Days of Creativity Past: On My Creative Evolution

When I was a child, my younger brother Francis and I spent a lot of time drawing. I am not being hyperbolic about the amount of time we spent drawing: we spent a lot of time drawing! I remember how paper used to excite us. We would draw on yellow or white lined paper in the note-taking tablets that my father would bring home from work. If we were able to get blank sheets of typing paper, we were especially happy. Even the blank sides of my dad’s reports were cause for excitement because we could draw on them. With the sheets of typing paper, we didn’t have to draw over the interrupting ruled lines or worry about our drawings ripping like they sometimes did when we attempted to separate them from the tablets. If we were able to get our hands on oversized sheets of paper, we were especially ecstatic because that meant we had more space to draw our worlds.

One of my favorite things to do as a child when visiting another person’s house was to see if they had paper and drawing supplies—pencils, crayons, or markers preferably—and draw with other children. I was always surprised when children couldn’t draw as well as Francis and me. How come they didn’t know how to hold the base of their pencils with their index finger and thumb to have proper control of the instrument? How come they didn’t sharpen their pencils to a fine point in order to draw precise lines? Usually, the kids would get bored with the communal drawing before Francis and I did, and we’d get coopted into doing something else. However, sometimes we’d interact with older children who were more advanced at drawing than we were—preferably older boys because older girls tended to draw boring things like ponies or families, not cool things like warriors in battle tableaus. We could study the techniques in the older boys’ drawings, and maybe they’d show us a trick for drawing a wormhole, a domed surface, or how a hand holds an object like a gun or sword.

It is hard to say what the impetus for all our drawing may have been, but one of the factors was all the comics that my dad had laying around when we were growing up. I remember reading the pictures in the comics over and over before I could actual read the text. I would study the visual language of the story in order to speculate what the plot might truly be about. An example of this is X-MEN issue# 137, which was seared into my brain at a young age. In this issue, the X-men must battle the Shi’ar in combat in order to protect the life of team member Jean Grey (aka Marvel Girl or Phoenix) who is a vessel for the cosmic Phoenix Force and is responsible for creating a supernova that wiped out all the life in a solar system. The Shi’ar have good reason for wanting to kill Jean and eliminate the possible threat of the Phoenix Force. SPOILER ALERT: the X-men are outmatched by the Shi’ar, and there is a panel in the comic where Jean sacrifices herself in front of her lover, Cyclops, for the lives of her teammates. Even before I was able to read the dialogue, I was able to read the emotion and nonverbal communication in the visuals. This moment in the comic deeply affected me, and all the comics that my dad bought and read offered a wealth of visuals for me to study at an early age.

Another motivation for me and my brother drawing may have been our mom’s insistence that we play quietly. If we got too rambunctious in the house, this would usually make her upset. So, in order to not provoke her anger and earn her approval, we often deferred to drawing when in the house. That being said, having experienced a war up close and in person (my mom grew up in Vietnam during the Vietnam War), my mom was sometimes dismayed whenever our drawings relished too much in battle and death. Once, she told us a story about people flopping like fish as they died on the streets in Vietnam after a bus explosion—a truly horrendous experience for her to have witnessed during her formative years. However, instead of tempering our naïve bloodlust and steering us away from drawings of battle, this story had the opposite effect on Francis and me: we decided to add motion lines to the vanquished foes in our drawing to simulate them twitching as they died from sword cuts or laser blasts. My mom probably wasn’t happy with this layer of realism that she provided us.

Looking back, another reason that I believe Francis and I drew so much was probably because we were so close in age (Francis is 13 months younger than me, making us Irish twins), and we were competing against each us. Our parents were proud of our creative endeavors, and in order to gain more approval, my brother and I had to produce more illustrations. This competition was never mean spirited; he had his paper, and I had mine: there was space for both of us to artistically develop. And if one of us figured out a new technique for drawing details, the other was able to learn from the other’s breakthrough. This artistic feedback loop continued without problems until Francis and I were teenagers.

In our early teens, I believe that I was drawing more than my brother was at the time.He was busy getting into trouble at school and acting out. I, on the other hand, went through an introverted period and was reading and drawing more. (I was angry too, but my anger was directed inward—not at the innocent M.U.S.C.L.E. figures which Francis once nailed to the floor for no good reason, and worried our mother needlessly.)

However, when Francis started drawing again, I noticed that his skills were developing faster than mine, and he was able to draw more complex illustrations with more ease than me. Soon it was empirically clear that he was better than me. Like Jean Grey after she received the Phoenix Force in X-MEN issue #101, his prodigious artistic talents emerged, and he started getting into less trouble at school and became known as the most promising artist in our school and THE artist in the family. What did this mean for me?

Rather than live in the artistic shadow that my brother Francis started to cast, I went askew and channeled my creative energies into other endeavors. I still drew, but I became more interested in story and ideas. The Sandman series became a formative text for me during this time. Neil Gaiman’s writing and ideas are what carried the comic, not necessarily the illustrations by the rotating artists (which I don’t mean to knock, but you read The Sandman for Gaiman’s storytelling!). I also started experimenting with photography as well because I liked how I could compose visuals and stories with the medium. In addition, by this time, I was also quite adept at Karate and thoroughly enjoyed creating and choreographing fights with my friend Tim. We would try and figure out martial art moves that we saw in movies and incorporate them into our Karate demos. Lastly, I made the decision that I was going to make English my thing. It didn’t matter that I tested better in Math than English, I was going to read and write for a living—as ill-conceived as that now sounds and has played out two decades later!

My first task was to learn how to read and write poetry—which is how I spent my years at the University of Wisconsin Madison when I should have been majoring in something related to computers—which I am quite good with and would probably have had an easier time finding gainful employment following graduation. Ugh! I wish my present self could go back in time like Kitty Pryde (aka Shadow Cat) did in the X-MEN “Days of Future Past” storyline (issues #141-142) andstop golden age Conan from wrongfully embarking in a life of letters.

Fast forward in the continuity of my storyline, I don’t draw anymore; however, I still consider myself very creative, but my creativitymanifest mostly in my thinking and problem-solving. I am quite confident in my ability to generate ideas, which is usually in service of somethingteaching related. I take pride in my ability to create lesson plans and teaching material. This week I created an activity to challenge students as they practiced their skimming abilities. I used a “want ad” graphic that I found on the internet and the program Kahoot to pose items that they had to locate in the graphic.

In addition, I believe that sometimes language teachers shouldn’t just use language to teach language, so using the Noun Project, I created a graphic and then built a Kahoot activity to help students learn about desirable and undesirable employee traits for my business English class.

For one of my work committees, I had to create an online form for collecting teaching activities. This required me to learn how the Developer tools in Word template work and switch between the PC and Mac platform. Lastly, a colleague of mine in another country sent me, the following request:

So, I had to generate a list of possible presentation titles that he could consider:

Recently, I learned that my brother Francis doesn’t draw as much as he used to. He said that he just doesn’t have the same interest in drawing when he could be doing other things, so now in his spare time, he works with leather and takes photos of models. (Feel free to check out his Instagram feed. However, NSFW warning!) Thus, it seems that the artistic and creative impulses of me and my brother have changed in interesting ways over time—much like the line up change in Giant-Size X-MEN issue #1 when a new roster of diverse X-men had to rescue and then replace the original white bread cohort. 😉

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