Anna-Leena Harkonen


Roman Kokoev


The Confines of Creativity

I was once asked to speak about creativity at a seminar. I was relatively young at the time, firm and unyielding in my beliefs, and had already been hardened and somewhat disillusioned by my profession.

For me, writing—that is, creative work—meant suffering. I couldn’t stand that all kinds of tinkering and dabbling were called creativity. I was even more annoyed if someone had the audacity to enjoy such pointless pursuits.

“Not everyone is creative,” I proclaimed from the podium. “Raking leaves is not creative, no matter how creatively you try to approach it.”

How embarrassing.

I COULDN’T STAND that creativity was associated with just about anything. For me, creative work was a serious undertaking.

At worst, I used to be paralyzed by the anxiety of writing for several days at a time. I could write for only five minutes at a stretch—then I had to stand up and wander aimlessly around the apartment from one room to another, panting.

“It’s as though I am giving birth,” I said to my husband.

“You are,” he replied.

CREATIVE WORK is cruel because anyone can give you unsolicited advice and comment on the results of your work. 

I have received feedback on the characters in my books, for example: they are not nice enough. Not nice enough? Who is interested in nice people? Characters in novels have a license to be horrible. And in this era of crime fiction—if no one is killed in a book, is it really a book?

“Remember to always write happy endings!” my late uncle used to say every time we said goodbye after seeing one another. I nodded meekly, but I never took his emphatic advice.

FORTUNATELY, the myth about angsty artists, which used to be closely associated with creativity, is no longer fashionable. I believed in it for much too long.

An actor colleague told me that during her first year at drama school, everyone had been asked to describe their background. It was a showdown of one-uppance: alcoholic fathers, sick mothers, the full gamut.

The last but one to speak was a former drug addict. He talked about what had been the wake-up call: he had been sitting on a bench in a park with a friend, when someone had suddenly struck the back of the friend’s head with an axe.

The last to speak was a young woman.

“Well, I sort of had a nice childhood in the suburbs,” she said, apologetically. The atmosphere was ruined.

A FRIEND OF MINE decided to become a carpenter after having supported himself as a musician and visual artist up until that point.

He feels that his work as a carpenter is immensely liberating.

“When you are making a chair, you know that it will become a chair,” he explained. “When you are making an album or a painting, it may well turn out to be shit.”

© Anna-Leena Harkonen 2021

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