Being a westerner (with very white skin) travelling in China means I get stared at. A lot. Gulang Yu has far more Chinese tourists than Western tourists. In fact, having a Westerner here is quite the novelty apparently. People get out their cameras and snap photos of me as I pass. Groups of people point me out and discuss the idiosincracies of white people among themselves. I almost expect the little tour buggies to call out ‘And if you look to your left you’ll see a Westerner walking past.’ The Chinese even have a special term for foreigners – ‘lao wai.’ It’s very easy to pick out in their conversations. ‘Look! Lao wai!’
Being stared at all the time can make you self conscious, almost as if you were a freak of some kind. (I wonder if this is what celebrities feel like.) And, if you’re not careful, you can end up becoming jaded and annoyed by the constant attention. You may even view the people as inconsiderate or uneducated.
The interesting thing is most people who stare are just curious, not deliberately being impolite or invasive. If you begin talking to them, especially if you can talk to them in their own language, you quickly discover that they’re happy to be friendly. They want to know where you come from. You repay the complement and ask where they’re from. And the conversation continues on to other enjoyable subjects.
While it’s true that not every person who stares at you is someone you’d want to initiate a conversation with, once you do start talking to people, they usually stare at you with far more accepting and friendly eyes.
What does this have to do with being creative?
The Creative Stereotype
Have you ever been stared at or singled out because of your creativeness? Perhaps you’re hesitant to allow your creativeness to grow because you’re afraid of the stares and attention. ‘Creative People’ have reputations to live up to, right? They’re supposed to wear colourful scarves, drink mocha chinos and speak in the third person. Oh, and they don’t actually do anything.
In reality, people exhibit their creativeness in many different ways. (And here’s a little secret, the people who vigorously perpetuate the ‘creative stereotype’ of eclectic, unreasonable artiest are usually overcompensating for their lack of actual creativeness.) You don’t have to be a ‘social misfit’ to be creative. You just have to be you, in whatever form that takes. If you feel creative and you’re happy, then go with it!
Sharing Who You Are
There are always going to be those friends and family members who will turn to you and say, “So what exactly is it you do?” or “You’re not going to go all ‘writerly/artsy/philosophical’ on us, are you?” They seem to pin the label ‘creative’ on you as if you’re a foreigner.
While that can be annoying and even make you feel like your creativeness is something to be ashamed of, often this situation can be overcome by simple conversation. Try letting them into your world – share a couple of ideas, or explain a current project. Often times their cynical stares turn into stares of curiosity. Gradually they become intrigued and even excited. Some may eventually become important parts of your support network.
Sometimes it takes an example of your work to win them over. I had a friend who loved to read. We would always talk enthusiastically about books we’d been reading and recommend titles to each other. Every now and then I’d tell her about a writing project I was working on. Although she was never rude or belittling of my ideas, I would notice her enthusiasm decrease. One day I gave her two short stories I had written. The next time I saw her she was very excited about my work and told me I needed to continue writing. I realised that her lack of enthusiasm was simply because she never had opportunity to see what I’d been doing. Once given that opportunity, she had something to comment on and encourage.
Not everyone who stares at you or points you out as different is being mean or showing distain. Sometimes they’re noticing what makes you special. And if someone notices you’re special, then perhaps they’re the right person to befriend.
Have you discovered a new friend this way?
Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art
April 21, 2010 at 9:41 am
Well – how do you know you’re NOT a celebrity? Perhaps they’ve been following your blog 🙂 It could happen.
It is hard to escape the stereotypes of creativity – of creativity being a hobby and not serious, for example. But maybe that’s a western concept. In Japan, for example, there are honors and designations for masters of the arts (sort of like being designated a national treasure, without the plaque nailed to your side :)) I wonder if China has something similar – perhaps you could ask your new friends.
May 5, 2010 at 11:30 am
I find it a struggle to justify my creativity on the arts front. While creativity in cooking and child raising is much appreciated, there are those looming mountains of guilt brought closer by confused looks when you say one afternoon a week is for writing.
“Really? What for? Are you published?”
Funny thing you can’t get published if you don’t take time to write and one afternoon a week isn’t exactly the high road to success. But answering for the Chinese people I am married to and live among they do not have a modern equivalant to the Japanese custom you mention Ami.
The only justification for spending hours at a creative pursuit is if you are getting paid to do it or are retired from a worthy career.
I defenitly feel the creative freak at times though most soften up and open up when I give their children a story. 🙂
I’ll look into opening up a little more to some of them as you suggest Jessica. Maybe a new valuable critic lays hiding in my aquaintences.