As someone who thinks and talks a ton about creativity, I come across the term “creative outlet” all the time. I’ve used this term myself for many years to talk about the importance of doing things that require us to tap into our creative energy, working with our hands and making something that brings us—even for a moment—out of our internal dialogue and our need for productivity and into a state of flow.
But recently I’ve decided the term “creative outlet” no longer works for me.
The purpose of an outlet is to move something out, of course—whether electricity from a closed circuit, built up steam from a pressurized tank, or discounted clothes from last season’s shelves. When we hear about creative outlets, it is often in the context of releasing some of our pent up energy through some hands-on activity. The idea is that, just like that pressurized tank, we need this creative outlet in order to rid ourselves of excessive energy so we can get back to being productive and high-functioning members of society.
The more I reflect on my own creativity, though, the more I deeply believe that creative energy is precious. It bothers me to think about engaging in a creative activity just so I can get out of some of that “pent up energy.” I don’t want to see my creativity as something I need to expel in favor of productivity. I don’t want to view the creative process as just a means to an end, an indulgent retreat away from the “real” work of life.
Yes, creativity can look like making art. But it also shows up in beautiful ways in our ordinary lives. It’s resourcefulness and spontaneity. It’s flexibility and empathy. It’s an invitation to let go of the tension built up in our bodies after years of holding ourselves rigid to the expectations placed on us. Creativity is trying something new to connect with a distant child. Creativity is making a delicious meal out of a sparse pantry. Creativity is sustaining ourselves physically and spiritually in the midst of stress and grief. Creativity is having new conversations with new people (or those we’ve known forever, for that matter) that draw us deeper into the complexities of our many human experiences.
To me, creativity is the real work. Creative energy is drawn from a well of inspiration deep within our souls. It connects us to who we are, what we value, what kind of world we want to see. It reveals to us the things we find beautiful and meaningful and worth our time. It gives us the opportunity to share with others how we see the world, and in turn to see the world through others’ eyes, reminding us how interconnected we all truly are.
So these days, instead of “creative outlet,” I’ve been finding the term “creative inlet” much more meaningful.
When I think of an inlet, I think of the Bogue Inlet on the beautiful coast of North Carolina. Here, the ocean makes its way into the calmer waters of the Bogue Sound, trading in the beaches and waves for gentle, rhythmic laps on the marshy grasses and piers. The ecosystems here are more sheltered from the uncertainties of the open ocean, and life feels slower and more easeful. To kayak through the quiet waters amidst the salt marsh brings me an immediate sense of peace, and I can’t help but feel a reverence for the life there that allows me a fleeting glimpse of its cycles.
This is an in-between space—where salty sea water meets fresh stream water in a gloriously brackish union that makes it tough to categorize the flourishing of life that takes place there. An inlet is a glimpse into a world that is in a constant interchange between giving and receiving, feeding and being fed, breathtakingly beautiful yet needing none of the validation of being seen.
This is how I wish to commune with my creativity.
I no longer have any desire to hurry my creative energy through a pressure release valve. Instead, I wish to live my life with my feet always dangling into its murky yet sacred waters. I wish to retreat into the inlets within my own being, which are sustained by their inherent worth, not by anything others can say or believe about me, or even anything I can say or believe about myself. I wish to invite that thriving ecosystem to envelop my rigidity and soften its edges. I wish to see my creativity as a way of life, not an escape; to notice all the places where it bubbles up to the surface and begs me to stop suppressing it. And I wish to take up residence in this place, where my creativity dwells amidst the grasses and the tiny living things that breathe in and out the abundance of life.
Comin’ through my speakers:
Leon Bridges’ new album, “Gold-Diggers Sound”
What’s inspiring me lately:
The “Everything Belongs” podcast with Madison Morrigan (very grateful to my friend, Summer, for sharing an episode on her instagram story, which led me into a deep, deep dive)
Something I've created lately:
This zine on sacred creativity, called “What do creativity, art, and God have in common?” It’s completely free to download and print.
You can find more about me and my work at molliedonihe.com, and you can subscribe to this public journaling practice at molliedonihe.substack.com. You can also find me @molliedonihe on Instagram and TikTok. Glad you’re here!