We learn that new neighbors have moved in next door when 7-year-old Z. shows up in our driveway one afternoon, big brown eyes and curls, and a gap where his left front tooth used to be. He meets my daughter and the other neighborhood kids in the way children do – effortlessly, the game is already on, they are pulling each other on the zipline, someone is asking if everyone knows the rules for toilet tag.
And then, 10 minutes after they say goodbye, there’s a knock at the door. “Hey,” says Z., without preamble. “I made this mask for you.” He holds out a rectangular piece of paper with two holes cut out, something like a flag drawn on front, pencil sketches of a Pacman ghost, lightning bolts, a smiling shovel.
“Oh,” I say, “is this a character you’ve created?”
“No,” he says. “I just made a mask.” He turns over the paper. “See how I put some tape here between the eyes to reinforce it.”
“Thanks!” We call after him, as he takes off across the lawn.
Gifts come in so many sizes, ways, packages. Standing there, mask in hand, I kept wondering what would happen if adults did it this way. So often we hem and haw and get caught in a series of “why” questions. Why should I make the thing? What am I supposed to do? Is it even good enough?
Many of us have this yearning to make (or write or cook or paint) and share the thing we’ve made. It’s a thread that runs through my writing workshops and with clients in my office. To create and be witnessed feed us on a fundamental level. But creativity does not often love a microscope; the process needs some space, some mystery, a little less reason.
Working with clients, I see this at the level of the nervous system: We expand with presence, we shrink with scrutiny. If an agenda has been set – by the practitioner, by the teacher, by ourselves – our nervous systems can it sniff out, which shuts down any process right quick. Instead, we want support to listen to our own beautiful song, and then, if we feel safe and seen, we might like you to listen too.
Adults plan and read and wait and then here is Z. on the front porch, showing exactly what to do. Just the next thing. Just the thing that tugs, and then gift it away, without thought or explanation, apology or excuse. I made this for you.
Standing there, I thought that next time I get stuck I will remember this gap-toothed boy. That I might not need a plan, or actually to hide the gifts inside at all. Just to listen and follow my own creative thread. And in that act, I could be generous, be unthinking. I could stand on the porch of someone new and let myself be seen.