Over at Make and Meaning today, Diane posted a video of Jamie Oliver talking about the mission he’s on to use his creativity as a chef (and the visibility he’s gained) to educate people about food so they can live more healthfully. It’s an outstanding talk, well worth twenty minutes of your time.
What if you had a sense of mission about your creative work? Can you look at your talents and see how they might contribute to a better world?
I’ve always been on a mission. In interviews over the years I’ve mentioned aspects of it, but today seems like a good day to really hash it out.
There are two things that drive me over any others: valuing human beings and celebrating the absurd. In many ways, these two things form the core of the value system I live by, and so they certainly inform every creative decision I make.
In my mind, a better world would be one in which people respect and value each other as equals deserving of opportunity, regardless of sex, gender, skin colour, religious belief or lack thereof, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, race, or any other factor other than their behaviour. And it’s a world where people enjoy themselves and others and create goodness through their actions.
I’m woozy in love with people. I really am. And I almost always feel uncontrollably compelled to root for the underdog. One of the primary reasons I worked for five years so passionately in crochet is that crochet is the underdog. And the ways people tend to undervalue crochet are to a great extent parallel to the ways people tend to undervalue other people. Crochet, as a fibre craft, is the person whose potential is insulted or ignored because of the way they dress, the language they speak, the colour of their skin, the place they come from. The judgment is unfair and shows a fundamental lack of respect and creativity.
Just like a person’s value as a human being isn’t affected by how they look or where they were born, a craft or a medium doesn’t consist of a finite set of expressions and its potential isn’t limited to the ways it’s been used in the past. A craft or a medium has infinite potential, as we see when they’re practiced or used by people who see possibility instead of limitation. Human beings are the same way, and the costs of arbitrarily perceiving limits in our human potential are catastrophic.
In addition to rooting for crochet as the underdog craft – and in advocating not just for it as a craft but also using it as an entrée into talking to people about the freedom of creativity – I also got to, and still get to, talk to a huge number of women. And you know what a lot of women say when they’re crafting? Paul wrote about this a while back at Make and Meaning, too, though not specifically about women. They say things like, “Oh, I wish I could make something as beautiful as that. I’m so uncreative.” And they say, “Let me ask my hubby if I can get some of that.” And they say, “I could never do that.”
I’ve had the privilege and the opportunity to tell these women: Bullshit. I’ve been able to ask them, “Why do you need permission from someone else to try something new?” “Who told you you can’t do that? Was it you? Tell yourself to be quiet because you have new things to try.”
In the best of these circumstances, we hold ourselves back. In the worst of circumstances we hold ourselves down. In the most infuriating of circumstances, other people stand in our way. And it doesn’t have to be so. Crochet and crafts are my vehicle for talking about empowering people to make decisions for themselves, to take creative risks and to value their imagination. It’s these fundamental bits of humanity that I think are pretty much the most important things on earth.
And yes, I balance all that out with a passion for the absurd. If you can’t indulge a whim or laugh at an uncontrollable obstacle, you lose perspective. Fun is important. Humour is important. Imagination is tied in with it all, and that’s important. If we deny ourselves the absurd, we deny ourselves the opportunity to see what’s not in front of us. And in failing to see what’s not in front of us, we stay stuck where we are. Talk about missing potential. Yow.
At the heart of it – at the heart of me – are these two values. Some people have god. I have people and the absurd. They serve me and I serve them.
When I’m true to them, I’m true to myself and the work I do resonates most with others.
Funny how that happens.