I read an article in a professional journal that made me temporarily question everything I do when I write creatively. The article proposes that people who’ve experienced childhood trauma are motivated to write creatively out of a desire for revenge. Though the article describes this desire as a beginning, and not the means or the end, reading the article prompted me to consider these points: Must there be a motive for my writing, beyond the desire for connection, and the wish to express who I am? Must I now analyze whether I seek revenge, when what I value is altruism?
Last Saturday night, after feeling troubled for days, I wrote out these notes, when it came to me that creativity does not start with the desire for revenge; creativity starts with a strong emotion and the overwhelming need to define it. Having suffered trauma as a child may increase our sensitivity to this desire and the complexities of human emotion, making us more apt at expressing them. When we feel acute pain, physically or emotionally, we are more sensitive to its opposite: joy.
Creativity is a coping mechanism with an amazing side effect- creating something “alive” that exists in this world- a poem, a painting, a song, a book- out of our need to define for ourselves, exactly what we are feeling; so that we may feel better. And other people, by accessing our emotions made evident, can identify and be in league with us, and feel better, too.
Naming a thing involves untangling emotions. Ultimately, as humans, when we access those emotions, through creating or experiencing a creation, our perception goes beyond the words or the music or the image. We are not what we think; we are what we feel. So, if we create something that defines an emotion, we have made something that can be experienced as an emotion, by others.
Creativity starts with a strong emotion- often hurt, but it may be love- prompted by the desire to love and be loved, and to be treated as we deserve. Creativity is an assertion of the self. It starts with a nagging something that must be defined. If we bury it, we bury an aspect of ourselves. If we bring it to the “light of day” we have made something either tragic or beautiful that may exist beyond our lifetimes. It begins with a benevolent impulse to share: this is who I am- this is what made me- this is who I wish to become.
The desire for revenge is a legitimate response to trauma. But creativity born of hurt does not have to say: I hurt, and I want you to hurt, too. It can say any or all of these things: I hurt, and this is what I’d like for you to do about it. I hurt and this is what I can do to help myself. I hurt and I don’t know what to do to help me. You hurt and this is what I’d like to do for you. You hurt and I don’t know what I can do for you. You hurt me, and this is what I deserve instead. You hurt me, and this is how I will transcend. Creativity born of love is a celebration.
As we create, we decipher for ourselves who we are and what we feel and how we wish to proceed. We learn about ourselves, and celebrate “me,” accessing the universal, because truth begins and ends with an emotion, and emotion goes beyond circumstance. Details may differ, but emotion exists outside the details, and it is access to that emotion that makes it universal.
In creating, we state emphatically, I am a worthwhile person and I deserve good treatment. That is not the desire for revenge. Born of hurt or love, that is the desire for respect and recognition and fulfillment. It is the desire for connection, because it matters to us whether we are loved, and that we can give love.
Does creativity begin with the desire for revenge? Sure, it can. But it can begin with any strong, or complex emotion; and I believe that it begins with every emotion we can’t name or untangle, until we’ve made the thing we are prompted to create. Creativity will begin, every time we need it.