Creative Space

Creation is pleasure and torture at the same time. It’s trying to make something out of nothing. It’s a birth of some sort. Sometimes it’s like pulling a piano out of a swamp. Sometimes it’s like walking on air. The torture of that nothing-space in front of you, and the pure elation of filling that space with something good—it’s one of life’s great juxtapositions. I’m grateful for that—the torture and the pleasure.” Zooey Deschanel


I used to think that I was determined. Many of us do. Some think that they’re determined by their jobs, by their family of origin, by the “way things are,” by fate. We hear this reasoning all of the time: “I had no choice.” “I can’t change things.” “It’s his fault.”

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I was raised in a small town in South Carolina where I often heard that God had a plan for my life. I was determined. Free will was something dangerous, associated with a myth of a snake, some apple-eaters, and the subsequent fall of humankind. So my authorities—parents, teachers, society—demanded obedience. And I complied, naively believing that they knew what was best for me.

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It took a while for me to realize that they didn’t, or couldn’t. I slowly saw that the forms and structures of my life didn’t fit me. The beds that others made for me to lie in were like beds fashioned by the Greek character, Procrustes. In his myth, Procrustes called to passers-by to come rest in his bed. Yet his iron bed never quite fit his visitors, so he would stretch them on a rack if they were too short. Or if they were too long, he would cut off their limbs until they fit. One day, I woke to realize that I’d been adjusting myself to fit the structures of others, chopping of parts of myself so that I might fit in and be satisfied with the structures around me.

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Around that time, I started reading the existentialists—Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, Simone. Their idea of radical freedom called to something within me. This idea that the human is profoundly alone in the universe—and profoundly free and responsible to create the structures of her life—resonated with me. Around that same time, I started having dreams about eggs and pregnancy and birth. New ways of being in the world beckoned me.

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Within a few years, I shed almost all of the structures of my former life. I left my career, changed cities, left my community. I wouldn’t advise this radical restructuring. Yet it was necessary for me. I’d been so malformed over the years of being determined by ill-fitting structures that I needed space to create, to build an alternative future.

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This liminal space is unnerving at times. Even terrifying. Yet it also holds the potential for radical creativity, for carefully building the structures that fit me.

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In this space, I find myself attracted to the outliers, to entrepreneurs, to those who have the courage to pursue authenticity and to build new and creative structures for themselves and society. Perhaps this is why aspects of corporate responsibility have become so attractive to me—because they take more seriously something about our humanity that neoclassical theories miss: the fundamental interconnectedness of business with the earth, with communities, with people.

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In neoclassical theory, people and the earth are reduced to “factors of production.” As consumers in these neoclassical systems, we rest ourselves in Procrustean beds that disform us. We naively believe the advertisements that beckon us and promise happiness and health but then leave us shackled by debt, fattened by empty calories, and bored by mindless entertainment. Really? Is this it? Isn’t there more to life?

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I’m enough of an idealist to think that there is more. And realism is something I’ve learned: It’s hard work to find that “more” because it’s something that we ourselves create.

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One Response to Creative Space

  1. Pingback: Creative Space (via Project CSR) « Pilant's Business Ethics Blog

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