Be Bold! Your Creativity Needs It

Silencing Creativity

My mouth is duct-taped closed. It’s not just any duct-tape that has been roughly applied to my mouth. It’s a heavy-duty silver variety that is ribbed for extra strength and hold. It’s going to hurt when it’s pulled off. For sure.

I’m sitting in the principle’s office and the secretary is calling my mom. I am not in the least bit worried. My mom will defend me. In fact, she might even duct-tape the teacher up instead.

All goes according to plan. Mrs Jordaan walks wide berths around me from then on. She’s had a mouthful and more from my enraged mother.

My wrongdoing: I asked too many questions.

creativity and questioning

You see, in Apartheid South Africa there are three distinct groups of people: White Afrikaans people, White English people, and all the rest that aren’t classified. I grow up smack in the middle of the two white groupings. My mother is Afrikaans. My father is English. This reality is as harsh as Apartheid itself. The English whites detest the Afrikaans white way and the Afrikaans whites loathe the English whites. So although I hold a passport and move freely around my country, unlike my African mama who carries me around on her back while she cleans our house, I am looked upon by my Afrikaans family as a traitor and by my English friends as a half breed with a distinct English-Afrikaans accent. My mom’s brothers call my father a “rooinek”. My aunt’s, uncle’s and cousins on my mother’s side call me a brat. For one simple reason: I ask questions. Lots of them. And, I ask adults, not only my fellow playmates. I get this from the English side of my upbringing: the side that believes in freedom of the broader kind, not the freedom of segregation.

Honoring Questions as Part of Creativity

My parents decided when they got married that they would have an English home but that I would be sent to an Afrikaans primary school so that I could learn the language. Being raised English included the freedom to ask questions, many of them; the ability to be a child but to participate in adult conversation by listening and contributing; the choice to take a stand on a matter, even if that stand differed from my parents; the freedom to question decisions to get to the bottom of the why; the ability to understand motive and question it.

My parents wanted a bilingual child who understood and honoured both the cultures of her history. But honouring is a tricky matter because inevitably you have to choose, which means something or someone is not honoured in ways they perceive to be honouring.

I chose to honour questions. I chose to dishonour silent acceptance because an adult said so.

Choosing to honour questions is one of the things bold people do. Elizabeth Marshall recently asked me in an interview about Spin, my book on developing creativity, whether or not boldness was a kind of sub-plot to the book and my immediate answer is Yes! Boldness is essential in the creative’s toolkit. Boldness calls for response, which is a way to wake people up. And that, I believe is the calling of the creative.

David Dark in his book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything writes:

I believe deliverance begins with questions. It begins with people who love questions, people who live with questions and by questions, people who feel a deep joy when good questions are asked. When we meet these people – some living, some through history and art – things begin to change. Something is let loose. When we’re exposed to the liveliness of holding everything up to the light of good questions – what I call “sacred questioning” – we discover that redemption is creeping into the way we think, believe and see the world. This re-deeming (re-valuing) of what we’ve made of our lives, a redemption that perhaps begins with the insertion of a question mark beside whatever feels final and absolute and beyond questioning, gives our souls a bit of elbow room, a space in which to breathe and imagine again, as if for the first time.

Rip off the duct-tape. May the questions pour forth.

Your creativity needs it.

Illustration by Brian Dixon. Used with permission. Photos and post by Claire Burge author of Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree.


spin taking your creativity to the nth degree by claire burgeGet inside the process of a productivity expert who understands both the mysterious and technical natures of creativity. Lively memoir reveals the mystery, while numerous exercises and helpful lists like “12 Ways of Capturing Creativity on the Go” make creativity something you can decide to structure for specific outcomes.

Buy Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree now


  1. says


    is the loudest alarm bell;
    it worries your teacher

    that any girl would ask
    what everyone else knows

    is forbidden. To question
    what you hear, to want

    more than one answer,
    a sharp look, fingers raised

    to closed lips, is to forget
    your place is to be silent.

    A woman always has to choose:
    to sit at the back of the bus

    and be quiet or take a seat
    at the front, close to the driver

    you know you can be. Why
    puts everything up to the light,

    marks your mind with no room
    for the final or the absolute,

    makes space enough to open arms
    wide to welcome the others in.

