Yesterday, I was researching this never-ending book and stumbled across a quote that seemed to freeze my brain.

The creative adult is the child who survived.

Ursula LeGuin

Ursula LeGuin is an American writer who writes mainly in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. To be quite frank with you, I probably would not have read or given her any thought, as my writing couldn’t be any different. Ordinarily, I would have just passed her on by.

Except she said that quote.

It struck nerves deep inside of me and resonated with parts of my soul I didn’t even know existed. It felt like me. In fact, I can’t remember ever hearing another phrase or quote that has ever rung more true. I spent the next hour learning about Ursula LeGuin. I read excerpts of her stories, I looked up multiple biographies of her meandering about the Internet. I was searching for some snapshot of her childhood. I wanted to know what made her believe that. But–there seemed not to be many skeletons in her closet (unless she’s just done a good job of hiding them). Indeed, from her own words on her official web page, she answers the question: “How was your childhood and youth?” in the following way:

My childhood was what is called “happy.” My parents were loving, kind, and intelligent; I had an extra mother in my great-aunt; I had three big brothers to tag around after (and to have fights with the youngest of them); and everybody in the family was glad I was a girl, which made me able to be glad to be a woman, eventually.

I mulled and pondered for awhile with a newfound respect for a fellow author who seems to have a true and abiding love for writing settling in my heart. Then, inevitably, my thoughts turned from learning about her to contemplating the quote itself.

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Creativity is a part of my DNA. It runs through every thought and every decision I have or make. I do not remember writing “Sweet Shelby” my first book. It was about a little girl who wanted to find the perfect gift for her mother’s birthday. I was very young. Writing became as necessary to my life as breathing. Just as one needs food or rest, I needed writing. I wrote on napkins, I wrote on my hand. I wrote in between classes so much that one of my teachers confiscated my notebook once, believing I was writing notes. I poured my heart and soul into words written in blue ink. My only friends were the characters in my stories.

Writing helped save my life; it kept me sane in a world shattered by chaos. When the noise outside became a roaring in my head, I simply tuned it out by writing. When really bad nights happened and I was scared to go to sleep, I wrote. When I wasn’t writing, I felt clumsy, scared, anxious and awkward. Only armed with a pen, I channeled every emotion into the lives of characters. The stories made me cry and laugh and proud. Truly, creativity helped me survive.

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It would take years of being removed from danger, and certain it was gone, before I quit feeling like I was an acrobat walking a tightrope. Eventually, though, as an adult, I began to truly believe in safety. When I did, writing evolved from being an absolute necessity to a cherished friend. No longer did I feel panicked if I went a day without writing a chapter. No longer did I feel like I was betraying my characters’ trust in me if the books weren’t a thousand pages. Writing wasn’t so much a numbing drug anymore as a relaxing balm. Still, I wouldn’t be Tiffini without writing.

Actually, I wouldn’t be Tiffini without creativity in general. I do things all the time that others don’t. It bleeds into every dimension of my life–even in the types of gifts I choose to give those I love: a jar filled with 365 handwritten personal sayings, photo blankets, trips to museums for friends, a collection of birthday cards for different ages of a newly born child, etc. My girls and I take our lemonade and puppet theater to the parks, we make Happy Day cards for neighbors we’ve never met, we have art shows and sometimes we transform the whole house into a circus. We dance in the rain. We deliberately think outside the box.

Because I believe in the power of sheer imagination.

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Albert Einstein once said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Picasso said: “Everything you can imagine is real.” And, while I’m sprouting quotes, Mark Twain wrote: “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” You see, children see magic because they look for it. They expect it because wonder is alive in their hearts. With all our experience and intelligence and maturity, it is harder for adults to accept something spectacular. We tend to be content with dreams of grandeur and joy.

But I am not.

I don’t see the point in dreaming anything unless it is something I care about. And if I care about it, then I ought to try and bring that dream into reality. If that requires me to color outside the lines, to conjure up my own way of bringing that dream into full color, then so be it. You see, creativity is a way of life for me. Not just through writing — but through living. As a result, something unexpected has happened over these last 9 years, since I walked out of secret’s shadow.

I have discovered that life is a joyous gift.

I am convinced that those who are weary, those who are sad, those who want to spend the days crying… I am convinced that they have forgotten how bright the sun is, or what a cool breeze feels like on a hot July day. I am convinced that they have stopped looking for the flower growing in concrete and are just passing through each day, wondering what the point of life is.

I was there too, back when fear overshadowed creativity. Now I know that joy isn’t just for the lucky ones. No, it’s for those of us who fight for it, who set about making it happen with a smile and a twinkle in the eye.

Joy comes when you realize there’s no wrong way to do art—for whether you scribble across the page or color only within the lines, the result is the same: a colored picture. Or in naming your children Breathe and Alight. Or in making high heeled cupcakes just because.

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I’ve spent most of my life feeling weird, not cool, that I do things differently. I still sometimes feel a need to explain how 2 + 2 = 5 for me instead of 4. I’ve actually been called crazy a time or two. Although I’ve pretended to, honestly, I can’t say as I have felt real proud of being “different.” Actually, what I used to think I wanted most was to be normal. And that was just weird.

But when I was five years old, I distinctly remember feeling trapped and unable to breathe. I still remember crying and asking God to hold my hand so that I wouldn’t be alone. I remember being confused and afraid. When I was twelve, I remember starting my menstrual cycle for the first time ever in the bathroom of a jail where we were visiting my dad, and being scared. A recurring nightmare all my youth was me sitting in a white room listening to a random doctor telling me I’d never have children because I was too physically scarred. I remember being called “broken” and recoiling in devastation.
I used to think that “surviving” was reason for shame. “If only I were normal,” I’d tell myself.

Ursula LeGuin’s quote makes me think something else, see my creativity not as a flaw but as an asset. It helps me see myself as a colorful part of a gray world. It helps me take pride in myself. And it helps give my history purpose because I did survive. It didn’t kill me, or rob me of the ability to have children. Instead, it taught me not to take anything for granted; to treat time and family as the number one priority–always and forever. It taught me to rely on creativity, and to nourish it.

The creative adult is the child who survivoed

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Hm, yes indeed. And also, thank God.

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