The word ‘creativity’ scares a lot of people, often because they don’t think they are creative people. The term has been stolen by the media and features heavily in job advertisements, leaving a lot of us feeling that if tested for it, we’d fail. After all, not many of us have managed to successfully establish our own businesses making hand-knitted designer tea-cosies or beauty products made from native plants, and neither have we displayed the lateral thinking skills needed to guide multiple ailing industries out of the downward spiral to bankruptcy.
However, creativity comes in many guises, and in fact it’s probably hard to find someone who isn’t, in one way or another. How many times have you got talking to someone and found that although they live a quite ‘ordinary’ life, they have a wild enthusiasm for something quite unexpected? Your middle-aged neighbour does spectacular cake decoration; a friend’s dad does wood-turning; another friend does calligraphy and makes all her own birthday cards; another one belongs to a local poetry group. It’s perhaps safer, and more productive, for most of us to forget about being creative and think about what we like doing instead. Oddly enough, creative things tend to stem from doing the things we enjoy.
Because of what we are constantly exposed to by the media, it’s also difficult to accept that creativity isn’t necessarily some god-given attribute that a person either has or doesn’t have: it can be learned, and usually is. Beautiful jewellery designs aren’t usually made by people off the street – they’re made by people who have done long apprenticeships in their craft, absorbed the techniques and gradually acquired the knowledge of what can be done with the materials they understand so well. Beautiful gardens aren’t created the first time someone puts spade to soil – they’re done by people who really enjoy putting spade to soil, but have probably made lots of mistakes, planted lots of things in the wrong place and watched them fail to thrive, and gradually picked up more skills because they like being out there in the garden.
A lot of creativity probably depends on either having (or making, if you’re sufficiently driven and obsessed!) the time to muck about and mess around with your enthusiasms. If you’d like to read a wonderful children’s story on the benefits of messing about, try and get hold of “How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen” by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake – a subversive bit of literature if ever you met one, and the kids will love it. Messing about has been severely restricted in the modern world, and many of us are probably suffering badly from it. The current emphasis on getting ahead may just be getting most of us rapidly behind instead.
So go ahead, muck about a bit, with something you find enjoyable. Take some photos, dig out the acrylic paints, unearth the lathe, find the spade, dust off your favourite author and read for inspiration, get out the cookery books. Yes, that last one does count! How many times do experienced cooks actually follow a recipe (after the first attempt)? Just about never, would be the answer. You always tend to find that the cake would be so much nicer with a bit of cinnamon, or an extra egg, or less sugar, or why not add a bit of stewed apple…? Look at your mum’s favourite recipe book and you’re almost guaranteed to find well-known recipes scribbled on and altered. Creativity 101. Without the exam, of course.
Just for the devilment of it, for the cooks, here’s a really basic cake recipe. Why not see what you can do to it? You might just surprise yourself and create a new family classic (for a week or two, until it evolves further). Add things, ice it, turn it into cupcakes – feel free to experiment. If you don’t like what you get, change it!
Lemon (or something) Cake
- 150g softened butter
- 150g sugar
- 3 size 7 eggs
- 1 ¼ cups flour
- 3 level tsp baking powder
- Grated rind of 1 small lemon
- 6 Tbsp milk
Cream butter, sugar and lemon rind.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Mix in dry ingredients and milk.
Bake in a lined, 20 to 23cm round tin (it doesn’t matter too much – one will give you a deeper cake than the other and might take a slightly different time to cook) at 180°C for 45 -60 minutes or until golden brown and firm.
Cool in tin for 5–10 minutes before removing to a wire cake rack.