Living outside the box takes practice

Creativity in Context is a blog and newsletter by Evelyn Thorne offering honest guidance on the creative process of living. As an educator and facilitator of creativity, Evelyn provides public scholarship and practices on how to live into liberation.

Read recent and past articles below. Follow Evelyn on Medium.

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Why Does Your Creativity Matter?

It seems appropriate to start the first newsletter of the new Creativity in Context website or really any endeavor with the question: Why? Why this? Why me? Why do I care? Why does it matter? The answers to these questions are the foundation, the essential ground that ambitions are built on; they’re questions to organize around, a practice of centering from intention (1). And so I want to start there, with naming why I care, why your creativity matters to me,…

Recent Posts

Time to Root: The Future of Creativity in Context

TLDR: In a commitment to my well-being, I got a new job and am taking a pause from this blog. I rarely make universal statements, but I have come to believe that your creativity should always serve your well-being. This doesn’t mean creativity isn’t hard, uncomfortable, or scary, but that your quest for creativity should never be more important than your well-being, and if you ever…

When is the Right Time to Be Creative?

Or how do we sustain our capacity for creativity? Paradoxically, by knowing when not to create. “There’s a big difference between being a coward and putting your emotional safety first.” From Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert This was a pivotal statement from love-interest Redford to the main character Chloe in Talia Hibbert’s delightful romance Get a Life, Chloe Brown (1), a book I…

A Creative Experiment on Finding Direction

How do you know which life path to choose? To find out, I’m taking a year to experiment with my future. And sharing the results. If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you may recognize a common theme (especially of late) of wrestling with the possibility of creativity and the lived reality of everyday practice. I write this blog with the hopes that…

What is a Right-Sized Dream?

If the brainstormed list of possible titles for this blog post are any indication of where I’m at — The Torture of an Idea, The Dark Side of Manifesting, Can You Be Too Creative?, The Curse of a Calling — then I am in the throes of the creative process of living. I just finished teaching for the foreseeable future with the intention that I will…

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Creativity redefined

When is Creativity?

To begin a newsletter reimagining the context of creativity, it feels pertinent to answer the question: What is creativity? Each of you come with your own understanding, assumptions and associations. How might we find a definition expansive enough to hold us all? Those who study creativity use the following definition: Creativity is a new combination of thought…

Your Imagination Matters More Than You Know

If creativity is imagination in action, then there is no creativity without imagination. To determine which ideas have value, you first must proliferate diverse ideas. This is why most tests of creativity measure divergent thinking: the generation of many possible solutions as opposed to convergent thinking: the determination of the best possible solution. For example, the classic question “How…

You can’t think outside the box if you don’t know you’re in a box

Thinking Outside the Systemic Box

When I ask people to define creativity, they inevitably use the phrase “to think outside of the box”, but this cliche always leaves me to wonder: What box? As I often tell my students: You can’t think outside the box if you don’t know you’re in one. If you want to create positive change in the world, then you…

The Box is Made to Contain You

At the end of the last newsletter, I teased that we would move beyond questioning the systemic box to dismantling it, though there are many steps to that process. Seeing the box is the first step but that does not automatically translate to change. In fact, once you start to notice the existence of the box, you often begin…

The Systemic Box Won’t Dismantle Itself

Once you start to see all the ways the systemic box has been made to trap you, the impulse to break free of the box naturally arises. The question is: How? What does it really mean to think outside the box when the way we think has been shaped by that box? What does it take to tear down a…

The creative process of transformation

Are you a Creative Problem-Solver or Finder?

Last time we discussed how creativity can be an act of liberation, but ironically creativity does not thrive in freedom. If I were to tell you to simply create something, anything, you would likely freeze up, unsure where to start with such a broad assignment. But if I were to tell you to write a poem using…

Unlearning Life’s Constraints

It feels as though all my newsletters have been leading up to this one. We began with expanding our understanding of creativity as responding to life’s constraints and continued to explore this concept through cultivating imagination, vision, and hope.In my last newsletter, I asked the question: How do we create more possibilities for ourselves? And mirrored the response: How many more ways can…

You Can’t Change the World Alone

My last newsletter ended with a call to see the potential in what’s breaking apart, and boy did the world answer. It is truly amazing to take in how much has changed in just three weeks. The entire nation is engaged in a real conversation on police brutality and racism: more people than ever before are advocating for Black Lives…

Blog Archive

List of all past blog articles ordered oldest to newest accompanied with a guiding quote. Posts before 2021 were originally published on the Creativity in Context TinyLetter newsletter.

In every responsive act there is possibility for creativity, meaning everything we do can be creative. Even more so, we are creative when we act in relation to our contexts; creativity can simply be making meaning of our surroundings.

In the rush of life, we rarely allow space for considering the wide range of opportunities available to us. Thus, our future feels limited when our imagination is confined.

Creativity is not about making something out of nothing, but responding to what is; it is not forcing your feelings aside but allowing them to flow. Perhaps creativity at its best is an act of acceptance, liberation, freedom.

While we don’t always have control over life’s constraints, we can adjust our perspective. In this way, a creative life is all in how we respond to the given constraints.

The power of imagination: it’s what got us in this mess and what will get us out. I made a plea for the importance of imagination in a previous newsletter, but I didn’t discuss how to cultivate an expansive imagination, one that questions the given constraints.

