The Cat’s Just Fine: Creativity and Curiosity


When I lived overseas, I had two cats – Genghis and Bisa.  Bisa was the naughty one – the one who would get into everything, knock things down, jump on me just to get my attention, and so forth.  I loved her dearly.  I have to say, the age-old adage “Curiosity killed the cat” is just not true in my experience.  To this day, she is doing just fine, following her new owner to the market and wreaking havoc in her house just as she did in mine.  I’m glad.  Curiosity has served her well, as I believe it does for most people.  And naturally, there is no doubt that creativity is directly correlated to curiosity.  Perhaps they are two things that have benefitted humanity most.

I think there may be a belief out in the ether that only certain jobs or hobbies require creativity.  I think all jobs and other activities in life require creativity.  Humans are problem-solvers, and to solve problems we need to be creative.  I wish I were more creative more often.  For people on medication, like myself, there is often a fear of losing creativity.  In Diana Spechler’s article, “Reducing my Dose, Unblocking my Muse” in the New York Times, she writes that her writing was hampered by all the drugs she took for anxiety and depression.  “From the time I started taking medication, until recently, the words were stuck inside me.  I had to force them out,” she writes.  “On meds, I’m sealed off:  nothing can come out of me – graceful sentences, anger, tears – and not much can enter, either; nothing can hurt too badly.  I don’t want to live like that.”

pill holder

I’m guessing she’s on the wrong drugs or the wrong doses, as some suggested in the comments section.  Instead of taking all the drugs she was supposed to, she decided to go to a medicine man in Mexico where she spent a lot of time in sweat lodges.  She admits it’s not a permanent fix for depression, but for a time it works.  She says she can’t rely on one remedy.  And, after the sweat lodges, she says she can write again.   I can understand her quest, especially since she hasn’t found a cocktail that works for her – one that allows her to be sane and to write.

Sometimes I worry that I’m too doped up to write anything good.  I am loathe, however, to mess with my medications knowing how long it took to find the right doses for my level of insanity.  Some people think being manic must be great – all that unbridled energy.  It’s true I was energetic, but it was unproductive.  The more manic I was, the less I would write.

If you’re struggling with medicine and creativity, I recommend Ellen Fornay’s book Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me.  Terri Cheney’s book Manic: A Memoir about what it’s like to be bipolar and not being able to find the right meds is also good.

I was at a writing conference a few weeks ago, and during a panel I overcame my shyness and asked of the authors – Did they write every day?  Should a writer write every day?  Their answer:  Yes and yes.  I confess I don’t write every day, and I feel shitty about it, but I don’t function that way.  It’s true that I’m always thinking about how I could phrase a moment, or trying out story ideas in my mind.  Sometimes, though, I feel like my creativity is at low tide.  I don’t think I can blame my medication.  I think creativity just ebbs and flows, and it’s hard to control – at least for me.


On the bright side, I think I remain curious.  Since fiction is made from life, it’s good to stay curious about the world around us, the people we know and meet.  “People live so differently,” a character from an Anthony Trollope novel says.  This should be a source of inspiration.  Even though lettuce and humans share the same DNA molecules, the sequencing makes all the difference.  Vast differences in just a little bit of code.  It’s fascinating.

I was struck by a toast my father made at my younger sister’s wedding.  He wished them to “always be curious”.  That is a happy blessing for anyone.  Be curious.  I don’t mean be curious in a petty, mean way – I’m not talking about gossip and judgment.  Curiosity means being interested in someone’s life, their mind, how they tick – because knowing someone more fully can help you know yourself, help you know something about humanity.

Some people are not very curious, and this is sad.  An example:  I was talking with someone about online classes, and he was saying that the biggest problem was Chinese students cheating.  I said I could understand that since that was what I had experienced in five years living in China.  He kind of talked over me, even though I was sure he heard me, and didn’t stop with what he was saying.  In fact, he just kept repeating what he had already said.  I admit, I was a little surprised that he wasn’t even a little curious when I said I had lived in China.  Now let me be clear – I didn’t need to talk about my experiences in China or anywhere else.  I have enough conflicted feelings about living overseas that I don’t like to talk about it very much.  It just seemed strange that he glossed over something interesting and was more concerned with what he had to say.

dalai lama

Needless to say, there are a lot of self-absorbed people in the world.  I realize that’s a little hypocritical of me to say, since I have a blog.  But I am curious about people, and I do care about what they have to say.  Not everyone is like that.  Is it because they’re just not interested in others?  Or are they threatened by other people?  Worried that other people have a better life than they do?  I don’t know.  It’s just too bad, because I think they’re missing out on a lot.

Maybe my cats have the best life – ever-curious, ever-creative in how they approach things.  I would wish that for everyone.

Clothes, Beauty, Trauma

I like clothes.  I like make-up.  But I have to say, I dress for myself, and no one else.  Of course I care what people think of me (far and away too much), but when I get up and get ready for the day, I don’t think about “the male gaze” (or a woman’s gaze for that matter).  I think about what will make me feel good, what looks good on me.  It must be a small curse to feel pressure to dress for someone else.  Or maybe not.  I can imagine some women enjoy dressing “for men”.  I just don’t.

