Being Creative

Note: I wrote this three years ago, around this same time of year. I felt inspired to share it again. As it inspired me to get back at being creative, something I’ve struggled with the last year and a half.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” – Pablo Picasso

So, I have a confession.

I’m not a creative person.

At least, that’s what I always thought of myself. I wasn’t naturally gifted with artistic ability. My drawings are limited to stick figures at best. Despite that, I’ve been drawn to creative ventures like writing and now, photography.

I’ve always been interested in story. As an introvert, stories were my escape. As a kid, I read. Mainly stories of adventure and mystery. And I wrote stories, pulling from what I read. As a teenager, struggling with depression, poetry was my form of expression. Even if only for myself, as I’ve never shown that work.

Photography and video were interesting things to me. But I never actively pursued them. It was writing that stuck with me. So I went to journalism school to become a writer. I wanted to tell stories.

Then I picked up a camera. And somewhere along the line, I lost interest in being a writer. I wanted to be a photographer.

It never came easy. I worked hard at it. I didn’t attend photography school or take any classes or workshops. But I took pictures. Read blogs. Watched videos. Learned from others. Looked at photos. Took more pictures.

And I got better.

As I look back at that process (which is still ongoing because learning never stops), I started to realize something. I became creative. Or perhaps, I realized my own creativity. In the habitual process of taking photos day in and day out, creativity bloomed. And I also realized, creativity wasn’t a switch I could turn off and on. It only came through work. Through process.

David Usher explains this idea quite well:

“I consider creativity to be many different things. You need this intense structural process, almost a utilitarian process, an intense habit, to make it go. But you also do need a sense of wonder and openness. And you’re trying to work really hard so when you get magical moments you are able to capture them and able to deliver on them.

“First thing you have to do is start with habit. I talk about the half hour habit. So start with a certain period of time at a certain period of the day and do it every day. And use that time for exploring and developing ideas that interest you. And from interest leads to learning. And from learning you can follow that path to making something.

“The idea itself is not enough. The idea is just a moment in time. But to deliver that idea and make it real, that is the creative process, not just that moment.”

As photographer, I don’t always “see” what I want to photograph. Sometimes I have ideas and try to strive for them. Other times, I have no idea what to do. But I’ve come a long way with this craft. I know basic fundamentals and some lighting techniques. So, more often than not, I just have to start. Go through the process. Do what I know. And in that process, the ideas flow. Magic happens.

My point is, I worked on the skills. Developed the talent. So when those moments of creativity happen, I can capture them.

“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” – John Cleese

I believe that. Fully.


There’s an image I have of my Kokum. She’s seated at a kitchen table, the chair pulled back. She’s hunched over, her elbows rested on her knees. Her head is bowed. One hand covers her eyes. She’s lost in memory. 

It’s an image seared into my mind. One I’ve seen time and again during that period of her life. We may have been in different houses, but she was always at a kitchen table. She never says much.

Kokum was our matriarch. The foundation our family was built around. Quiet. Firm. Humorous. Gentle. Strong. She was those things and much more. 

When she developed Alzheimer’s, and later, Dementia, we rallied around her. Becoming stronger as a family than we had ever been. 

Her passing left a gaping hole. 

Since her death, that image I can’t escape. She was fragile and seemingly alone. Her thoughts drifted to a time of her life that clearly haunted her. She would tell, whoever may be in earshot, that she had gone to residential school and it was the loneliest time of her life. If you had seen her at these times, you knew she was troubled. That she was deeply impacted by her experience. The only words she could muster: “I was so lonely.” 

I’ll never know what may or may not have happened to Kokum during her time at McIntosh and St. Anne’s residential schools. Only that she could not escape that past. When Alzheimer’s took hold, those distant memories resurfaced. Haunting her. 

But being the resilient and strong person she was, like so many other survivors like her, she did her best to raise her children. Sixteen of them. As well as several foster children. She cared deeply for her kids, her love never wavering. She faced life’s struggles with humour. Something she passed on to many of us. 

It’s what I remember most about her. Her ability to make us laugh (sometimes unintentionally). Her enduring faith. Her quiet love for her children (and many, many grandchildren). Her smile. 

My Kokum, Emelda Wesley (nee Spence), with my grandfather, Samuel Wesley (left) and great grandfather, James Spence (seated).

Yet, that image of her. The weight on her shoulders. The hunch in her back. The lowered head. Lost in the thoughts of the past. Haunted and frail. I can’t forget, nor will I forget. I look to the past, not to dwell. But to understand. What it did to my Kokum. To my family. What it does to this day. 

I recently visited the site of McIntosh Indian Residential School, where not only Kokum went, but her three brothers as well. One of those brothers never made it home. Later, her eldest son attended the school. 

It was a deeply emotional visit. It threw me into depression. But yet, I walk away from that experience with a determination to move on from the past. Determined to make a future that is better for my son. For myself. 

My son, Dolor, and I at the 2017 Eagle Lake powwow.


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