Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

June 12, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Creative skills reap benefits beyond the arts

I know it’s hard to believe by looking at me now, but I was once a shy, bookish, unathletic child. And by ``hard to believe,’’ I mean ``it’s hard to believe things could have been any other way.’’

It wasn’t easy, especially in school, where physical and athletic prowess went much farther in determining social status than the fact that you had read every one of the ``Chronicles of Narnia,’’ back-to-back over the course of only 10 weeks. Somehow, that little accomplishment didn’t hold much sway in a game of dodge ball or Red Rover.

You never heard: ``Watch out for Elizabeth. Get close to her on the field, and she’ll open up a can of Judeo- Christian hero archetypes...’’ Even teachers could be guilty of favoring students whose athletic skills outshone their academic dedication. Perhaps the schools I attended in Virginia and Florida were unique in that regard; I’m sure that kind of favoritism never happens here.

My school life — and my opinion of school in general — were saved by a few teachers who valued and nurtured my love of words and creative expression. In fifth grade, my teacher, Ms. Phetteplace, assigned the class an exercise in writing a descriptive paragraph.

I can’t recall exactly what I described, but I will never forget the praise she wrote in the top margin after grading it. ``Very creative! You are an excellent writer!’’

It’s not an understatement to say that her encouragement changed my life.

Many creative types can tell similar stories. My friend Jeannine, who writes a beautiful column for another local paper, shared this story with me: It was the first day of eleventh grade. We had a new English teacher. I loved English. I loved writing. Nothing was more exciting than pouring over a thesaurus, replacing all the common words of my compositions with words that were big and flowery and impressive. It was technique that had earned me many a ``A’’.

With great flourish, I tackled my first writing assignment for this new teacher. He handed it back with no grade, just a brief, typed note. ``I don’t want to read this. I want to hear your voice.’’ That moment forever changed my writing. I stopped hiding myself with words. We all have our own, ever evolving voices. Writing gives that voice a song.

It doesn’t have to happen in the classroom. Creativity can and should be nurtured and explored anywhere. Human beings are, by nature, creative creatures.

We use our creativity in all aspects of our lives from solving complicated problems to building relationships. Most children won’t grow up to join the ranks of professional artists, writers, singers or dancers. But the creative muscles you develop through those endeavors will serve you well no matter where life takes you.

Sadly, a lot of children live with a deficit of creative outlets.

Where children used to play with blocks and dolls and trucks (the building blocks of creating your own stories and plots), they now play with games and toys that demand as much personal creativity as manning your terminal on the factory line or operating a cash register. It’s a shame that the economy in this country is shifting away from those factory jobs to jobs where creativity is key.

Like I said, creativity can be nurtured in any number of ways and settings. One place where creativity will be kind this summer is in a series of workshops in Cooperstown. I’m very honored to be part of this project. Along with professional graphic designer Susan Strandberg and fellow writer Jeannine Bohler, I will be teaching classes for children in elementary and middle school.

We’ll be writing our own fairy tales and memoirs.

We’ll be creating unique designs inspired by nature. We’ll learn to write like food critics and travel writers. If you want to know more, join us for a pre-registration Open House from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, in the studio of Cooperstown Performing Arts, on the third floor of the Key Bank Building.

If you can’t make it to the open house, but you’re interested in learning more, e-mail me at villagewordsmith@gmail. com.

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger is a shameless promoter for creativity. You can connect with her at