The memory is seared into my brain.* I think I was about nine and a half, though I may have been a year older. It was January. I can still picture my bulletin board in my room before I took it down and ripped off everything on it, crying uncontrollably, sobbing hysterically, caught up in a frenzy of shame and hurt ...
I was the fourth male child born to my parents, the third surviving son. Whereas my two older brothers were athletic and not very interested in books, music or art, I was just the opposite.
One of the earliest expressions of my creativity was when I took to rearranging the furniture in the living rooms of my mother’s friends. At that point, I was a pre-schooler. When I was six, I started piano lessons. Voice lessons came later. I suppose I liked to draw, but after I learned to read, my chief love was reading and, later, writing. I recall writing my first multi-chapter novel – a mystery – when I was in third grade. (Boy do I wish I still had that.)
Just before 4th grade, my family moved to a new town, to a new house (pictured above; the room I shared with my brother was upstairs on the right). My brother Danny – with whom I shared a room from birth until 7th grade – and I had been given bulletin boards for Christmas the year before, and I enjoyed decorating my bulletin board like the teachers did at school.
Each month had a different theme – just like at school – and I recall walking down to the office supply store in town to purchase (with my allowance money) colored construction paper as well as cardboard cut-outs of leaves, witches, pumpkins, pilgrims, etc., to use on my bulletin board. This was one of the chief ways in which I expressed my creativity.
I can still recall the scene on that January bulletin board. It featured black tree limbs, tinged with snow, and a frozen pond with a lone skater that I had drawn.
One night at dinner that month, my father made a comment to me about my bulletin board. I cannot remember what he said, but whatever it was, it was deeply painful to me. I suppose it must have touched on my own fears that I was a “sissy”; I simply cannot imagine anything else provoking such a strong response. I ran upstairs to my room and proceeded to tear up the bulletin board, and I never again created another one.
Why am I telling this story? Because it, more than anything else in my childhood, instilled in me a distrust of my creative side. I think a part of me died that cold January night.
Though I would later recommence my piano lessons and eventually learn to play the clarinet, I never again trusted myself to give full vent to my inner creativity. To the extent I did, it was closely connected with “practicality”; e.g., for a time I became fascinated with architecture and drew countless house plans. In high school, I flirted with creative writing, but it was not “practical,” and it – along with other creative outlets – was far too closely linked with my emerging gay nature.
All of this came to mind about six months after I had met Mark, because of something he said to me one evening a couple of years ago. As we were passing each other in the kitchen, he reached out and gave me a hug, then held me by my shoulders and looked me in the eye and thanked me for the creativity I had brought into our home and back into his life. (He has started writing about his hospice experiences and is making more of an effort to pursue his drawing talents, which are prodigious.) “I feel,” he said, “like I have been reborn.”
It was one of the sweetest, kindest things that he or anyone else had ever said to me. And it was thought-provoking. In subsequent days, I realized that I needed to give myself permission to let my creativity out, to give full vent to that which has been bottled up inside of me for most of my life.
Among other things (most of which I don’t yet understand), I thought this meant that I needed to give myself permission to stop viewing my writing merely as utilitarian - which, among other things, made writing an "appendage" of me, rather than an extension and expression of myself. In other words, like so many things in my life, I didn't feel "connected" to it.
I came to realize that I needed to "own" my creativity, to not only give myself permission to express it, but to embrace it, celebrate it.
* This post was originally published on a private blog in January 2012.