    • says

      Thank you, Donna. I identify quite strongly with what Claire wrote. Many people claim to have lost or never had a voice (in whatever), when usually the truth is the voice just wasn’t used. I decided a while ago to use mine, especially when I’m expected not to. The consequences can be harsh but the alternative is one I can no longer accept.

  2. says

    Partners in taped crime, we are! Though mine was just masking tape (I simply cannot imagine the pain involved with having the mouth duct-taped shut!)

    Yours was for questions. Mine was for protest (a form of questioning, I suppose).

    “2nd Grade Lesson, Courtesy of Mrs. Hotaling”

    She took
    what was mine,
    Patsy did.

    I demanded
    it back. My little
    red pocket book.

    Vinyl bit of nothing
    to everyone else.

    joy to me.

    Masked shut,
    I learned
    to be more subtle
    but never less

      • says

        Glue-y icky masking tape, yes. Taped across the mouth. More an embarrassment than anything. A public shaming that lasted all day (you could take the tape off to eat lunch, but had to walk to lunch that way and everyone could see your punishment)

        • says

          Makes me sad to think that… Geesh at least they let you eat. Probably made them feel so awesome because they let you eat. Such benevolence. Were they hoping for a humanitarian award for this gesture?

          What IS with all the tape? Claire??? You??? Lots of others I’m sure. Why? I had a lot of tape experiences. Sometimes it covered my nose as well and I had to secretively loosen it with my tongue so that I could breathe better. I can still smell and taste it. My mom provided the tape to my 3rd grade teacher and instructed her to keep it on the desk in full view. It worked. I stopped talking in class.

          Claire… I love reading how you sat there with confidence, knowing your mother would take care of things in your favor! So great that she did, and even greater (I think) that you KNEW she would. 😀

  3. says

    And, this:

    “But honouring is a tricky matter because inevitably you have to choose, which means something or someone is not honoured in ways they perceive to be honouring.”

    Yes. Life-altering, these choices of what to honor. Not easy.

  4. says

    Claire, thank you again for allowing me to come to you with questions about Spin. It is an honor to be trusted and given permission to “ask”. Im grateful to have been given the fullness of an offering back in the way of long and thoughtful responses.

    I love this post for many many reasons. I think there is Spin II, Spin the sequel, or Spin Again :) Tongue in cheek of course. But honestly I think there is more to this. And that you could write a second book on creativity, boldness, exploring the nuances of the creative life, question asking and going beyond the obvious.

    L.L., maybe this helps explain why I want to write “interview” pieces for Tweetspeak. I love asking questions. Claire, you help me understand me….a little better. Thank you.

  5. says

    Claire, et al, Does anyone use the productivity software “Freedom”. Am looking into it as a means of increasing my productivity. Thought I would ask the “Productivity Specialist” :) Very very intrigued by it, I must say.

  6. Marcy Terwilliger says

    I love this in you Claire, brave & bold. No one Ever let me have a voice, Ever. Raised by a very loving mother who died way to soon she often hid me behind her dress. Why? A father with nothing but Verbal Abuse for the both of us. My tears flow right now for sharing this, I do not miss him. Counseling did help. Here I sit at 63 and I’m finally getting my Voice for the first time, unafraid to try something new, I don’t care if I can’t do it right, I just try with all my heart. Because I ended up late in life being married to the man like my father. My piece comes from writing, I have a voice and though my words are plain and not full of drama, they are my words.

      • Marcy Terwilliger says

        Yes Donna, sometimes it does. Also laying it bare, the soul, your life, is hard for some people to take. I’m honest as the day is long, love the wisdom but not how I got it. It is said in old countries that the young ones bring tea to the wise, I’m still waiting.

  7. says

    I’m glad you shared this story, Claire, because it shows that being bold and asking questions is not necessarily rewarded. We need to be honest about that part.

    So glad you are still bold and still questioning.

    • says

      Megan you make a point about something very important. One I haven’t considered.

      I think there are multiple reasons why questioning isn’t rewarded: many people ask questions just to provoke, with little genuine interest. It takes filtering to find the real questions and, as with any filtering, some of the good gets thrown out with the bad.

