I’ve learned some interesting things through the observance of babies. As a creative, being a nanny does have its perks! Not only are babies funny and outrageously cute, but the habits of an infant can teach us a lot about our own discovery processes, even our creative natures.
Now, even though babies can’t talk, I believe there is a fundamental question that they ask themselves during nearly every waking moment, and that is: What would happen if…?
I take care of a little guy who is currently eleven months old, and he LOVES to ask this question. He also loves to find the answers, and he does that by experimenting. Through his silly actions I can hear the wheels circulating in his little imagination:
What would happen if I threw this particular toy on the floor?
What would happen if I tossed a piece of food on the ground?
What would happen if I pushed this button?
What would happen if I grabbed this long string coming out of the wall?
What would happen if I crawled over to this other room over here?
What would happen if I put this in my mouth?
The list goes on and on. We are all aware of it. At a certain age, babies are in constant discovery mode. They are like little detectives, or explorers, navigating an unknown world, marking new territory on their own life maps. Everything is exciting and bursting with possibility. If you think about it, babies probably have the most fun of anyone on this earth, because there is literally nothing that is old or familiar to them. Everything is new, even lint on the carpet!
We all carry this childlike, infant mischievousness in us, even into adulthood. Truly, it is our curiosity that calls us to adventure, that draws us to investigate new lands and ideas and possibilities. When I was in Ireland a few weeks ago, this sense of adventure and mystery was reawakened in me. See, it didn’t matter that other people had already been to the Cliffs of Moher, had already charted the Irish Sea, had already inspected every nook and cranny of the Ring of Kerry. In this beautiful country, I was a child again, uncovering new sites and discovering things I’d never experienced before. One of the days, we were taken to some old castle ruins along the Ring of Kerry. And I didn’t want to just look at it; I wanted to enter it and climb up into its recesses, to touch it and smell it and look out from every crack to take in the view. I was compelled to check out every secret room and crumbled wall. At every site, I felt the urge to climb as high as I could, to go as far as possible. Because who knows what could be waiting just around the corner, or on the highest point of the cliff? It’s not the same as having a local or an expert tell you all about it. Sometimes, just like babies, we must discover the mysteries for ourselves. And sometimes, along the way, we discover something that no one else has.
Discovery is directly linked to creativity. We create to discover, just like the infant whose curiosity leads him into hands-on investigations, not classroom lectures. In our creating, we must constantly ask the what if questions and dare to act on them, like a baby who isn’t afraid to unpack her own questions by risking interaction.
So, as we paint, choreograph, take a photo, write, design, act, we ask:
I wonder what would happen if I went there? (insert crazy idea)
I wonder what would happen if I told this story in a different way?
I wonder what would happen if I brushed this color here?
I wonder what would happen if I thrust my leg out like this and then my head followed
I wonder what would happen if I waited a few more minutes before taking this shot?
I wonder what would happen if I combined this with this?
I wonder what would happen if I told that dangerous story? If I jotted that daring lyric?
What if I made something beautiful out of this chaotic mess?
Creative people, I urge you, GO THERE.
My friend Ray Hughes, a musician and international traveler and speaker, has said often that a storyteller is a guardian of memory. I think this definition can be applied to any kind of artist. Artists guard the memories of a culture, of the times, of people and events. Artists are record keepers, but not in the menial sense. Creative people who have broken beyond the restrictions of their fears are the ones who dare to ask what if? What if telling this story from this angle could change someone’s life? What if this color on this canvas could brush healing into someone’s heart? What if I take what I see, all the hurt and the pain and the horrible stories of human suffering, and made it into something that reminded people who they really are? What if I inserted hope into this dark mess? What if all these chaotic, flinging movements came together to form a beautiful story? A reflection of a people’s soul. A piece of art that mirrored the fact that we’re never alone.
Friends, this is why we create. We create to offer pockets of beauty, havens of safety where people can rediscover the curious and hopeful child within. We create to guard and preserve the memories that must not be forgotten, and to heal the ones that ache. We create to unite divided factions and to remind peoples of their identity. And we create to discover new ways of interacting with the world, with God, and with each other; we create to uncover uncharted territory, even that which has been claimed to have already been mapped out. We create to pave new roads on old soil.
What if one line of poetry possessed the power to infuse hope into a despairing heart? What if one song carried a note so poignant an entire region was set on fire to dream again?
What if, what if…