Sorry for my long hiatus.  It’s been a while since I’ve felt strongly enough about something I’ve read to write about it.  Three articles caught my eye in the last two days:  “The Dowdy Patient” by David J. Hellerstein in the NY Times, “How Backpacking Changed the Way I Looked” by Laura Yan in Jezebel (thanks Wendy!), and “Women Who Cover Up (Even as the Temperatures Climb)” by Amy Sohn again in the NY Times.  Obviously, they all deal with body image, beauty, and societal pressures.  I’m also going to write about trauma because unfortunately it often coincides with some of these things.

In Hellerstein’s article, he talks about his “dowdy” patient (he’s a psychiatrist) and how in all the time he worked with her, she wouldn’t change her look.  He says, “Which was a shame, not because I cared how she looked, but because Greta herself so deeply yearned for a romantic relationship.”  Needless to say, Hellerstein was eviscerated in the comments section, and rightly so.  Why didn’t he work with her on possible intimacy issues instead of concentrating on her style of dress? some commenters wrote.  Why did he have in mind some sort of adherence to gender roles and “what men like”? wrote others.  These are good questions.

So it was refreshing to read the other two articles, where Laura Yan describes letting go of some of her clothes fetishes and dressing comfortably when she started to backpack in South America and Asia, and where Sohn interviews women in New York who dress for themselves.  One woman interviewed said “If someone really likes you, they’re going to see how you are anyway.”  Another woman said, “If the goal of dressing is to be accepted by boys and society, that’s kind of ridiculous.”  Sohn’s article, which is mostly an ode to hipsters and fashion, is kind of ridiculous, too, but at least it showed women who weren’t tarting up “for men”, if that’s the goal of tarting up.  However, it did mention the brand American Apparel, so out of curiosity I went to that website.  Indeed, it showed beautiful women with the top half mostly covered, but with short shorts.  I mean REALLY short shorts.  American fashion can’t seem to get enough of some (large) amount of skin.

In Laura Yan’s article, she says that in order to travel the world, “I’d decided to leave behind the New York fantasy I had built for myself, a fantasy built in no small part on clothes.”  Still, she couldn’t bring herself to buy “clumsy, heavy, ugly” hiking shoes until she was truly miserable, and she did bring along her Ferragamo flats.  Yan admitted to loving the “transformative power of clothes”, but cut her hair short, went without make-up, and dressed in tattered clothing even when she got back to New York.  “The only thing I’ve left behind for good is the performance of beauty. . .I don’t spend too much time before the mirror.”

Beauty, and the clothes that help make us beautiful, are such conundrums, such the double-edged sword.  I remember a beautiful woman I knew in college complaining of a local man following her into a computer lab.  Exasperated, she said, “I get that all the time.”  She wasn’t trying to give herself a backhanded compliment.  She was in genuine anguish.  I have often been glad that I’m not considered beautiful, because I couldn’t handle that kind of attention.

I suppose I’m a bit dowdy myself.  I wear clothes, like I said, that I think look good on me.  That flatter (or I think they do).  That suit my age and station in life.  But it could very well be that I’m considered unfashionable and frumpy.  That’s ok.

It could be that Hellerstein’s “dowdy” patient feels the same way.  She might not like the attention that beauty and “looking good” would get her.  In fact, one of the commenters suggested that possibly, since the patient’s mother died when she was young and she was left with a domineering father and three brothers, she might have suffered from some kind of abuse – either physical, emotional, or even sexual.  And this abuse might very well have made her want to be invisible to men.  I related to this suggestion acutely, having been molested by a stranger when I was 10.  I have also been touched inappropriately by a man in a crowded Green Line train in Boston and by a doctor in a hospital, both when I was in my 20s.  It makes sense to me now that I don’t ever “tart up”.  It makes sense to me now that I still don’t know how not to be threatened by men. It makes sense to me now that I suffer from social anxiety.

While not beautiful, I still get a lot of attention.  Mostly it’s from people thinking that I’m gay (in fact I would usually identify as bisexual).  I’m glad that attitudes about same-sex marriage have changed, but that doesn’t mean people are any less homophobic, I’m sorry to say.  Ridiculously, my clothes often come under scrutiny, both from gay and straight people.  A lesbian in my church (she is open about this) said good morning to me and then went up to a man she knew and said, “She’s really a lesbian.  She just doesn’t think she is.”  What else could it be, besides how I dress, how I wear my hair?  Straight people do this a lot, too.  After talking to some people in line behind me in an airport, I turned around and then the man said to the woman, “I hate the ones where you can’t tell if they’re gay or not.”

The way I dress doesn’t make me less or more of anything; it’s just what I like and believe suits me.  I’m not trying to make a statement.  I’m not trying to “convince” anyone of anything, or to “trick” men or women by what I wear.

I suppose I’m a little betwixt and between.  I’m sure there’s a little ambiguity about me, and God knows people HATE ambiguity.  I suppose I straddle different worlds.  I’m almost pretty, but not really pretty.  I’m almost sane (with meds), but not quite sane.  I’m a little gay, but not quite gay.  I was almost raped, but I wasn’t raped.  I straddle things that would make defining me easier, and yet are not definitive in any way.

You’ll notice I didn’t put any pictures in this post.  What would I put?  Models from magazines?  Or pictures of myself, so you, too, can judge me?  Fuck that bullshit.