For about two years up until the early summer of 2005, I lived in a very fascinating little town in rural Southeast Louisiana.
The town didn’t have much. My neighbors and I would hang out at Auto Zone for entertainment. No movie theatres, no big-box retailers, no fancy restaurants – just a couple of diners here and there.
But just before I left that town – three months before it was forever changed by Hurricane Katrina – I grew to love it – and mostly because its people were unique in their ability to practically live off the grid.
I met several women who married young, raised their families, and didn’t have enough money to travel or go to expensive stores or restaurants, so they made the most of what they had.
Out of this came a community filled with women who were designers and artists in their own right.
They may not have been able to head to Woolworth’s to buy the nice dress from the magazine, but they sure could make it. A French-Quarter artist moved north into the town and began teaching art classes to the women there, who in subsequent generations have created some of the most beautiful slice-of-southern-life paintings and sketches I’ve seen.
The people of this community handed down their knowledge to younger generations, who have showed off their talents in 4-H competitions at the Parish Fair each year. To this day, I’ve never been to another place that had such beautiful handmade dresses, quilts, or artwork.
And although I’m sure a few of these people would like the conveniences of modern life, most will tell you they wouldn’t have it any other way. I think we could learn a lot from these folk.
And with a report today that one million Americans have lost their jobs this year, we need to be looking at new ways to generate income as corporations and industries move out of the cookie-cutter jobs sector.
In 2000, BusinessWeek reported that the industrial economy as we know it is giving way to the creative economy. The premise of the creative economy is not the product, but the ideas behind it.
Creative economy studies are being conducted and completed across the country. These explore small businesses of handmade and artisan goods, as well as restaurants, art festivals, writers’ colonies and any other industry in which the product is the result of ideas and not cubicle or factory work. It is about making a better product, but making a better product here.
And as stores such as Etsy become more and more prominent and folks look for handmade and artisan goods to purchase as gifts or make for themselves, we can certainly see the creative economy as a profitable one.
But in addition to bringing in extra profit, it can also enrich our lives.
One of my favorite thinkers, Joseph Campbell, had the following exchange in his last series of interviews ever with the great Bill Moyers:
BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.
This is where we tap into ourselves. I believe we all have creative abilities if we just tap into them – and in addition to bringing us peers to help clear the path, it can bring us through during these harsh economic times.
My bliss is through writing. I’m lucky to have that as a job for a living, but even so I must seek additional outlets to do this as a source of income. I also crochet gifts for my friends. Maybe your bliss is through music, or painting, or woodworking. The point is we all have something.
In the past eight years, we’ve had an administration that’s gone about educating our young in the wrong way. Creative programs and schools of thought have been pushed aside in favor of power-reading, standardized tests and hard study sessions. We must teach our kids to explore their creative sides.
A week ago I was in the backseat of a car with an eight-year-old girl. We were joined by her mother and stepfather, who had just been married in the first and only wedding I’ve officiated as one of those Internet-ordained ministers. I was sitting in the back, crocheting an afghan for a friend who just had twins. She stared at me, and so for the next two hours I sat patiently with her and taught her how to crochet a chain stitch.
That’s where it all begins.