Leaning into my creativity

Create to connect

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I moved frequently as a kid, changing countries every two years. In each new place, I found new social etiquette, norms and expectations. I didn’t stay long enough to form deeper connections and struggled to make friends.

In 2010, I moved to the United States. With no established groups or activities, I had copious amounts of free time. Therefore, I went to the library every day after school.

At the time, I was enamored by kawaii (Japanese for “cute”) culture and watched videos of cute things constantly. I searched the keyword “cute” at the library catalog and came across “The Cute Book” by Aranzi Aronzo. It’s a book that shows you how to make endearing felt mascots such as bunnies, cats or frogs.

They seemed straightforward to make, so I went to a fabric store to get all the materials and started sewing. I started giving them to my classmates, which was met with great reception. Gift-giving became one of my friendship love languages, and I loved seeing people’s faces light up upon receiving something handmade. 

Sewing, crocheting, needle-felting, ceramics, paper-crafts, pop-up cards — I was doing it all. I was even a member of the knitting club at my local library. I became known as the crafty girl who makes cute plushies, and I prided myself on that.

At school, I participated in the arts elective where we learned woodworking, cooking and art. Outside, I took art lessons and learned sketching, oil painting and charcoal. 

In high school, I worked as a yearbook photographer. Receiving assignments asked that I sit and become a close reader of life’s textures. I watched athletes share their camaraderie through toe touches, silent pats on the back and the magnanimous overlook of a fellow player’s mistake. This touched me deeply as someone who never had an interest in sports.

The added benefit of photography skills is that they give you a natural purpose within a group. People want to be photographed, so they ask you to join them and take photographs for them. This has allowed me to observe and interact with so many different people. 

However, during high school, I shifted my focus away from my creative ventures as I pondered academics, my future and professional direction. All the adults around me worked in tech, and I was unsure what it meant to work in the arts. I recall my excitement when I got to meet actors during a murder mystery dinner show. While I was excited to discuss the arts, I never saw myself pursuing my creative interests in a more dedicated manner. 

I started college as a cognitive science major because I thought I’d do some kind of design work. The courses associated with this were interesting, but they just didn’t enthrall me. Semester after semester of bookmarking arts and literature courses made me realize that I neglected my need for creative expression. 

Slowly, I’ve taken small steps to become more integrated with UC Berkeley’s arts and design community. 

In my first semester, I sat in the arts and design colloquium at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which exposed me to the wonders of local museums. I later helped curate a museum exhibit at BAMPFA as part of my geography capstone project. At the encouragement of my rowing coxswain, I found myself in “Introduction to Landscape Architecture” and discovered the power of drawing out your dreams and futures. 

This semester, I’ve leaned into learning music and performance arts. Part of me argued that Zoom theater wouldn’t be the same; the other part shouted, these adventures just can’t wait. So I took my first theater, dance and performance studies class: Theater 14, “Performance Workshop,” with the topic of “Asian American Theater Workshop.” For our final project, we made a devised piece about intergenerational conflict and miscommunication. Outside of that, I started private singing lessons — a challenging but rewarding pursuit. Finally, I tried out and joined Raijin, campus’s taiko drumming ensemble, which has been a fruitful experience, even via Zoom.

Something I have affirmed these past two years is that creative expression is indispensable to me. Crafting gave me tangible treasures for others, photography made me observe the world closely and performance allowed me to tell stories. Creative activities are important to me because they help me find common ground with others and share in each other’s joys and tribulations.

The other day, I was listening to the Conan O’Brien podcast where Conan spoke to a New York University film student whose whole family consisted of doctors. 

As they discussed the value of entertainment, Conan said, “You know, look at this epidemic we’ve just had. What have people done? They’ve all crowded around their TVs, and they’ve binge-watched shows to get through the epidemic.”

A lightbulb went off in my head as I realized that the average person spends much time immersed in stories, media and art. It gave me a tiny nudge that this world has space for me to share my stories and art too. 

I’ve been leaning back into my creative edge and trying lots of new things. This summer, I hope to explore and reflect on what it means for me to be creatively satisfied. What does that look like for future me?

Shuge Luo writes the Wednesday column on creativity and belonging. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.