Creativity for the Rest of Us

Lessons From Building Birdhouses

With the first cut of the wood, the idea for building birdhouses was out of my head and into the universe.  Never mind that the initial foray was a mess.  Ideas, resources, tools, solutions, and allies came flooding in once I took action.  I did it for fun and the pure joy of self-expression.  My only plan was how to get more materials and get my “real work” done faster so I could get back to the workshop –a.k.a. my garage.  I had no idea of where this was going or what I would do with them and I didn’t care.  It felt like I was along for the ride.

” Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. The whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material his way.”  – from W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Much to my surprise within a few months and with little intentional marketing effort I was invited to participate in five different shows.  A supply I carried in my trunk sold like hotcakes.  I met new neighbors curious about what was going on in my garage.

Two lessons from this experience became clear for me.

  1. Follow the juice.  I was completely seized by building birdhouses.  Once I surrendered to the creative fire, I found myself in a state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow. I loved making something quirky and beautiful that also served a purpose.  The birdhouses were “ornithologically correct” for four types of birds that inhabit my area.
  2. Appreciate your constraints. Since I only work with recycled or handcrafted materials I was limited to whatever the salvage yards had on hand or I could forage out of construction dumpsters.  I had to stay open to what showed up.  New materials were an opportunity to use my imagination in unique ways. That means no whining or wishing “if only I had _______ (fill in the blank)”.  When a friend said she didn’t have any trees in her garden, I built her an ancestor altar by attaching a handcrafted nicho.  She keeps it in her office.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'”  –Goethe


Whatever it is that’s been rattling around in your brain – whether it be a kernel of an idea or a full blown plan – get started.  Pick a place, any place and take action.  Start small and follow wherever it leads. Let go of any preconceived ideas of why you think you’re doing it or where you think it’s going.  In fact, if your idea doesn’t make a lick of sense, all the better.  Enjoy the ride.


6 Responses to “Lessons From Building Birdhouses”

  1. fireball says:

    I must say I was a true witness to Mary’s creative flow of bird houses. They just kept them coming and you would not let up. For me, there are a couple of things that just won’t go away. Funny how these colorful,creative ideas in my mind are 3- dimensional, floating in dark space, now to make them come to life will be the adventure of bringing all the pieces together no matter how they may turn out. I will be back.

    • fireball says:

      There was a a sentence in the beginning that had the wrong first word. It should of been, SHE JUST KEPT THEM COMING AND SHE WOULD NOT LET UP.

  2. Kelli says:

    Mary, I really enjoy these postings, and this one, as with so many of the others is such food for thought–particularly, the notion of staying open to what shows up. So often, I start doing one thing and then find i must constantly improvise as I go along. It can be scarey to not be sure of the destination: “…if it doesn’t make a lick of sense, all the better.” Lord knows much of what i do makes not a lick of sense, so i have to constantly remind myself that it’s about the journey. I look forward to your postings because they help me do exactly that! thank you.

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