Saturday, June 12, 2010

Creativity Within Boundaries

When I posted my first entry on this blog, a friend commented on my statement that I am creative within boundaries. This is something that I had concluded about 10 to 15 years ago, when observing my preferences, habits, patterns, and comfort levels overall. I hadn’t given it much thought since then, but my friend’s comment caused me to ponder it more.

At the time, I had assumed these patterns were simply the result of who I was, that perhaps my preferences had been hard-wired genetically at birth and I was following my natural instincts. That may still be the case, but there is some room to consider that some of the “wiggle room” in my confined modes of expression might have been restricted further and become a means of being “safe” in the world.

As a child, I do remember coloring between the lines. Although I am sure as I was learning how to handle a pencil or crayon there was some coloring outside the lines, my memories are of being careful to express myself between the artist’s vision. I don’t recall drawing on lined paper, though I’m sure I must have at some time or another. I remember in 7th grade learning how a friend drew dogs and using those characters over and over again. I seem to recall them being in the borders of pages, however - not over the lines. It irritates me now when my daughter uses her school notebook paper for drawing, but I don’t say anything except that she really should organize her school work so that she can find papers to turn in easily, without having to flip through pages and pages of drawings. She is creative and gifted in drawing and painting, like my mom, and I don’t want her to lose that.

High school was a creative time for me. I was immersed in, and consumed by music. I was surrounded by creative people, who were writing songs and performing and improvising and harmonizing. I remember being free then. I dabbled in song writing myself. I think now that those creative years were probably the result of being surrounded by amazing people, and experiencing the deep, present, and sometimes overwhelming emotions of teenage years that must, somehow, some way, be expressed. My expression was in music and poetry.

I think those boundaries were still there, though probably still flexible. I had taken piano lessons since age 11 and knew how to read music, so I primarily relied on that to express myself. While playing in bands, I was more free, but the sheet music was there 90% of the time, at least to begin with. I remember an ongoing discussion I had with one of my musician friends I admired the most. He was (and is) a brilliant musician, self-taught, creative, and all the things that I wanted to be. We disagreed on who was the better pianist. I said he, because he could listen to something and duplicate it, or create magic out of thin air. He said I was, because I could read music, while he could not. (I still think that I am right.) One day he was playing pieces of “Ocean Breeze” by ear, which caused me to buy a book of Pablo Cruise music that contained the song. I still have that worn book, covers falling off, and 30 years later, I still bring it out now and then in my lifelong quest to some day perfect that piece. (I am so excited to be able to see Pablo Cruise live for the first time on the 26th!)

What happened after high school? Did I continue the music, the free expression of emotion, the large and close circle of friends that were my extended family? No, I lost them, and all of that, for a long time. Remember when I said that I followed the rules, did what others expected me to, even, sometimes, what was dictated to me? Yeah, that’s where it really became a deeper part of who I am. I married a person that seemed to admire my expressive and musical nature, who seemed to like and enjoy my friends, but that changed not long after the wedding rings went on. I learned that conforming in that relationship was the only way to survive it. My friends were suddenly no longer welcome. He was jealous of my music, of our talents. I played piano when I was alone, or when he asked me to perform at family functions. I shut down in many ways, and my world became very small. It was a gilded cage, but a cage nonetheless. I was 18 when we married, and as I matured and started to express more of my authentic self, well that wasn’t acceptable, and the relationship became much more restrictive and the consequences greater. I could either chose to stop trying to loosen the restrictions, or use all of my effort to break free. Primarily because of my two daughters, I chose the latter. That battle continued for longer than the two years it took to finalize the divorce, but at least I had control over most of my life, though still not complete freedom to care 100% for the two people that I loved the most.

It seems after the divorce that, while I was more free in my ability to express myself and my emotions, I was still restricted. I had been working as a legal secretary before my marriage, and continued that after the divorce. Through my years of work experience, and on-the-job training by some of the best and most brilliant family law attorneys in the county, I was able to be “grandfathered” in as a paralegal. What is a paralegal all about? Bottom line, when it comes down to it, being creative within boundaries. Taking your client’s experiences, wishes, wants, and needs, and creatively and persuasively expressing them on ruled and numbered paper, within rules and with deadlines, to a judge. Each story was different, and I told the truth creatively - within boundaries, both literal and figurative.

In 1990, I discovered western dance. While in a music store, I met a guitar player who suggested I check out his band who was playing at a local nightclub. While at the club, I watched the dancers, and was coaxed onto the floor for a waltz with the dance teacher. I didn’t think I could do it, but once I tried - I was flying. I took lessons, I danced every week, and even successfully competed for a time. I loved the pure joy and freedom found in physically expressing the music. But do you see the pattern here? Western dance, whether two-step, waltz, or line dancing, has rules, patterns and form. You spin, you weave, you fly, but you keep the same fundamental steps. My friend Tammy and I love to line dance together - we add spins into the movements, we do the unexpected, and often throw off the other dancers who are completely “coloring between the lines.” Yet that framework is still there, isn’t it?

I could go on and on - recipes that I follow, rather than create new dishes; jewelry that I make using patterns that I can be creative within. I hate stringing beads - it’s too open-ended for me. I love chain maille.

Much of what I learned about how to restrict my creative experiences was taught in a negative environment. Some might say that I should release those boundaries and learn how to fly free again. I think I’ll wait a while on that. My boundaries create a sense of security and safety. I am still too vulnerable deep down inside to trust that my freest expression will not bring pain. So, I’m content to color between the lines, create within the patterns. It’s still beautiful, I still express myself and bring joy into my life, and often into the lives of others. Isn’t that what it’s all about?


  1. I have (and, in fact, will always have) a great deal of admiration for you, Laura.

    You have definitely brought great joy into my life many times, and I STLL think you are a better player than me...hehe.

    I also have wanted to do something musically with you for years. Perhaps write a song together, or something like that?

    Anyway, loved reading your blog, and I look forward to your next entry.

    Your friend, always,

  2. I think that just as much creativity can be expressed within the lines as beyond the lines -- it's just two different palettes. And like you said, "it's still beautiful." Besides, Picasso's not all he's cracked up to be. However you choose to express yourself artistically, I look forward to further sharings, Laura.

  3. Bob - It looks like we still have a mutual admiration society going. Thank you for your kind comments. I am looking forward to getting the gang up here this summer for some music-making, good food, good drink, laughter, reconnecting, and happy family time. I'll keep you posted as I'm able to come up with a date.

    Ann - Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and support, and I have to say you're right about Picasso. :-) I'll keep on keepin' on. <3