What does creativity mean, really?

What does it mean to be creative? Why does it matter? Why are artists and musicians and poets the types who seemingly obsess over creativity while everyone else goes about their business, paying the bills and enjoying some of what the artists and musicians and poets create?

I think I know, hear me out. Creativity is what happens when you create, usually something unique and worthwhile. Consumables. Macaroni and Cheese is a creative thing. So is American Idol.

But wait, is that right?

Creativity isn’t just about creation. It feels like there’s something more to it than that. Oh! Maybe it’s a feeling? There’s definitely something going on in our brains that makes it all possible, to create something from nothing. To throw some colors onto something else and see what it resembles, or to put words on a page and see what happens to our imaginations as a result.

It’s a science! There’s a process in the brain which drives new ideas forward, and those ideas influence how and why each of us live, or imagine, or believe. The lightbulb, airplanes, automobiles, the iPhone, wax paper, running shoes, and the nicknames we were called when we were younger are all creative ideas because they influence the world, even if it’s just “our” little world.

The best ideas feel good. They help us to be happier and healthier, they empower us and others. Not all ideas are good ones of course, some are the inverse (hurting us or taking power away from others). Some ideas are downright impossible to convey, or make real. We generally call these ideas bad. Some ideas are big, even daunting, while others are small and go unnoticed, like realizing you can make more space in your room for art supplies if you just pick up all your dirty socks.

But really, everything is an idea. Isn’t it? Creative ideas are the ones that are both good and novel.

But novelty is a finicky thing. Ideas can exist for a very short time or a very, very, very long time. After a long enough time all really good and creative ideas become just a way of life. Like jobs, or chocolate chip cookies. Bad ideas become memories, or dreams, or coulda-woulda-shoulda-beens.

There is some science to it all, it seems. It’s all very brain-y, both in how ideas come about and how they’re consumed or interpreted or propped up.

So there’s some science stuff happening in our heads that helps us to think of creative ideas because we want things to be simpler, easier, better, and… well, magical.

There is some magic to creativity after all, not just science.

How do we know what consciousness is? We don’t! We have some idea but we don’t really know. It’s magic by definition. Where we go when we die? Do ants cry? How many words does it take to write a really great novel? Why would anyone write a novel in the first place? What will it take to preserve humanity for all time? How can we travel through the cosmos? What if we spent one hour less watching TV and playing video games and instead spent one hour more reading, walking around, or doodling?

These are all questions we just don’t know the answers too. But we want to better understand, because how could we not? How could we not look up at the moon in the middle of the night and wonder what makes it stay up there like that, just floating where everyone can see it? Or feel the wind in our face and think about how bonkers it is that we live on this massive chunk of rock flying through space at 66,000 miles an hour? Or read a really great story and feel like we lived through it with the characters? Or kiss and feel a rush of energy? Or to really just live?

Creativity can help us understand, I think. It helps us discover and enjoy, question and explore, build, tinker, and really live. But it requires that we first imagine and step into the unknown to begin with.

What a scary thought, stepping into the unknown. The unknown might kill us. It might hurt. But it also might not.

You know what doesn’t hurt? Playing. Rock-paper-scissoring lunch options, or hop-scotching your way across the parking lot, or pretending you’re someone you’re not even though it’s really obvious you’re not them.

Play allows us to ignore reality long enough to see what happens if we take a leap into the unknown. And if we fail, stumble, or get hurt, we can merely brush ourselves off and shout: “Doesn’t matter, I was just playing anyway.”

So maybe creativity is a little bit science and a little bit magic. It’s a way to experience life in a unique and energizing way. It gives us an excuse to wonder, to not accept our reality for what it is but for what it can be.

Creativity is, I guess, being alive.