Zachary Lazar had two choices after his father was murdered. He was only six years old when the tragedy occurred, but as he grew up, he realized he could continue the cycle and seek retribution, or try and figure out what would make someone do such an act. Ultimately, he decided on the latter.
Working as a journalist, Mr. Lazar visited Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison farm that was nicknamed “The Alcatraz of the South” and “the bloodiest prison in America.” He went initially to gain more insight about his father’s murderer, and interviewed many inmates in the process. The more he spoke to them, however, the more he realized that he had a lot more in common with them than he expected.
Lazar also realized something else that greatly surprised him.
The level and variations of criminals within the penitentiary was tremendous. But so, also, were the levels of creativity. It was creativity that, if honed correctly, could potentially redirect the mindsets of individuals who maybe believed they had no voice, hope, or choices left.
It was creativity that Lazar had the ability and the opportunity to hone, if he wanted.
I’m switching directions for a moment to ask a question.
Do you think you’re a creative person?
I can almost see some of you cringing through your screens. And the rest of you are shaking your heads so hard, your vision’s blurred.
Okay, fine. Let me ask you a different question.
- Do you like to cook? Do you have certain meals that you prefer to make (or eat) over others?
- What about music? Do you like listening to it? Do you find yourself humming in the silence of the day? Do you find yourself making up quick, silly little songs just to get a laugh out of yourself?
- Do you watch sports? Do you have something critical to say when your favorite player didn’t make the best play? “He should’ve gone left; that would’ve put ‘im in the clear. How’d he not see that?”
- Do you think about quitting your job? Do you think about jumping to a whole new industry where you will have to start from the ground up and learn an entirely new trade of work, just to start the business you really want?
Welp, guess what?
You’re a creative person.
Last weekend, early Saturday morning, I decided to clean my office space that was, I’m ashamed to say…un-walkable. For various reasons over the last year, the condition of my office got worse and worse with clutter. When I could finally no longer push my rolling chair between my computer desk and writing desk…I realized I had a serious problem.
Anyway, to give myself some background noise while I dove into the clutter, I flipped through Hulu and Netflix for a decent new show to enjoy. Finally, despite the pull of Russian Doll, Love, Death & Robots, and The OA (yes, yes, I will watch them some day!), I landed upon a documentary called The Creative Brain.
Fighting Against Instinct
Here’s how the documentary begins.
When a hamster sees food, what does it do?
Exactly: it eats it.
But, what do humans do?
Sure, we may eat it somewhere down the line, but what do we also do with it?
We cook it. We carve it into shapes. We create competitive TV shows like The Great British Bakeoff, Nailed It!, and Cutthroat Kitchen.
Translation: we literally bypass our instinctual survival needs to simply eat the food presented to us, and instead use said food in ways that go against our most basic nature. This is the very heart of creativity.
About a month ago, I attended Candytopia with some of my friends. As the name suggests, Candytopia is an interactive art exhibit “tastefully curated by Hollywood Candy Queen Jackie Sorkin, realized by master fabricator Zac Hartog, and brought to life by life-long retailer, John Goodman.” Together, they created works of art using and heavily inspired by popular candy.
Were my friends and I able to resist our natural instincts to bite into the exhibits? Of course, we were. We are mature, well-mannered adults (security didn’t hurt, either).
But that didn’t stop me from declaring that if the exhibit didn’t have edible options for me to munch on whilst appreciating said art, I WOULD bite into the freakin’ drywall.
Sometimes the urge to give in to instinct can be undeniable. But the fact that we can choose NOT to, when most other species can’t, again shows that humans with their higher levels of neural complexities must have additional ways to express themselves beyond mere instinct.
But it doesn’t have to stop there.
Creativity and Connection
Think about what creativity does.
- Think about meals in the restaurants.
- Think about musical jam sessions in jazz clubs.
- Think about pottery that artists create based on their personal trauma and life experiences.
- Heck, think about Candytopia.
The common thread?
Creativity brings people together.
The Creative Brain profiles how various people use creativity to draw others together from the most unlikely of sources.
It profiles an inventor, an artist, an animator/monster maker, a writer, musicians, singers. Sure, they’re what most people think of when thinking of “classic” creativity skills, but how they’re using those skills is both unorthodox and extremely beneficial to others.
The Creative Story of Zachary Lazar
Let’s segue back into Mr. Zachary Lazar’s story.
As a writer, Mr. Lazar had the skill and the ability to hone many of the Angola Prison inmates’ creativity. What’s more–he wanted to help these inmates hone their creativity. The connection he’d felt surprised him, and it was something he wanted to act on further.
So, he began teaching creative writing classes at the Bloodiest Prison in America.
The stigma of being a convicted criminal can cause many, if not all, humans to be blacklisted in society. The details behind the crime, or even if the guilty party was guilty at all, is often disregarded. Mr. Lazar believed that, through creative writing and the opportunity to focus on something other than the weight of the prison time and past mistakes, inmates could re-find something that had been lost over the years: themselves.
