“You’re not creative.”

Has anyone ever said something that caused you to question the very essence of who you are and your place in the world?

I experienced one such time last week, when I was told by someone, “You’re not creative.” It stung. More than I would have liked it to. The next few days involved this line as a soundtrack to my daily tasks. Adding extra salt to the cookies before they went in the oven: You’re not creative. Maybe I should start writing again: But you’re not creative. Watching makeup artistry on YouTube, thinking I should pull out my shadows and have a crack: You’re not creative, etc. etc. 

I would like to think that anyone who knows me would know how inaccurate a comment like this is. Not that I have to justify myself (although who am I kidding, that’s essentially what this post is), but I grew up writing stories, playing with my Barbies, dressing my cat up in baby clothes and playing pretend, colouring, drawing, playing flute and then later, piano, singing, acting, going to drama school in New York for christ’s sake. I cohost a film and tv review podcast! Art is my life! I knew in myself how untrue it was, so why did it hurt so much? 

Of course, put into context, a person without mental health disorders and roaring insecurities would pass this off as a simple thing said to demonstrate the bigger point. Without identifying anyone, I’ll give you the whole quote: “You know, you’re not creative. Not like [Gregory], who is really creative. You’re better at the planning and organising and things like that.” 

Wow, a compliment buried in a sentence where all I can see is the criticism? Don’t worry, I’ll take that up with my therapist. But put into context, it’s easier to see the comparison the person was drawing. It was in relation to how my brain works as opposed to someone else’s. 

But it’s got me thinking why people often consider creativity and organisation as binary things. You can either be creative or organised. Either type A or type B. Everyone knows that the true creatives swan in at 10am, have forgotten half of the things they were supposed to do that day because they were just so. damn. inspired. making their breakfast. (This person is wearing long, lavish scarves in my scenario – hope that aligns with what you’re picturing.)

I reject this binary. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I think it is possible to be creative while showing restraint. I think it is possible for me to know when meetings are scheduled and also enjoy graphic design. The difference between me and this other person, who is essentially a stand-in for the public perception of what our idea of a “creative person” is, is that I work in the constraints that are set for me. We’ve decided on a colour scheme, so having that boundary, I will operate within it to design something that fits the parameters. I’m not out here with rainbow colours, and maybe that’s my problem. 

I think the real reason why the comment stings so much even now is that I’m afraid they’re right. I haven’t done any creative writing since completing my degree. I have fallen into a structured 9–5 job again. I have toned down my makeup to something that doesn’t draw attention. Maybe I’m not creative. Maybe this thing, this concept that I held up as a load-bearing pillar on the personality island I define myself by (see! A metaphor! I can use symbolism!), isn’t there at all. Maybe it’s crumbling, or degraded, fallen out of use like an abandoned amusement park (I’ll stop now). Maybe it was never there. 

To say it’s caused a mid-life crisis isn’t quite accurate – it’s more rolled into the one that’s been running continually for the last few years – but it has got me questioning. 

What do you define yourself by? Has anyone questioned it? Does it even matter what other people think? Why do we need to label these things anyway? 

For now, I will ruminate. I will vow to show my creativity externally, performatively perhaps, until I correct the external perception of my personality. I will continue to define myself as creative. Because that’s not really something someone else gets to tell you. 

PS: When I told Lonnie about this, he very helpfully shared the following clip with me. I guess I’m Batman now.

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