Creativity is Subversive.

This post is by Heather Caliri, regular contributor to The Happiest Home and blogger at A Little Yes. Heather writes about saying “yes” to little things that scare us. You can read all her posts here.

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I was embarrassed when my neighbors knocked on the door. I wasn’t sure if I’d combed my hair that morning, and I was wearing ratty pants and an stained camisole.

But what really embarrassed me were the paintings on the floor inside.

I opened the door. “Sorry, the girls are gone,” I told Matt and his two daughters. “They’ll be back later today.”

His girls, who usually wander in and out of our house all weekend, slipped past me into the front room.

“What’s that?” one of them asked.

There were three canvases covered in a turquoise paint, and white stencil letters in Garamond font scattered around the drop cloth. I was placing the letters along the top of the blue canvas, laboriously tracing the edges.

I smiled at her, trying not to let my sheepishness show. “I’m working on an art project.”

Matt glanced inside too. “Nice,” he said. “What’s this for?”

“I’m going to put it up in our room,” I said. “There’s a big empty wall to fill.” I didn’t say how I had imagined the painting in my mind, how the idea of looking at it every morning it made me yearn to finish. I didn’t say how much I wanted–needed–my idea to work. “I figured it would be easier to do while the girls were gone.”

He smiled—Matt is nothing if not affable. “Probably wise,” he said. “Enjoy your project!” Then he gathered the girls and left me to my work. 

I’m not an artist. This is what I tell myself every time I feel the itch to paint something or get out a pan of watercolors.

My sister is an artist—with an actual degree and an art-related job. Once she spent a few minutes drawing with my girls. She took some crayons in seemingly random colors and made little swirly doodles all over a sheet of paper and presto-chango, she had produced something beautiful.

That’s not me.

As a kid, I was obsessed by calligraphy, and I will always and forever be obsessed by words, and so every once in a while I’ll come across a quote that moves me and I feel an urge to put it on paper or canvas and make it art.

I struggle with that word, art. I struggle with the word artist. I hesitate to hang things I make up on my walls because I’m not sure they’re good enough.

But then I do, and it makes a little joyful ping in my heart.

The more I make things: a grocery bag out of scraps of fabric, a watercolor sketch of my favorite teacup, an essay crafted and sent off to a publication, a from-scratch feast for friends—the more I realize that making things is powerful.

Making things changes you.

Making things is subversive.

Here’s what happens when I make things:

  1. I decide I’m good enough, just as I am, to try something new. I decide whatever skills I possess are worth using for something. I let go of embarrassment about all the ways I fall short—my lack of acrylic technique, my unfamiliarity with a certain cut of meat. I trust myself to pull something difficult off for the first time. I decide that even if I don’t feel like an “artist” or a “writer” or a “seamstress” I will act like one anyway.
    It’s hard to affirm your nascent skills in this way. It takes chutzpah to try.
  2. I decide my ideas are worth my time. I set aside time to try the recipe, to make the dress, to edit the essay. No one will congratulate me for finishing, and I could just as easily not bother. But no—there’s pleasure in creativity, in trying, and in using my hands.
    When I make things, I affirm that there’s enough time for beauty.
  3. I say to the world that my contribution matters. I affirm to my writing is worth sharing. I affirm that my calligraphy is pretty enough to look at. And I am telling everyone that I am passionate about my ideas. I care enough to make them come true.
    It can be scary to make it clear to everyone that we care so deeply.

No wonder I felt a little sheepish about my neighbors seeing my work. Just making it takes bravery—and braver still is sharing it.

It’s worth it to remind yourself that it’s okay to feel nervous, frightened, or sheepish about trying. It’s natural. I have to remember that I’m being brave every time I pick up a paintbrush or thread my sewing machine.

If we wait to start when we feel brave, or when we feel like an artist or a good cook or a writer or a photographer or a seamstress or gardener, we’ll never start. So we need to start imperfect, and soon.

Creativity is subversive. Everyday bravery is too. Both of them combined? They’ll change you, one brushstroke or homemade meal at a time.

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  1. Wall Art
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