8:21 AM

Is Creativity a Dream?

Wrote: American Muslima Writer |

For some people a life without use of creativity is like death. For some it's just another day. As I've seen in other blogs, and was forced to add my two cents, this is a widespread idea, that today, especially in the Arab countries, more and more men and women are being led away from creativity and more towards technical applications of their brilliance.
More people are told by their families that a life goal of being a painter, writer, dancer, movie maker, crafter, specialty designer is a waste of time and money spent on education. They want their children to do something that will bring them financial stability and home "honor" like being a doctor or scientist or computer technition etcetera. Now there is nothing wrong with these professions in the least, all are noble undertakings and if that is what suits your personality then go for it. But for many they do it just to please their families and go through most of their life feeling hollow and empty inside. Why? Because maybe in their pursuit of a stable career they have no time for their real passion which is the Arts (all arts). Which is using their creative talent to better the world and themselves.
Here in the Middle East especailly it's practically shameful for a man to want to be a dancer or a woman to be a film director or other such gender-related roles. Of course there are those that are brave and do what they like but many are pushed away from these goals. My Phillipino neighbor is an example of this. Now he may be good at his technical job and may even ENJOY it. But what is his REAL passion? Gardening. Expresing his creative talents through planting and nuturing Allah's creations. He's very good at it and you can see he really enjoys it.
When I moved into this small neighborhood the plants were dead from lack of water. The residents who lived in the main house apartments instead of the new ones bordering the "garden" didn't take care of the plants. They didn't have time or energy to expend. My husband and I were enthusiastic and had a dream of taking care of a beautiful garden that our kids could play in. In Lebanon especially Beirut, people don't have backyards to make gardens they just have potted plants on their balconies, so nature is a wanted commodity. After moving our stuff in we got a worker (paid of course) to clear the dead plants for our half of the garden. We had no neighbors yet on any of the other garden properties so the other dead areas still looked ragged and pathetic. We started planting and toiling in the sun. The first few days worms popped to the surface with all the water and earth mixing. The birds flocked in for the feast. And within a week things began to turn green again. Then soon our garden became a nice place to look at instead of an eyesore. But the rest of the neighborhood looked even shabbier in our splendor. Then my neighbor moved in and took his time getting his hosue in order and we feared at first he was the lazy sort that wouldn't fix his garden too and we'd be stuck sharing a weed lot. Then one day we come outside to see a bonfire of all the dead plants being burned. It was great. He cleared the lot and started his planting and it began to take shape. Day and even in the middle of the night my neighbor toiled and soon his garden put mine to shame. He had friends with beautiful plants that I couldn't afford to get. Soon more neighbors moved in and new bonfires were made because of this man's effort to beautify the neighborhood. Now about 6 or 7 gardens later everything is green with food or flower plants and people actaully spend time outside and let their kids run around outside. My garden is my comfort for being indoors too much. It's beauty is in thanks to my neighbor and our combined vision and creativity. If he had suppressed his talent only going to work and home to sleep we wouldn't have a thriving place to relax. We owe him a lot.
Other people too have such wonderful taents that need to be shared and expressed and if we urge them to just work for money we are loosing a vital part of our humanity. We are not cattle to be herded and worked. We are people allowed to dream and make increadible things. Our ancestors would have never imagined this world full of fast cars, internet, space rockets, and movies that seem so real. But a few DID dream it, did Imagine it and they changed the world. If we view creativity as only a dream instead of the hope for tomorrow then we are throwing away our futures. Allah gave us the ability to express our souls and to supress that is to deny our rights.
I visited someone recently and told them about my project for a craft store and I thought she would be suportive because she is in charge of a "western" pre-school which encourages creativity. She laughed and said it is a bad idea because here in Al-Ain the Emeratian women are "ONly caring about shopping, eating, buying toys for their babies, and visiting each other." I asked what about their children don't they value creative education and she said NO. They just think to let the children know their ABC/alif,ba,ta and numbers and that is good enough. "Most of the women will not try to get jobs here, why would they? They have money. ONly if they want to be a doctor or something that will get them more money will they work." I was angry at her(momentarily) for refusing to encourage her friends more to change thinking. But I know sometimes it is futile.
In Lebanon most men and women dont have time for arts and crafts and even reading books. If they can't make it in Lebanon's tough school system (tough in some private schools that teach 3 languages manditory and everything by memorization) they drop out at 15 and get married and within a few years start having children. Usually if their parents are highly educated the women may wait until they finish the schooling and then get married at 18. Then the burden of keeping your house perfect and then keeping your kids in line and helping them learn their memorizations becomes too much so they have no time to have hobbies. Most women relax by visiting their friends and having tea and maybe religious classes. The few who continue on to university usually become doctors and nurses and such. A very few become architects, painters, musicians, writers. When an economy is as bad as Lebanon's the arts are put last and day to day survival is put first.
When people ask me in Lebanon what I do in my spare time (when I first got there and didn't have kids and a house to manage) I would tell them I read, or draw, or write stories and I swear by ALLAH they would laugh. "Time to do these things IN Lebanon? AHAHAHAHAHA!!!!" or "Masha'Allah you have so much time to WASTE. I wish I had so much time." Soon I stopped telling people. Then soon I began to have no time slowly and slowly I was immersed into their patterns of spending the day cooking and cleaning and then just relaxing with a cup of tea and good conversations. I'm not saying the life is bad or boring it is just lacking art. And for me that is like death. Slowly I began to have exagerated nervous tendencies. I was over stressed, biting my nails like crazy instead of idly like my whole life, my face would break out constantly from stress then I'd scratch it because I dislike anything on my face. People would ask me what happend to your face and i just say stress. They nod knowingly. But then I started demanding myself to make time to sing and dance and WRITE. I felt better and more alive and though yes my cleaning and cooking skills slipped but I was happier. My face cleared up and I laughed more. But sadly in this society if you can't keep up your house, problems soon surface. People will visit you unexpectedly and you have to rush around cleaning in minutes and preparing food on the drop of a dime. That was too much stress and I broke out again on my face. Soon I had to learn to schedule myself only an hour or two of creative time. The rest of the day was spent working the house.
So when I got to UAE I assumed since the poeple had more money and had maids to deal with the majority of cooking and cleaning I'd find more creativity here. I guess that's not the case. Sure there is MORE creativity here compared to Lebanon. But still not compared to the amount of people who do hobbies in USA. Architectually this is a beautiful country. Straight lines mixed with curves in a plesent manner everywhere even the malls are glamorous. But that is the work of a few not the whole society. We need to Dare to dream that our creativity can change things for the better in our society and let our kids do more to satisfy their hearts.
I'm glad recently there has been a movemnt to change. Now when I go places I see some differences, "Kids for arts" campaigns (Al-Ain Mall), more arts and crafts in some westernized stores (ELC and BabyShop). I think with so much western influence and the excess of money and freetime peole are starting to notice the arts more and be compelled to them. At least that's what I'm hoping. SO I hope also that my arts and crafts store will support the artistic community and encourage others to take up something new. We can't let creativity be just a dream. We have to LIVE it.