As this story is documented in The Creative Brain, the inmates express gratitude and appreciation for the writing classes and other creative outlets given to them. According to statistics presented by the documentary facilitator and neuroscientist David Eagleman, inmates who attend these types of classes are 80% less likely to have a repeat offense after parole.
And why would they need to? They’ve discovered that there is so much more in the world–their world–that they can explore. They’ve come to remember that they are more than just their crime. And now, they want to be more. At least, that is Mr. Lazar’s hope.
Teaching Creativity and Connecting
I can relate to Mr. Lazar’s desire to assist through creativity. A few weeks after starting my blogging hiatus in January, I volunteered at the Mary Hall Freedom House to teach a class on resume writing. (I know, I know–most people would not consider resume writing as a creative endeavor. Trust me, though–it is.) The Mary Hall Freedom House serves as a support system for women and their families struggling to regain footing after hardships (addiction, abuse, life) have struck them down. The resume writing class was part of a week-long series focused towards job-hunting.
I’ve been volunteering at MHFH for the last few years, though usually I taught the grammar and cover letter writing class. After the resume writing class had concluded, I walked around reading over several of the women’s resumes and giving them advice on how they could make their work even more professional, powerful, and personable (I reach high, I reach far 💫✨😲✨).
As I spoke to one woman, I noticed another staring at me out of the corner of my eye. When I’d finished speaking, she immediately asked me, “Are you going to be teaching any other classes this week?”
A couple of other women hard at work on their own resumes lifted their heads as well, seemingly in anticipation of my response. The reaction surprised me; I had been a little silly during class, as I’m prone to do in front of an audience. Through I am extremely passionate about resume writing, my own self-esteem had taken a severe blow not even three days prior due to my own personal events (more on this in another blog post).
I smiled apologetically at them. “Unfortunately, I won’t. But the other instructors will definitely be able to help you if there’s anything I missed.”
To my even further surprise, I saw some of their faces drop. “Aw, but you’re fun when you teach!” one woman called out, and the others nodded eagerly.
As dismissive as a moment that probably is, it had a huge impact on me as I rushed out of the Freedom House to join a conference call in my car. The fact that I could share knowledge on a topic that I loved, and help others improve their lives while they were also enjoying the lesson–was mind-blowing. Not only that, but the fact that I had helped them enough that they wanted to continue the lesson from me–me!–was extremely humbling and flattering. I loved helping people–but it’s still a very new experience to learn that they possibly like when the help comes from me.
Putting Off What’s Most Important
Throughout the last ten years, I’ve worked with people who told me that I am allowed to choose how I live my life. Before then, I legitimately thought that every part of me–my intelligence, my time, my actions, my job, my schooling, even my hobbies–was preordained. All I had to do as an individual was follow after what was already laid out based on my lot in life and react appropriately when necessary to keep matters steady.
The first time a therapist told me that I had a choice, I blew it off. I don’t even think I understood what she meant by it. Thankfully, she was skilled enough to see that I wasn’t understanding, even as I complained about how I never had time to devote to writing my then-hopeful novel.
She said to me, “So then, why don’t you devote time to it?”
“Because,” I snapped, getting more agitated that she was not listening to me, “I don’t have time. I’ve got a full-time job; I teach and coach at my taekwondo school; and I’m starting a resume business. Cleaning, cooking, working out. I have other things I need to take care of first. Writing is the least important thing on the list!”
“Why?” she said again.
“Why?” my therapist said, leaning forward in her seat. “Why would you put off something that obviously means so much to you?”
Echoing the sentiments of one of the inmates in The Creative Brain, writing made me sink into another world–my real world. The world that I was truly meant to be a part of. When I write on a regular basis, I am calm and at peace for days after–at a level that my friends and coworkers actually tell me “Wow, you’re in a really good mood!”
And yet, I called it the least important part of my life, to the point where I’d neglected it for…what?
Self-imposed higher responsibilities. Things that looked better and more productive to the outside world.
I didn’t have to be a passive player in what I wanted to do. I didn’t have to live instinctively or reactively. I could pause, review what took up my current time, and make an active decision on whether to continue doing it.
That included my job.
That included taekwondo.
That included JusB Proofreading.
I could create a life that made me smile more. I could live in a way that showed all the different paths that my life could take.
I could be creative in my own life.
Choosing Your Creative Life
Working under JusB Proofreading connected me with a plethora of amazing people. That being said, I was shocked by the amount of clients who would send me their resumes and add, laughing, “Look. I’m just trying to find a job, okay? It doesn’t matter what it is; I’ll take whatever I can get.”
I’m not a career guru. But when I see and hear the misery of someone who is lost and yearning for direction, I see myself from ten years ago, talking to my therapist, completely neglecting the one thing in my life that made me happier with myself than anything or anyone else ever had.
The ability to think beyond mere instinct is intense. The ability to make a mistake, learn from the mistake, and then ensure the mistake never happens again is extraordinary. We are complex, ever-evolving, creative creatures, and we have the ability to mold our lives and help others do the same.
I want to help others be the best so they can help others be the best. Then, the best are getting only the best.Tiki, engineer and author