Curiosity Killed The Cat. Creativity Killed The Squirrel.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.

From light to waters to ground to sky to birds and creatures to soar and swim, I like to think that inspiration struck Him. Yes, he was on a roll, zapping and painting and sculpting a dark nothing into everything. But on the sixth day, God created humans, and I worry the seventh day and billions of years after week one He’s been nervously biting his lip. If His whole vision was a blog post, I wonder if He’s still agonizing over having pressed Publish.

   In my two years as co-creator of a feisty child, I’ve spent a lot of time in the makeshift species research laboratory known as the playground. I leave my white coat and latex gloves at home as it tends to spook the specimens, but manage to collect quality data nonetheless. The simple study on Mom Jeans concluded that there is, in fact, a direct correlation between elastic waistbands and overall frump level. A thrilling two-week look at which litter is most likely to be plucked from the grass and fondled or chewed by juveniles resulted in my kid catching a mystery ailment that seemed a lot like a venereal disease. One doctor’s trip assured me that he had a diaper rash, and it probably didn’t come from licking remnants of frosting-covered candles left in a pavilion after a stranger child’s birthday party. Back to work in the name of science, we returned to the park and my young Research Assistant spent the afternoon testing slide momentum. It wasn’t until a fateful journey to the land of slides and swings last week that I made a most shocking discovery.

A group of older girls and boys engaged in what looks like child’s play. They run. They jump. They giggle and holler at one another at increased volumes as “outside voices” are indeed permitted whilst outdoors. My son follows them around, fascinated with their laughter and words so foreign to his native babble tongue. I inch closer, hoping to prevent him from following their lead if their lead is jumping from the top of a 10-foot structure. I stay quiet and mostly out of sight save for an arm ready to catch my toddler mid-flight.

      Then it happens, years of faith in the brilliantly inventive minds of children unraveling before my eyes. Her name was Lucy. She wore a pink dress. She hung off monkey bars from bony knees. She was missing her front teeth.Even with her temporary lisp, she would be the one who turned my beliefs upside down. Lucy, bloomers gleaming in the sun, invited her friends to play “house”. I stood near her mother as the kids were given roles. My wobbly toddler was allotted the spot of  baby. Solid casting, I thought. Lucy, the mom, seemed to be making dinner for her brood before instructing them it was bath time. She made a whooshing sound through her toothless gums and informed the kids to wash their wieners. She fake patted them dry and put them to bed. She certainly has an eye for detail, I thought of her care to include dirty boy bits in the scrub-a-dub routine. The grand finale was Lucy’s loud dialogue with the seven-year-old “dad”. She wanted to know why he kissed another mom and when he was going to stop drinking and then they hugged to show they’d made up and then mom and dad were fine, not to worry little ones, and then she was ready for the sex part. The setting quickly changed from house to jungle, the tiny trendsetter decided, and the children needed to decide what to do when they got hungry and what should happen when one or more of them died. I’d lured my clueless boy away before they had a chance to use him as a sacrifice to the snack gods. With an uncomfortable gulp, I passed by Lucy’s mother. She clasped her hands together, chuckled in delight, and proclaimed “Oh! She has such an imagination!”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my professional analysis of this playground experiment. The tests are in, your little lady is probably a serial killer,  and what at first seemed like a tot-sized game of make-believe, has spiraled into a disturbing warning against fostering creativity in children.

During the drive home, I eyed my wild-brained little one in the back seat, entertaining himself with an empty juice box and a box of wipes. He giggled. I whimpered. Having been raised by parents who encouraged me to dance and paint and show the very oddness that was me, I’d learned long ago that a creative mind was a gift never to be hidden. As my parents did and do,  I wish my child a brain so full of wonder and thought that it spills into making, doing, starting, creating. But what if us fans of imagination are horribly mistaken?

All at once a lifetime of examples washed over me. Bad, bad horrible awfulness packaged and sold as creativity:

Lady Gaga– Sometimes my soul dies a little when I realize we are of the same species. If meat dresses and animal blood and dark, dark sinister videos plopped atop techno dance beats is creativity, then count me out.

Spray Tan– A sun-kissed glow without exposure to the sun’s harmful rays started off sounding like a brilliant, new concept. Then toddlers got dangled by their little child-wrists and shot down by an icy cold bottle of Tahitian Bronze Beauty in the name of pageantry. Also the Jersey shore has the whole Orange Wave phenomenon going on.

Lady Gaga

Squirrel Girl- THIS.

