Someone sent me this link to a talk by John Cleese about creativity, which I watched, at first, because I figured there’d be a few good jokes. But I realized, watching, that although he’s supposedly talking about creativity in general, the whole piece is a fabulous essay, indirectly, about the importance of creativity in parenting and birth. And your career. And your marriage. And life. Creativity is they key to happiness in all of these things, and it isn’t a talent but a mode of operating. Anyone can get at it.
I couldn’t agree more.
Many of you who have taken my classes/workshops/groups have heard me talk about how important it is for mothers to maintain a playful sense of curiosity, humor, and faith that although pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood are very serious, they are not meant to be solemn. Curiosity, a willingness to experiment and be silly and get stuff wrong (because a wrong choice might be a stepping stone to something brilliant), a sense of humor … these are some of the ingredients of the creative mode, and Cleese’s speech is all about how to get at that mode more easily.
Scary things happen when you embark on parenthood. The stakes can feel really high. Scary things make us anxious, and anxiety can squash out the open, fun, confident feeling that lets us be our most creative selves. John Cleese says that the “closed mode” (where we’re not able to be creative), is characterized by anxious feelings, impatience, attempts to be organized, focus on small trivial tasks, and, sometimes, manic pursuit of a goal. In short, it’s where new moms spend a lot of their time.
One of the problems is that anxiety makes us worry that we don’t know enough. So we consult experts — too often we don’t consult the kind of experts who guide and support us in being authors of our own lives, but, instead, the kind who confirm our fears that we don’t know anything and solemnly tell us How To Do Everything Their Way. But if you are a non-generic person with a non-generic child, generic advice — even from famous experts — will not work.
What will work is a customized, creative, individualized approach.
To do that, you need to get into the creative mode, which he describes as expansive, less purposeful, more inclined to humor, and filled with curiosity for its own sake. (Doesn’t that sound more fun?)
Being there will help you figure out how best for you to handle: the challenges of labor, parenting a baby, the transition back to work. Tricky infant feeding and sleep questions. Tantrums. Choosing a new midwife or OB or pediatrician. Unloading the dishwasher and other shared domestic chores. Finding time to get to the gym and have your nails painted and groove on your partner and sometimes do decadent things. In short, you’ll need to get creative to handle being an adult with a real, complicated life, and kids.
(Well, actually, you can get by without being creative, but you deserve a life where you’re not just getting by.)
There are a bunch of key points in the speech, concrete ideas about how to get into the creative mode. (hint: you need time, and space, and some people you can talk to, and a sense of lightness — sounds like a new moms’ group to me!). But you should watch him explain the whole thing, so you can look at him and think of laughing your head off at that Fawlty Towers episode with the rat.
Perhaps my favorite part is towards the end when he says that being creative requires being prepared to tolerate the anxiety of sitting with something we haven’t solved yet.
How many of us has been there, with an annoying or worrisome problem with our babies/toddlers/work/spouse, insecure because we don’t know how to deal with it, and totally irritable that the problem is Not Fixed And What If It Never Gets Fixed And Just Gets Worse And Worse!!??!
Being creative, and successful, and happy doesn’t mean never feeling that way. But Cleese’s ideas about how to cope with that moment, and what comes before and after that are, I think, really inspiring. I hope you contact me to talk more about how to apply these ideas to childbirth and parenting, one-on-one or in a group. meredith (at) amotherisborn (dot) com (or click the “Ask” button at left and leave your contact info!)