It feels like a lot has been changing recently - and I mean the kind of internal shifting that is the result of the introspective work I've been doing. By looking within, I've been clearing out the stuff that isn't me anymore, and probably wasn't really me to begin with, and uncovering the truth of who I am, what my passions are, what I'm good at, and what I want my life to be like. This has involved a great deal of time spent thinking and reflecting, feeling lots of feels, some tears and frustration, and eventually more clarity and a sense of peace.
I want to share with you some of what I've unearthed and remembered about the winding path that has brought me to today, and I'm going to break it up over the next few posts. It's the story of my creative awakening (or perhaps re-awakening would be more accurate) - my journey back to accepting and embracing creativity in its many forms as an integral part of who I am. I'll start with my childhood.
I was born in the mid 1980s to parents who had been married for six years before having me, and my younger sister would come along two years later. My Dad was the main breadwinner, and my Mum didn't go back out to work until my sister and I were both at school. We weren't wealthy - although as a child I wasn't aware of this - but we never seemed to want for anything essential. My grandparents were a big part of my childhood and would often look after us during the school holidays, either at their house or taking us away on trips to my great- aunts and uncles.
One of my earliest memories - I think I must have been about two and a half - is of visiting my great-grandparents, going down the path at the side of the house to the back door of their small Victorian terraced cottage, and being fascinated by the knot holes in the wooden fence. As a curious toddler, of course I wanted to try and see what was on the other side, and stick my fingers in the holes. My great-grandad said I should be careful because otherwise the monsters would get me. I don't remember this scaring me as I'm sure it was meant to (in the way comments like that are supposed to scare small children out of doing something vaguely dangerous), instead it made me smile at the silly story he was inventing. Even then, my imagination was developing strongly.
I think I was always an imaginative child - a lot of my toys involved 'make believe' and thinking up different stories. My Barbie and Sindy dolls would have different jobs, families, go on holidays, fall in love, have arguments...whatever I could dream up, or based on something I'd seen or read. All my teddy bears had (well OK, still have) names that I chose for them, and I would think seriously about what sort of name would suit them best. And I was the child who could play for days with a large empty cardboard box, imagining it to be everything from a princess's castle to a car, a submarine to a shop. Sometimes the simplest things are the best!
My big Christmas present the year I was three was a desk - one of those old-fashioned wooden ones with a lift up lid and space inside to keep all my paper and pencils. This was absolutely wonderful and I would spend hours sitting at my desk drawing and colouring pictures to present to my parents. Sitting at a desk has always had that thrill of excitement for me that it is a place where I can create things - I wrote homework projects for school at that wooden desk for years, and then got a bigger one with drawers when I went to secondary school. At university my desk was a serious work space for writing essays and eventually my final dissertation. I haven't had a desk at home for years now until recently, but as I write this I'm sitting at a brand new desk in my new creative work space in our spare bedroom and the novelty of that excitement - the possibilities of what I might create - is as fresh as ever.
I've always been a voracious reader (still am) and as a child loved stories of magic and fantasy, worlds that I could only see in my mind but wished were real. At school my 'reading age' was ahead of most of my classmates and my teachers encouraged me to seek out longer, more complex books at the library. Some of my favourites were the stories of Roald Dahl - my copies of The BFG and Matilda show the evidence of the pages being eagerly turned again and again - and the Narnia series by CS Lewis. These seemed utterly magical to me and I would make up my own stories where I was the heroine exploring the places described in the book, meeting Aslan and defeating the White Witch.
Throughout my childhood at school I was always at the top of the class, did the best in tests, got good marks for assignments - yes, I was the clever one. Not many things seemed to be that difficult to me, and I was always hugely interested in any new project we started - learning about a different period of history or a different part of the world. I've kept some of my project books from primary school and to me at least they show that as well as getting the facts right it was also important that my work looked attractive - I would try to use my neatest handwriting (although inevitably after the first few pages this would get scruffier), and draw little pictures to illustrate the project. I can remember being picked as part of a 'special' group of the best pupils on a couple of occasions to have extra pencil drawing lessons, and to make simple bound and covered books with the headmaster. I enjoyed art and craft sessions and would proudly take my creations home. I got involved in all sorts of 'extra-curricular' activities at school - the choir, music lessons learning the recorder and then the flute before joining the orchestra, the wildlife club, being a library monitor, making costumes and acting in school plays and Christmas nativities - although sports were never (and still aren't!) my strong point.
In some ways, standing where I am now, these childhood years before secondary school seem like a golden age of play. Creativity is more or less expected of children, and is encouraged and praised unreservedly. My Mum still remembers having to think of more and more new things to give me to do because it seemed I had a very low threshold for boredom - I was always curious about what she was doing (to this day I think my Mum shudders when I ask her 'Why?'), was interested in lots of different things, and wanted to try all of them. My grandparents - bless them - indulged this by taking us on trips, hosting craft and baking afternoons, letting me and my sister dress up in my grandma's jewellery and make-up, and basically letting me make a huge mess in my quest to explore as much of the world as my eight year old self could.
Things would change when I started secondary school at 11 - things got much more serious and focused on the future instead of simply living in the now. All the playing I had so enjoyed would be swept aside as homework and exams became more important, and then university and the world of work. When I think of all the myriad things I enjoyed doing as a child, the list goes on and on - I didn't necessarily do many of them for a long time or get really 'good' at them, I simply loved doing them in that moment, I enjoyed the attempt, and seeing what the result was, feeling proud to show it off to whoever would pay attention.
A recent rummage through boxes in our attic revealed some of my childhood creations - and for every single one of them I can remember precisely where I was when I made them, who I was with, and what it felt like while I was making them. If that isn't the definition of 'flow' I don't know what is. Now that I have uncovered this lost part of me, I know it is a massively important aspect of who I am and what I need to do, and I'm determined that my childhood love of play, exploration, and many different kinds of creativity isn't going to be buried again.