Stockpiling the Creative
I’m drawing on an ancient narrative for this one, but stick with me, I’m going somewhere with it.
My Jewish friends and family just celebrated Passover, a time of celebration and commemoration of the release of the Jewish nation from slavery in Egypt, thousands of years ago, under the leadership of Moses. God says let my people go, Pharaoh says no, God wipes out every firstborn as the final act of an escalating series of plagues. Those spared, the ones whom the angel of death passed over, had the blood of a lamb smeared on the doorposts. Gruesome stuff and not the tidiest story to reconcile with my theology of love and forgiveness, but try as we do, theology ain’t tidy. Anyways, fast forward to the desert, the escaped Hebrews, likely close to a million strong, are now wandering aimlessly, and hungry. So God provides a food they call Manna, a word meaning “What the heck is this stuff?” Seriously, that’s what it means. Though I doubt the word “heck” is a literal translation.
Manna was a flaky food, and while it’s called bread, it seems that might only have been the closest thing to compare it to. God provides it daily. Enough for everyone. But there’s a catch. With the exception of the Sabbath they’re told they can’t store it. They have to trust that it’ll be there the next day. And the next. And the next. Eat it while you have it, because it turns putrid pretty quick.
I think there are some things in life, intangible things that come to us from beyond ourselves, that are meant to be exercised and used as we’re given them, with no stockpiling allowed. I think faith is like this, whether its object is God or other people. Love too. Hope, certainly. And creativity.
The more I study creativity, the more sure I am that the study of it leads to more questions than answers. It’s not a process that can be pinned down and dissected. It’s often unpredictable. And it doesn’t store well. We play by its rules or not at all. Creativity’s like manna. It comes from somewhere outside ourselves, a gift, and one that’s meant to be used, every ounce of it, without thought for tomorrow. Don’t pace yourself, don’t stockpile, don’t hoarde it. Creativity grows with the expenditure and shrinks with the hoarding.
So what does this mean to us? It means you don’t write three fluffy books when you can write one killer one. You don’t spread it thin. It means you use up your ideas as you get them. Got an idea that’ll work for this assignment but you were saving it, maybe to use for a personal project down the road? Don’t do it. Use it. Burn it like fuel, it’ll lead to a bigger fire and that personal project later on will take on a whole new life. By all means, save it, treat it like it’s not perishable, but it’ll turn to dust. Good ideas build on each other, lead to new ideas. But keep them in a box and even that idea fades away.
The creative life is about risks, not caution. About now, not later. And it’s about trusting that the creativity will be there when we need it. Don’t hold back.