It's easy for me to see how this applies to memoir writing: if we allow our minds to play while writing (and I mean initial writing, not the revision phase), the form will naturally emerge. And it will have more panache and magic than if we force it into a preconceived form.

Regarding teaching and learning ... I'm pretty sure that's why I love to teach ... because I am always the one who gets to learn the most!

Sharon said...

Amber, you'll be happy to know that Sarah is also a writer, as I hinted in the post. I was blown away by her creative process. The dolls were only part of it. I'll be writing more about that.

Joan Z Rough said...

Your wonderful story hit home for me. My 13 year old granddaughter is also a creative and carries on the family traditions in the arts, including writing, visual arts, and music. It seems the brew of genes is getting stronger all the time and her ways of manifesting her imaginings is broader and more imaginative than any of us who have come before her. These young ones are quite amazing and inspiring!

SuziCate said...

Sharon, you have no idea how much this post speaks to me. Creativity and self exploration started early in my life with my babysitter. I immediately drew my own boys into the art of making toys and accessories for them, anything to unleash their imaginations...and boy did they do that! What a surprise one day to walk downstairs and find my son teaching his friend to fire missiles (tampons) off a GI Joe tank! The kid's mom and I got a big chuckle out of that one. I saved old socks, fabric scraps, buttons, etc... and we often made sock puppets. Once my son asked for his birthday party to include making sock puppets. The kids had a blast and the parents thought it was the best party their kids ever attended (participated in). Now my boys are grown, but I still get all warm and nostalgic when I see their creative juices flowing.

Sharon said...

"Brew of genes getting stronger ..." Yes! I had creative genes on both sides of my pool. This granddaughter has massive creativity coming from her father's side as well. Her addition is the ability to transcend tradition and go straight to wild and crazy. And yet ... she won massive acclaim for a third-grade science project: she wrote a primary level introduction to sub-atomic particles and has begun creating a web page to share it with other kids. Perhaps there's a connection between the ability to fantasize and the ability to connect with abstruse concepts like quarks, mesons, pions and such. These offspring give me hope for the world!

Sharon said...

Suzi, tampons missiles will have me chuckling all day. Much of a lifetime ago when moms gathered around the neighborhood pool to keep an eye on our fledgling swimmers, I made some groaning remark about the state of disarray in our basement. "Why don't you throw it all out?" asked Suzy Homemaker, whose floors were always immaculate -- you know the type. "Where would the Cub Scouts get cork collections?" I did resign from the She Who Dies With the Most Fabric club, and toss much of my stuff -- mostly because the house only has room for one serious packrat. But that's a story for another time.

Karen Walker said...

I love this story on so many levels, Sharon. Yes, the gift of non-judgment which allows creativity to flourish, but especially how, by your patience with and acceptance of your granddaughter's ideas, you allowed her to be herself, honoring and respecting her ideas. So often children are told don't do this don't do that and sometimes their tiny spirits get squashed. Your Sarah's spirit will soar quite high, I am sure of it.

Sharon said...

Thanks for the thoughts Karen. You are right about so many kids. Sarah has the huge advantage of growing up with supportive parents who understand creativity and the luxury of attending a private school that specializes in fostering it. The magic for me was watching her work.

Marian Beaman said...

I love your story! It's all about perspective, don't you think? I don't have a "crafty" story to tell, but here is a short-short my daughter Crista tells about my grand-daughter, Jenna:

So we are at the beach and Jenna and I are
sifting through sand looking for neat sea shells. She says to me, “Mommy, you know,
you are doing pretty good for your age.” Flattered (and in my bikini), I said, “well thank
you. Do you think I should
cover up a little bit more?”
Jenna says, “No, Mom, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant that you have good eyes
for finding nice shells.”
At the heart of creativity is insight gained from a fresh perspective. We can only guess what is in the mind of a child until they tell us or show us with their hands as your Sarah has done, giving us a window into the future.

Sharon said...

What a precious story Marian. I can't imagine a more perfect example of the power of our Inner Critic to shape our entire life, far beyond writing. Thank you so much for sharing it!