Because sometimes having a mentally placid child content to stare at wooden blocks doesn’t really sound all that bad.

Lady Gaga

Scales– Did I really need the know the exact number behind the junk in my trunk?

Lady Gaga

Me– An out-of-the-box mentality ensured that the neon-shorts-with-loafers ensemble I’ve been sporting since conception wasn’t heinous so much as pleasantly eccentric. See Exhibits B through 12 on this very blog, where a game involving superpowers and tampons made perfect sense to my creative brain, I tried to buy a coffin as a genius gag gift, and often write abstract posts about how to make people think you are an awful human being.

I also don’t understand what prompted the unnecessary creation of cats or war. I mostly can’t find artistic value in Ke$ha or those airbrushed souvenir shirts. Sometimes I think the innovator behind bike helmets just wanted to point and laugh at the big noggin-ed dummies riding by. Also underpants are dumb.

Upon pulling into the drive, I’d convinced myself that ingenuity had no place in this world. We would lead a vanilla life, a bland and boring routine centered around numbers and facts and unoriginal rules. We would eat vegetables and read Newsweek and brush our teeth. We would never run that risk of envisioning a masterpiece and putting forth a disaster instead. We would…

My son had pulled a box from the garage. His mind is racing, fingers fidgeting the cardboard edges, his eyes darting to and fro with a plan in mind I cannot see. He is determined and focused as he folds and tears, climbs and fastens. He leads me by the hand to his newest creation. Without words he points and laughs, explains his vision. We crawl inside, and I see it. All the worth in the world. Small hands crafted nothing into a sacred fort, a castle, a refuge, a cave. He closed the makeshift door. I asked him why he needed a new place when a perfectly proper stack of sofa cushions awaited us inside. Was a simple box really better? Somewhere between his excited claps I could have sworn I heard him sayThe House That Clever Built

One hour later, the young artist proves innovation has a lot to show for itself. God created the heavens and the earth and little fleshy blobs with brains meant for always doing more. Sumerians thought to get that Mesopotamian party started right when they created beer. Michelangelo was versatile enough to win the title Renaissance Man. Marion Donovan’s light bulb flickered and put forth disposable diapers into the world. Can I get a mama amen? And that saintly Percy Spencer ensured that I can ditch the apron and microwave supper. The brilliant mind of Steve Jobs thought to change things, and that trail blazed we function a little easier everyday. We don’t often realize that things can be better until an innovative soul says “Yes. Here’s how”.

What good creativity has inspired you lately? What bad creativity makes you cringe?


32 thoughts on “Curiosity Killed The Cat. Creativity Killed The Squirrel.

  1. I think you should just eliminate the middle man, collect all the demographic data on “she-who-will-star-on-America’s-Most-Wanted” and forward it to the Feds PRONTO! Just the “wiener-washing” moment made my skin crawl – that girl is one step short of BAT-CRAP-CRAZY!
    Creative positive innovation? Mr. Jobs, a classic example of the “see what is and ask why not” type that steered me towards computers, ending up with me in this Technicolour-of-crazy funhouse.
    Uncreative negative inspiration? “Jersey Shore”. If there could only be ONE moment in time undone by a Time Machine, this is IT!

  2. I am wiping tears. The Lucy paragraph is priceless writing. PRICELESS.

    Good creativity: reading other writing and expanding my own writing horizons. Bad creativity: I’m going to go with you and say Lady Gaga. She can sing, but the rest of it is garbage.

  3. “One day she woke up and decided to color outside of the lines.” Love that saying and image. Staying inside the lines doesn’t always serve us well. Good for Lucy.

  4. Lucy is a bit alarming. Not sure what to think of the weiner washing, but I did get a laugh out of her “creativity” (i.e., putting her parents’ arguments center-stage.) I’ve had the kids pipe up with with comments out of context that have forced me to do lots of explaining 🙂

    Let’s just hope Lucy doesn’t decide to play doctor…

  5. Wow, Tori, you packed a lot of creativity into this post!

    To answer your question, I’m having one of those days where almost all music has been inspiring me, as if I can just absorb it and do whatever I want to do better because of it.

    As for bad creativity, I was pretty grossed out by Conoco Phillips when I saw their new commercial designed to cloud the issues and make us feel stupid to think that their dangerous practices actually hurt anyone.

    I’m sure the look on my face as I read about Lucy, showed my shock at what must be happening at her house, whether it be family based inspiration for the extreme inappropriateness she exhibited or the sad choices her parents make for family TV viewing. I managed to get my mouth closed just before writing this comment.