4 intelligent thoughts:

Susie of Arabia said...

Whether I am writing, or painting, or sewing, taking photos, playing music, or making jewelry, I must have a creative outlet or my spirit suffers. It is therapuetic to do things like this. I wonder what people who don't have creative hobbies do to relax and remain sane?

Aafke said...

Well, if creativity is in your heart, then you have no choice but to give it some time.
My house is a mess, but my art florishes!

I have a notice in my hall, printed in wooden letters: ''Dull women have tidy homes''
And if anybody comments: I give them a broom and tell them to enjoy themselves. ( I do like a clean house)

Umm Yehiya said...

Very interesting! I agree with you...and it is one of my fears about living in the ME in the future inshaAllah. There are definitely halaal outlets for creativity, but people don't seem to place much value on it, or, even more urgent (in my opinion) - exploring more creative models of education & the whole educational system. This may be changing bit by bit in our modern world as people get more and more info on the range of possibilities - wallahu alim.

You read & commented on my own post about me & writing & my relationship with it (i wrote about just a tip of the iceberg), and about how since I became muslim, one of the many reasons I began to write much less is because I was scared....knowing as a muslim that I am responsible for any consequences or the sheer existence of my words in the public world. It is a weighty thing. I am learning now, very gradually b/c I still rarely make time for it (and kids are always around, which means interruptions, which means - for me - it's very hard to get in that deep concentration of creative "flow state") how to fuse the two - being creative, doing some writing (which is my thing) AND being responsible for putting goodness, morality & correctness out there in the world, inshaAllah.

Other reasons for lessening creative expression you have touched upon - not having time, due to housework, cleaning, taking care of children. Sometimes if I've devoted time to myself, I feel guilty.

Also, the Middle East is a very pluralistic, a very social society. As you said, people relax by being with friends. Since becoming muslim, I've actually become slightly more social in the last year or so, whereas years ago, hanging out with people would have been last on my list of things to do to relax. Also, being married changes things - another person wishes for you to share a lot of time and space with them (walhamdulileh), and creativity is often (not always) a more solitary thing, getting you to sink deeply into your world of ideas and emotion - but then again, so is such an act as reading and pondering Qur'an, which of course is a beautiful thing to do.

Why do you think, as you stated, that people in the Middle East possibly put less value as a society on individual creativity? What you mentioned is true - there are such amazing craftsman in the Middle East - home to the ancient arts of architecture and tiles, use of color and drapery and dramatic effect.

Thanks for writing about this interesting topic!

emerald said...

Loved reading your blog. :)

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