The “Creative Autobiography”

imgresToday I happened to glance at my bookshelf, and Twyla Tharpe’s book, The Creative Habit, leapt out at me (it’s that kind of book. It leaps). Twyla Tharpe is a world-renowned choreographer, and in this book she explores—often through metaphors of dance—the creative process and how we can make creativity a habitual part of our everyday lives.

Even the book itself refuses to behave like a “normal” book; fonts swing into different sizes and colors depending on the mood of the words; you turn a page and are confronted with wide swathes of white space leading you further on.

Though this is really a how-to book about creativity of all sorts, I also consider it creative nonfiction of the best caliber. Twyla’s voice (see, I even feel free to call her “Twyla” because I feel I’ve gotten to know her) is idiosyncratic and vivid; she uses many personal stories from her career in dance to get across her points. Here’s an example, from early on in the book:

“I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and 1st Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual.”

As I flip through the book at random (I’m feeling pretty random these days), I happen upon her exercise “Your Creative Autobiography.”  The questionnaire is part of a chapter in which she urges us to recognize our “creative DNA,”:

“I believe that we all have strands of creative code hard-wired into our imaginations. These strands are as solidly imprinted in us as the genetic code the determines our height and eye color…They determine the forms we work, the stories we tell, and how we tell them.”

Here are some of the questions that help us reflect on our own creative DNA:

  • What is the first creative moment you remember?
  • Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?
  • What is the best idea you ever had?
  • What made it great in your mind?
  • What is the dumbest idea?
  • What made it stupid?
  • What are your attitudes toward: money, power, praise, rivals, work, play?
  • What is your ideal creative activity?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What is the likelihood of either of the answers to the previous two questions happening?

All 33 questions can be found hereTwyla suggest answering them quickly, without thinking too much, and see what your own subconscious might reveal to you about your particular creative life. If you’re so inclined, feel free to share your results in the comments!

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