During my lunch breaks, I run. I change clothes at the office and drive side streets to Green Mountain, five minutes away. This past Wednesday it was probably 80 after a week of rain. I went through my usual routine, driving over to the trailhead.
I passed a woman on my way. She wore a pink lycra shirt, and her pony tail bobbed as she walked. I only saw her back, but I’d place her at around 30. Actually, I have no idea.
More significantly, as I stopped at the next cross-street, I waited for a runner to jog past. He ran across the street, toward me and toward the woman. And as he crossed, he reached his right hand over his left, pulling off his wedding ring and cupping it in his hand. Shocked, I watched his hands. One stayed in a fist, the other hung loose and half-open.
He ran toward this woman in the lycra top and slipped off his wedding ring as he crossed the street.
It’s easy to sit in my car and scoff at him, or judge him, but I wonder: Did he actually have some witty line to say that might attract her? Does he do that whenever he passes a woman? Does he actually have hope something will happen?
Or, did he fight with his wife that morning? Have they stopped fighting altogether? Has he done this before?
This is where the creative life starts. Note, I did not say the creative act. A creative act is only and ever a spilling over of a certain life, a certain way of moving in and seeing this world. No, the creative life is one that sees, that notices the man and his wedding ring. It’s one that questions. It seeks context. It’s an open orientation to the world rather than a closed orientation.
A creative life tells a story about the man, or makes a painting, or develops a philosophy, or writes a song.
These creative acts can only stem from a creative life—a way of living that notices what’s happening and looks for the deeper meaning behind it. In Moby Dick, Melville, through Captain Ahab, writes: “All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask!”
The creative life is the one that seeks to strike beyond the mask. Our creativity isn’t stifled by outside people or events; it’s not stifled by fear. Our creativity is only and ever stifled when we refuse to live this life, when we refuse to see and to strike through the mask, when we distract ourselves from what’s happening behind, or what might be happening.