What is creativity? John Fowles believed that men wrote books in order to extend their lives beyond their lifetimes whereas women’s lives were extended by creating children. But women write and the likes of Jane Austen still live on through their books. Writing books is an acknowledged form of creativity, though I notice a great disappointment, even within the Writers in Oxford club, if it turns out that an author only writes non-fiction: the novel’s the thing, the true creation.
Writing books, painting, composing music, producing poetry, making movies, staining glass, potting, candle making: all of these are clearly creative. Carpentry, blacksmithing, sewing, science, gardening, cooking, photography, pornography: all of these are clearly not – or are they. There is a fine line somewhere here. A candle produced simply to give light is surely not creative, a candle wax creation of a pornographic scene may be.
Me, I roll stones. Some of the stones I use are so heavy that there is no possibility that I can lift them – so I roll them. My friendly adviser who occasionally pounces on my stoney creation, sorry building, saying “incorrecto” or “feo” (wrong or ugly), tells me that Spanish women used to roll the stones to the men who then did the tricky bit of fitting them into a wall. Sounds crazy, but it does take more strength to place a stone in a precise location than to roll it from one location to another.
My woman does not roll stones so I do both: the rolling and the fitting. Is it creative? I’m not sure. My wall is much admired, particularly since it mirrors an existing one and by that measure it is hardly creative. I know of its flaws so am not moved by the plaudits it receives. But the question still intrigues me: am I creating something?
Certainly there is something there now when before there was nothing. That’s true of any building work, yet the average builder is clearly not in the same league as a popular novelist and the builder’s creation is, perhaps, only the implementation of the architect’s conception. I am both architect and builder so I win, or lose, both ways. I have, through this experience, learned how difficult it is to plan a building in three-dimensional detail and how frustrating it is when the plans are just not practical.
When I am writing a novel I do turn my imagination free and follow its inventions, selectively. When I am searching for a particular stone I am thinking only of the hoped for dimensions and shape, though some imagination is needed - particularly how an odd shaped stone might be knocked into shape. When I roll a heavy stone down for an ‘audition’ in my wall my mind is entirely full of the sheer effort of moving and controlling it, a little like the single mindedness of a mountaineer, I believe.
My summit is the arrival of the stone in the right place (often by rolling it up strong planks of wood or stepping it up temporary staircases made of blocks), shaping it, then finally standing back to make sure that it looks right. I then move on to the next. At times I stand looking at my creation (sorry building) planning what to now next and how and what materials I will need. When my mind is not engaged with stone then I sometimes sing. ‘Right said Fred’ fits the bill, but for some reason ‘Winter Wonderland’ and that awful unicorn song take over. Fortunately a song by my friend, Pete Madams is also getting a look in, the chorus goes like this, ‘I’m the man, the man of the moment.’
Is any of this creative? I’m sure that Pete’s song is.