The Cat’s Just Fine: Creativity and Curiosity

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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.

A-DNA,_B-DNA_and_Z-DNA

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.

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