“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

                                – – – Albert Einstein

WhenI was a kid, we had a summer guest house called The Tide Rock House in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Many of our guests were Canadian, enjoying the beach for their yearly two-week vacation. The Tide Rock House had a comforting salt water smell, soothing pastel colors, a long row of rattan rocking chairs on the front porch, and the aroma of bacon and eggs wafting in from the dining hall where the guests cooked their meals. I had my first kiss in that house, a quick peck on my lips from a boy named Bobby, and each morning after breakfast, I pulled the shades down in the living room so no one could look in and see me. I used the side of the old piano as a ballet barre, I put on a record of classical music and I practiced my plies, arabesques and pirouettes.

One of our guests walked downstairs one morning, sat on a rocking chair on the porch and she began to knit. I sat on the chair beside her, rapt, watching her fingers fly over the needles. One morning, she took her seat on the porch, reached into her knitting bag and pulled out an extra pair of needles and a ball of blue yarn. “These are for you,” she said. She cast on twenty stitches and showed me how to move the needles backwards and forwards. I focused as she looped the yarn, flipped the needles around and then she handed them to me. “Have a try,” she said.

It was hard to copy what she had just done but she was patient with me and when I dropped a stitch, she got it back on the needle. I relaxed into the rhythm of knitting and purling and before I knew it, I had finished a whole row. When she thought I was ready, my first project was a tennis sweater for my father. It came out several sizes too large but he made a big deal out of putting it on so I could see it when he was heading out to play tennis.

This hobby has always soothed my soul, I love to make beautiful things, and today, when I watch TV, it gives me something to do with my hands. I call it a hobby but it feels more like a calling. In my spare room, there are pattern books from all over the world and a wall of shelves of home-made sweaters, jackets, shawls, scarves and hats. I call it “The Cagan Collection,” and when the shelves are filled to overflowing, I give things away and make some more.

I was inspired to write this blog when I spoke with a friend who was going through a difficult illness. “I hate getting up,” she said, “because all I can think about is my health and I feel depressed.”

“What kind of creative things do you like to do?” I asked her. “Painting, singing, reading, dancing, writing, designing clothes? Something else?”

“I used to paint,” she said, “I really liked it, but I haven’t done it in years. I don’t have an easel or any canvasses anymore and I have no idea where my paints and brushes are.”

“Let’s go out and buy some,” I said.

When we got home from the art store, she began sorting her new brushes and mixing paint colors. She was inspired and her life became something more than her illness. She had begun to feel the satisfaction of losing time and creating something wonderful in an uncertain world.

I believe we all have some form of creativity in us, it’s part of being human, but maybe you don’t know what yours is. When I was interviewing Magic Johnson for his book about business, I asked him, “You always knew what you wanted to do. What would you tell people who don’t know what makes them happy?”

“Try everything,” he said. “If something doesn’t feel right, try the next thing. It will come to you if you don’t give up.” He knew a lot about never giving up.

Activating your creativity is an effective distraction, a way to tame an overactive mind. It helps you change the channel and focus on what feels good. I’m not suggesting you hide from the truth, whatever that might be, but maintaining an upbeat state of mind in the midst of difficulty, slowing down and breathing more deeply, can help lower your stress levels, strengthen your immune system and fill up the emptiness of being bored. Or the terror of being afraid. It’s gratifying to put your feelings on the page, express your emotions on the canvas, strum a guitar or move your body to get the kinks out. The more you flex your creative muscles, the more you’ll want to keep on doing it as you find a sense of fulfillment, purpose and meaning without needing or wanting anyone else’s approval. 

There is so much chaos in our lives, it feels good to make something we are proud of, hear something that nurtures us or do something that makes us feel better in our bodies. But it isn’t always easy. The commitment to creativity takes courage and confidence in oneself. It takes guts and will power to get started and stamina to keep on going. But if you don’t move forward with what you want to express,
it will be lost forever and the world will be deprived of something important and valuable. You just never know what will resonate with someone else and make
them feel less alone and more engaged.

Creativity is each person’s unique expression in this life and if you keep at it, you’ll see that the well never runs dry. When Russian Composer, Igor Stravinsky created “Firebird,” his music was so innovative and different from anything that had ever been done before, the audience walked out on what became one of the most highly prized creations in the world of music and ballet.

Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”