    One last thing, except for some misguided choices (I actually wrote a post in September 2010 about that meat dress) I like how Gaga manages to get her little monsters talking about accepting their fellow human beings and accepting themselves, and how she opens them up to the spectrum of fine art. In regard to her missteps, as with a lot of art, I mostly avert my eyes (or ears) when I’m not into it. (“Just Dance” has been one of my favorite dance tunes since before she hit it big.)

    Cool place you’ve got here.

  6. I have to admit that I find that most of what goes in the name of creativity these days is somewhat an abuse of the concept — fashion, upholstery, curtains, variety of colas, dog dresses, make-up “ideas”, economic solutions. The list is endless. Lady Gaga is a pertinent example of where the society is heading towards.

    Lucy’s rather startling imagination is nothing compared to her mother’s even more startling rejoicing.

    Just one of the many examples of good creativity is the conceptualisation of Super and Mini Doot (that’s ingenious). These are the things that make this world continue to spin and create magical seasons, Tori. Keep it up!

  7. This is a brilliant post- I especially like the house-play bit. I have a confession to make. It’s nearly 3 AM and I just finished organizing my pantry and fridge. My eyes are glazed over and I’m half asleep. When I read the title of your post in my email inbox, I could’ve sworn it said, “Corduroy killed the Cat” and my first thought was, “I’ve gotta read how Tori tied those two together.” And here I am. Not at all about corduroy- but brilliant, nontheless. haha!

  8. I’m stuck on the dead squirrel clip. My mom wouldn’t even let me pick up money from the ground (not that anyone was dropping cash in my path, mind you). If my mom were still alive, she would die if she watched that.

  9. Now, while there is a fine line between creativity and insanity, I would argue that people who stifle their creativity are more apt to turn out to be serial killers than those who embrace their creativity. (Obviously, as my life’s work seems to be promoting creative thinking, I have to say that). That said, I am always disturbed by children who play house the way you described, because I don’t see it so much as creativity as about mimicking what they see at home. When she moved to the jungle, her creativity kicked in, but before that . . . creepy.

    Another brilliant post Tori.

  10. I just want to take squirrel girl to the ER for a healthy series of rabies vaccinations.

    Your wee one is sure to be one super creative little boy with a mamma like you! Just keep him far, far away from the Lucys of the world! Lucy is either seeing that behavior at home, or her mom has been expanding the little darling’s creativity by letting her watch too many soap operas.

    You’re such a wonderful writer!

    1. I believe lucy is. The next housewife of jackson tn!… give her a few more years. I think the moms reaction ot non reaction is the worst part. I can just see you crawling in a box with your lil guy. Its so great to experience life through their eyes. You seem to always inspire him to be Thomas and that’s the greatest gift you can give him! Great post!

  11. And that is why it doesn’t bother me when my daughter skips the other playground hooligans and plays with her sister instead!

    I seriously think that next Christmas I’m going to skip the products and just collect a bunch of BOXES to put under the tree…that’s all they play with anyways!

  12. Not sure why my earlier comment attached to sprinkles but oh well I guess that’s what happens when you use wordpress on your smart phone!

  13. Oh. My. God. Sorry, I’m all for creative kids, but I’m still caught up on Lucy. First of all, I would die of embarrassment if my daughter were orchestrating “house” games involving relationship triangles and infidelity. I mean, holy hell! And second of all…. holy hell! I’m a big fan of paint-spattered kids surrounded by lego, gears, science, mud, worms, empty boxes and action-hero capes. But there IS a limit, you know?

  14. That squirrel video is wild. I couldn’t hear the part about how the squirrel died, but I’m filling in blanks and guessing she hit it over the head with something.

  15. Wow, what a playground story. I am officially creeped out. I often wonder what these mothers are thinking, when they take their kids to the playgrounds. Half don’t watch their kids, half are on their cell phones or texting and half encourage these odd behaviors. (Yes, that’s too many halves.) In any event, sounds like your little guy escaped unscathed. And I enjoyed reading your thoughts on creativity. So glad to hear your parents encouraged it in you, and I know you are passing along that gift to your son.

  16. I looove the squirrel girl! So fearless! And loving, even of a dead creature. And I love that the camera man (dad?) Did not freak.
    Your blog always gives me a lift. Your observations crack me up! Thanks for shining your light!

    1. I’m so impressed and grossed out at the same time. On one hand, I want to high-five the dad for having a calm sense of humor about it. On the other hand I want to smack that filthy squirrel out of her hands. Thanks for reading 🙂

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