Kayley Vandenberg is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. I asked her to write something for SV LAND and what I got was a good lesson on the term 'creative' and what it means to fit within this mold and still create freely.
I Create. (But Don’t Call Me A Creative.)
By Kayley Vandenberg
A couple of years ago, a close friend looked me in a eye and said blankly, “No more photographers.” Those three words in any other context could represent a variety of ideas, many of them vague, but in this conversation, the meaning was clear. She wasn’t calling down a plight on anyone who takes photographs or wishing a slow death to the art of photography itself, but making a blanket statement about my love life. I shouldn’t date any more photographers.
In truth, this wasn’t the first time I had been given this advice. In fact, it was a rule I imposed upon myself more than once, only to make an exception when a new camera-toting guy caught my attention. Clicking through my profile pictures on Facebook is a personal diary of past attempts, images of me taken through different lenses held by different hands ... hands that could capture me just fine but never quite learned how to hold on.
I’m still unsure why my “type” has long been defined by an occupation. It becomes even more unfathomable when I consider it was the nature of this line of work that contributed to my 2013 divorce from Photographer K. In 2016, it was the images Photographer J had taken that kept tearing my heart back open long after the memories began to fade, and of course, I could never ignore the two years of color pristinely documented by Photographer B that ended once I definitively asked for something black and white.
Due to the fact that my friends constantly tease me about this trend, I keep an arsenal of comebacks. My most common response is to recite a list of contradicting outliers. Like, the musician I was really into that one time. Or the summer fling with the director... (Sure, he took photos sometimes, but still.) And what about the writer who didn’t even own a smartphone let alone a camera? He was one of my favorites!
While this response is normally better for a laugh than negating their point, it does introduce a new theory, one that I’ve only recently begun to form. I have a tendency to surround myself with “creatives”. While this seems like a fairly ho-hum realization, to me, it comes as a revelation.
In truth, I’ve never found it easy to personally identify as “a creative”. Despite my mother referring to me as her “most creative child”, and recently feeling comfortable stating, “I am a writer”, something about donning the label didn’t feel natural. When picturing what a creative looks like, I imagine people who proudly share what seems like a never-ending body of work, host picturesque events, and post pictures on the internet with their best friends who look so interesting they must be creatives, too. I imagine some of the guys I’ve dated who talk freely about their passions, a trait that drew me to them in the first place, and something I can never seem to do without feeling phoney.
Through examining my relationship patterns and personal insecurities surrounding creativity, I’ve begun to understand my own creative process, specifically how deeply intertwined it is with my introvertism. This feels directly contradictory to the nature of a creative, as I always assumed that the more minds involved, the more inspired the outcome. It seems to me that multiple people would be able to perform creative excavation more effectively... that through simultaneous digging, prodding, and shaping, the most extraordinary, refined ideas reveal themselves. In practice, I’ve come to find that—logical or not—my creative work is a labor best performed in solitude. My process is less like a collaborative search and more of a stream that becomes murky when there are many hands plunging into it.
Before I learned this, it felt intuitive to seek out those I perceived as creatives. I wanted to observe their process and learn how to fully embody my own passion, to live in a way that expresses my heart without even opening my mouth, as many of my creative idols seem to. But in hovering on the edge of their pursuits, I didn’t get high off their creative energy, I simply drowned out my own.
My creativity isn’t loud. It expresses less like a glowing billboard and more like a gentle whisper a pillow distance away. It offers more questions than answers and demands no one’s attention but my own. It performs best when no one is watching, and freezes when put on the spot. My ideas converse better with paper than with people, a fact I have slowly come to terms with. And while I always considered my creativity’s preference for privacy a fault, the true fault was my belief there was “a creative” mold I needed to fit — that it was some sort of exclusive club: you’re either in or you’re out. And I’m finally content with being out.
It occurs to me now that my interest in creative people was not so much a reflection on my “type”, but more so on whose affection I found to be the most valuable, whose affirmation I most required, whose attention I felt the most flattered by. So while I wasted time searching for creative energy outside myself, my inherent creativity waited patiently for me to turn inward. It wasn’t until I learned to give myself the attention I sought from others, let go of definitive labels, and listen most closely to my own voice, that I discovered what it means to freely create.