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When Peanut Butter Cups And Ardent Striving Collide

The mere mention of creativity erected within us a writer’s block (styled after Stonehenge with a soupçon of China’s Great Wall, complete with gift shop) so extreme that we decided to leave this page blank. We informed our editor that this was in homage to those pristine “anti-color­ing books” stored in the curriculum closet under the ignored co-operative games and unread choose-your-own-adventure books. “Make your own fun!” we planned on exhorting. “Paint, write, sculpt, cook and/or film something in the thoughtfully provided empty space below.”

But alas, while completely lacking internal motivation, we are externally motivated by deadlines and cross-continentally hurled threats (as thinly veiled as a Rubens’ nude). We are consti­tutionally unable to leave projects that resemble school assignments undone.

What follows isn’t born of creativity, as much as of reactivity and weeping, one peanut butter cup for each word written, and years of compulsory education where we started every ten page term paper about narwhals at midnight on Sunday night (many a National Geographic photo montage was eviscerated in service of those reports. A moment of silence, please.)

Bottom line: We are as clueless about creativity as someone trying to compose a metaphor about cluelessness.

However, we know that no amount of glitter glue and googly eyes strewn artfully around your house will lead your children to a successful career as an artist that you are ardently striving towards. They may grow up to be scientists or economists or psychiatrists despite your best ef­forts. You may have to accept that they have their own path to follow and that it doesn’t include building their own tumbleweed house out of free yardsticks and paint stirrers from the hard­ware store. They may actually have to buy a professionally built house, and while this would mean that your homeschooling dreams for them would be shipwrecked in the tempest of their collecting a hefty salary, not everybody can raise an English major. Sorry, that’s just how it is.

Actually, we know that scientists are creative (economists even more so), and we do have something useful to report about preserving creativity in your children.

Here it is: The most inventiveness-sustaining attribute that you can cultivate in your kids is enthusiasm for failure.

Apparently “they” have discovered that people who think they are smart or talented are blocked from using their smarts or talents by the fear of discovering that they are actually stu­pid or dull. This leads to panic when confronting challenges, resistance when solving problems, and (inexorably) candy eating when facing the blank page. To maintain your child’s spark, you have to model gleefully embracing setbacks, actively courting disasters, and cheerfully welcom­ing criticism as an opportunity for growth. It’s not just about telling your family that every burnt casserole is a joyous occasion for dieting or dining on your pantry’s cereal selection. It’s about actually, thoroughly, and really believing that each cindered chunk of tofu brings you closer to owning a fancy restaurant.

Really, that’s the creativity trick. Good luck with that.

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