This is a guest post by Elle Sloboda, who submitted the following essay as an assignment in Dr. Chris Patti’s course at Appalachian State University.
This essay has been featured on the Optimal Living Daily podcast – Episode 819.
As a child, if someone asked me if I was “creative,” I would have quickly snapped: “No.” It’s funny how to kids, the ability to draw is the primary evidence of being creative. It wasn’t until I started my sophomore year at Appalachian State University that I came to the realization that creativity is up to the creator. In an art class, I explored print making, expressive journaling, and poem writing. I was hooked on the process. Flipping through the pages of my journal from the semester captivated me—to see the raw color, rain-soaked paper, 2 AM scribbles, and growth that those pages held. Picture a scrapbook containing a taped-in program from a symphony concert, disposable camera prints from spring break, watercolor brushstrokes with poetry, leaf tracings, letters to important people that I never had the nerve to send… and the list goes on.
What’s the point here? I found that sensory objects have a way of sneaking into our thought patterns. My favorite assignment was to create a poem about where we’re from, and to identify specific items or memories from childhood. The process was therapeutic, but at the same time, the complex feeling of nostalgia loomed.
It is not easy to go back to my childhood backyard and remember the coolness of the green grass under my toes—or to my high school football stadium on a Friday night in October, smelling the popcorn and hearing the student section screaming. Life moves on but the sense memories linger. The five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound speak to the soul.
Sherry Turkle, a renowned social psychologist who studies human relationships with technology at MIT, is the author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. She claims that we are in an epidemic of social media which is crippling to our senses. We are lacking empathy. We are fostering competition and comparison which has ended with us being dissatisfied with ourselves. In Turkle’s words, “We begin to think of ourselves as a tribe of one, loyal to our own party. We check our messages during a quiet moment or when the pull of the online world simply feels irresistible.
Our minds are plagued by longings to check our phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it is limiting our instincts to actually be where we physically are, limiting our ability to, say, make a silly face at a baby, breathe in the scent of a warm August rain, compliment a stranger, or hear and be there for a friend in need. Our generation is losing touch with what we were created to be—loving, compassionate, and humane human beings. I find myself setting such high standards for friends or loved ones, but in reality, I need to take the time to remember my roots. I need to figure out why I am the way that I am, what makes my soul feel alive. Sleeping under the stars in just a sleeping bag, going to art galleries by myself, making chocolate chip waffles at midnight, or water coloring with the salt water from the ocean: these are just a few examples of things I’ve done this year that have made me feel in tune with the present moment—fully alive, fully human. I’ve realized that reclaiming the scattered pieces of my spirit caused by comparison in social media is easily fixed by creating, exploring, and trying new things offline.
When one gets the desire to create, it can be hard to find inspiration. What’s the next step? An aspiring artist begins to notice tiny things in the day that brings their senses back to their environment. To be an artist, there is a constant appreciation for what’s around us, at every moment. Innocence—the child-like wonder that you simply cannot get rid of. Everything becomes interesting. Lately, I have become intrigued with leaves of all shapes, sizes, and colors. When autumn rolls around, it is prime time for pressing them into big heavy books and setting them aside. A month or so later, I open the book and see what the leaves look like. Hanging them in my apartment reminds me that, even though the seasons change, my Creator is consistent and there for us, if we only open our hearts, minds, and eyes. I can be fully content in the season that I’m in. Picking a window seat and watching the leaves fall can change my entire day. Today, I am mesmerized by the first blooms of daffodils in spring. What a beautiful world that our creator has blessed us with.
My ultimate desire is to have more people creating, no matter stage of life they are in—using our senses to remember roots, to search deep inside to find that feeling of nostalgia and try to pin point what that feeling is. What is it? For me, it’s usually a combination of joy, sorrow, regret, surprise, and even confusion. When I start a new journal entry, I let my brain explore, try to navigate to the farthest edges of my memories. I want to put on paper what I remember.
Maybe you are like I was, in that you don’t think you are creative. If so, my advice to you is simple: play! It doesn’t take much to play.
Buy a blank notebook. Get a magazine that you don’t need any more and some newspaper. Cut out words that stick out to you and string them together. Glue them in at random or try to create a sentence. Every day, write down five things that happened, just five. Go to the nearest craft store and buy a pack of kids’ acrylic paint. Experiment with colors. Can you link a color to a specific memory from your childhood, a specific feeling? Do this for a couple months and then flip back through the pages you’ve generated. Appreciate what you’ve made like you would a good cup of coffee or waffles at midnight. Let your senses take over and allow yourself to be confident that you are, in fact, a creative person. Creativity is essential to being human. It’s a life-vivifying habit that is built over time with continued practice. I hope this essay acts as a permission slip and a little inspiration: creativity is for everyone.
Hailing from Williamsburg, Virginia, Elle Sloboda is a junior at Appalachian State University majoring in elementary education with a concentration in art. She longs to continue growing in the processes of creating and to use that in her future teaching career. You can reach her at: slobodaea [at] appstate [dot] edu.
Dr. Chris J. Patti (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As an ethnographic writer, his research highlights intimate, relational processes at the heart of human experience through listening to and richly representing stories of love, loss, and transformation. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and chapters on the theme of suffering and compassion. His other passions are rock climbing, longboard surfing, and intentionally doing nothing with his mindfulness meditation club Zen & the Art of Applied Communication. Follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/awarenessbites
You can email Dr. Chris Patti at patticj [at] appstate [dot] edu.