This is what it takes to become creative in any field: when you know the language well enough to play with the words. So really, the compliment “You are so creative” means “You are so dedicated to your craft,” whatever that craft may be.

Creative identity is self-defined. The forces that limit our creative identity can be unlearned if we validate an expansive definition of creative practice. This is why I end every newsletter with the salutation “living is a creative act.” The more we proclaim our lives as creative, the more we value every act, even taking a break.

One of the reasons I write this newsletter is because I believe creativity can be a guide for life. I see myself as a translator from the science of creativity to the lived reality. My hope is that once you understand creativity as responsive and relational, you will listen for what responses are needed to create your best life.

A vision is never about the actual steps; it’s about cultivating an imagination that is attentive to the possible. Only then will you be ready to respond when the time is right.

We often say the phrase “If only I could…”, but rarely do we truly question what’s holding us back. There are the real constraints of systemic oppression that purposefully restrict mobility for marginalized communities, though we can also unlearn the limiting beliefs we inherit from these systems.

Every day we choose how we impact others. We are adapting together and we learn best from each other. So make sure to celebrate each step and see your creative resilience as valid. With intention, we will get through this; I believe in our creative potential.

It’s important that creative insight and action come after honoring both our foundation and our suffering; we so often only value the visioning and manifestation of our creativity instead of appreciating the lived wisdom that led us there. Every coping mechanism is our body’s creative response to suffering; by thanking our innate creative survival, we can recognize our inner strength.

Only once we develop a relationship with our inner landscape, can we begin to see the pathways. In research of the creative process, this is the stage of insight, exploration, questioning, gathering, problem-finding. The key to all of these steps is a lack of judgement; you are simply gathering data to generate new ideas. If you rush through this phase or limit the input, your output will also be restricted and likely ineffective. For healing, this means we must be able to be with our emotions to find new ways of being.

No one can say what the future brings, neither good nor bad, but you can recognize that we’re on moveable ground, a space of creativity. A creative mindset looks for openings, allowing for an emergent process, paying attention to how each choice affects the outcome. It identifies the component parts and works through combinations to find the optimal solution. It isn’t afraid to edit.

Systemic issues like racism, sexism, or poverty are incredibly complex; we need each other to find a solution. This is why we so often get overwhelmed by activism; when we think our value is determined by our unique contribution or impact, we will always feel like we’re not enough. But if I embrace the concept of collaborative ideation, I see my work as a conversation with others’ ideas rather than a representation of me alone.

If you want liberation of black people then you need to uphold liberatory ideas rooted in the creativity of black bodies. And just like this newsletter, allow space in your body for an emergent and reflective conversation with these ideas.

Thinking outside the box is a lifelong commitment. It’s a creative practice of asking probing questions, listening widely, observing and reflecting on your lived experience in relation to others, and being willing to examine your frame of understanding: Why do I believe this? Where does this belief come from? How does it affect how I see things or what information I take in?

The point is there is a reason we often feel stuck; we are meant to be. The powers that be don’t want us all to feel empowered in our creativity, because then we might recreate the system. So in my opinion, the most subversive thing we can do is exercise our creativity, to create together, to say we don’t accept the given box and to break it down and build up something new.

Now that we know how the systemic box has limited our imaginations, we have the choice to act differently, disrupt the status quo, and step into the unfamiliar. How do we do this? Depends on your commitment to the creative process.

When the context of our lives is filled with stress, heartbreak and trauma, then we must tend to that in order to stimulate our imaginations. This is not a practice of toxic positivity where we ignore our wounds with a forced smile, but a practice of cultivating an imagination that includes our pain, that holds the full range of our emotions with compassion. Only then can we imagine a future where we can all be our whole selves.

Progress is a relentless process, but creativity is not measured by how many times you fail, but how you respond. Each new idea or attempt builds towards the possibility of success, because change is not linear, it’s cumulative.

So how do we increase our capacity for complexity? By developing a creative practice of questions instead of looking for an answer. A practice of pausing allows us to cultivate attention towards complexity and make room for nuanced conversations. Because, I will repeat: the stories we tell shape the solutions we seek.

Creativity is how we open up more space in this world for all of us to unfold. Your creativity matters to me because my creativity needs you. The world we long for is only possible together. 

We are what we practice (rather than what we make), which means that creativity is the choice of what to practice. I.e. how intentionally are we living? And since creativity is putting imagination to action, then a creative practice can be how we live our values.

For the equation of creativity to work, you need both imagination and action. But we can become counterbalanced, lost in the struggle of what is or obsessed with the promise of what if.

Yes, we have to learn to dream big, but we actually act small. Even large victories, watershed moments of social changes, are the result of countless small acts. The tricky part is not letting the dream overwhelm the action.

Listening to longing is letting yourself experience a possibility, to know how it lands in the body and informs your sense of self. And we can do this in fractal ways, small experiments that allow us to test out or practice how we want to be.

You don’t need to have everything figured out but you do need a container to hold the mess.…Writing about the creative process of life gives me a clear container for making meaning of the chaos of life.

The creative practice of living is not always about action, often it’s about rest. Practice is not just what we do but what we choose not to do.

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