I’m not very mature.
A bit deep, but not mature.
It’s not just me - I’m surrounded by fully-grown children every day at the ad agency. Wondrous creative minds that just refuse to ever really grow up.
There’s the mother of two that writes a blog about ‘failing’ at being a Mom – hilariously. (Though I suspect she’s actually a very good one.)
The man who lives for his creative work. And infantile pranks, despite being in his late forties.
The other almost-quinquagenarian who asked his wife the other day if they are too old now to go to a certain music festival and spend a weekend frolicking in mud. (She said yes, they were, but I have a feeling they’ll end up going anyway.)
The on-the-cusp-of-middle-aged comic book artist who draws and doodles the way we all breathe. All the time and like his life depends on it.
Then there’s me – a 37-year-old man-boy who looks on in genuine awe at anyone who manages to raise children while simultaneously taking care of themselves and being in any way productive.
As creative people, we all walk a bit of a tightrope each day of our lives. On the one hand, we need to pay the bills, maintain acceptable levels of hygiene, and interact with sensible, adult members of society on a daily basis. On the other hand, we can’t go growing up too much. If we did, we might miss something. We might not make the weird connections between things that lead to creative magic. We might – heaven forbid – look at things normally.
“Decision-making based on emotional intuition, without the aid of reason to keep it in line, pretty much always sucks. You know who bases their entire lives on their emotions? Three-year-old kids. And dogs. You know what else three-year-olds and dogs do? Shit on the carpet.”
- Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
For sure, a life lived by the guiding light of our jittery emotions can be a dangerous thing. Kids get to feel and react, unfiltered. Adults have to feel, run the emotions through a network of internal analytics, then react appropriately. Creatives have to do both, but also hold on to the things that situations and interactions and observations make us feel, put those feelings into a little bottle, then uncork that shit in some meaningful way before it bubbles over and consumes us.
But we can’t – we mustn’t – stop seeing the world through childlike eyes.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you. Because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’
- Roald Dahl
If you have kids, or are human and have been around some, or even remember what it was like to be one, you’ll know what ‘childlike wonder’ is all about. Kids are amazed by everything. So much is so new, every single day. Wow – to have that feeling again.
I often refer to it as ‘seeing the river through the cracks’ because one day about a year or so ago, I was at the park and there was this little kid – just a toddler – bent over on the footbridge, fighting to get his eye as close to the ground as possible without toppling over. When we got near, his parents explained that he’d noticed the water flowing between the spaces in the bridge’s wooden planks and was mesmerized by seeing the river through the cracks.
Seeing the world in a childlike way comes easier to some than to others. Put simply, weird people are better at it. No, really, there’s science behind this. Dr. Shelley Carson coined the term ‘cognitive disinhibition’; a trait she found to be more common among creative (weird) people. Cognitive disinhibition is “the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or to survival,” and most people filter this stuff out. Creative weirdos, on the other hand, spend most of their time with a bunch of largely trivial things bouncing through their minds at once.
In her 2003 study, Carson found that creative people are about seven times more likely to have a low level of latent inhibition (the kind that clues in to the critical goal-oriented and survival stuff) and a higher level of that sweet, sweet cognitive disinhibition, compared to ‘non-creative’ people.
It’s not that the ‘non-creatives’ are completely incapable of creative thinking, but it is more difficult for their rational brains to look at things in an altered way. It’s this ability of naturally creative people to tune into everything around them that is key to their creativity. They can let all their sensory experiences slosh around in their noggins until something new is made. Original connections and associations can be forged, and this is the petri dish of creativity.
It’s also what almost drives us nuts on a daily basis, and why we probably appear pretty immature to many other grown adults.