  8. says

    Though I was voted “class clown” my senior year of high school because of my quick jokes in class, I was not truly bold; I did not truly question. I did not have a voice at home, and so I swallowed and kept my deeper thoughts to myself, internalizing most of my creativity, trickling some onto the pages of a journal or spiral notebook where I was trying to express something, anything, that was distinctly me.

    Sometimes we don’t have literal tape slapped on our mouths, yet we might as well have, having felt that we’ve been silenced by others who believe themselves to own the best voice with the only truths were passing along, the only stories worth telling and retelling.

    And that leads to self-taping our own mouths shut. It’s time we all peel back the sticky and speak up, speak bold, and let the creativity pour forth.

    • Marcy Terwilliger says

      Amen Ann and Amen again. I can so relate to what you just said, thanks for sharing. For we are not along in this journey to speak bold and it’s never to late to have a voice.

  9. says

    even a quiet gaze
    a wondering silent aside
    to castles and clouds
    found throbbing limits
    in closed-off closets
    where sticks and strength
    demanded tears
    to deepen
    dug-out understandings
    for years

    each day
    for weeping was never
    agreement to see
    and now this voice
    cries strong

    the wrong
    throbbing within
    frames and lists
    and lies
    where rules
    are “never” broken

  10. says

    My lips hurt every time I read this piece, Claire.

    And when I get over that, then I’m just grateful that you took off (really, I’m hoping you didn’t actually rip it off…) and kept off the duct tape. I’ve benefited from the kind of questions you ask — and appreciate that you receive questions openly from others.

    Dang. My lips are hurting again…

  11. Alana says

    in fifth grade
    my teacher said
    i talked too much

    she used shears
    and a wide metal spool
    of adhesive tape
    to shut my mouth
    zzzzip, snip…
    zzzzip, snip…
    zzzzip, snip…
    zzzzip, snip…
    zzzzzzip, snip…
    in a crazy quilt of silence

    that morning, other kids
    and asked me questions

    that noon, mouthless
    i couldn’t eat lunch

    that afternoon, another teacher
    came to our room
    to borrow some chalk
    she saw my face
    she stared and stared at me
    but not a word to my teacher
    about me or my condition

    after school, in detention
    the tape burned
    as it finally came off

    in the girls bathroom mirror
    i stared at my own face
    a network of red tape mark lines
    my skin a map of martian canals
    and grey adhesive stickum bits
    that wouldn’t come off
    no matter how i scrubbed

    at home, my mother noticed
    the rubbery grey bits on my face
    (the red had faded)
    and i had to explain
    but my mom interrupted:
    “well, you probably had it coming!”

    in my room, i cried and cried
    silenced twice
    in a single day

    • says

      I’m listening, miss Alana. Thank you for mustering the courage to share this story. I hope the whole of it created the same strength of beauty in your deep downs as you’ve shown us here.


  12. says

    Oh miss Claire – and the others who’ve had their mouths taped – I’m so, so sorry.

    Someone would have to render me unconscious to apply tape to my mouth.

    I’m so claustrophobic. Back in college when I was strapped to the C-spine transport board in a mock injury situation in an Athletic Training class, I screamed until they unstrapped me and set me free.

    Ties cannot bind that
    which was created to be
    free. Let loose the tape.


  13. Jonathan says

    Stumbled upon this…

    You compare growing up in an Afrikaans and English family to apartheid. Really? That must have been hell. I mean, the persecution you must have suffered. You have NO idea. I have in my life never read such absolute rubbish. What a joke.

    • says

      Jonathan, I like that you bring this up. Comparisons are hard to make (risky to make), because they come in at different levels, spectrums, if you will.

      I’m really wanting to hear about the level where the comparison would be made in your mind. I’m thinking it has less to do with the idea of separation and cultural clash than out and out violent results of Apartheid as experienced on the side of the oppressed.

      (Have you read Kaffir Boy? That’s what I picture you thinking. That right there. The chronicling of sheer terror and deprivation and violence. A comparison which is at a totally different level and would not, to my mind, fit here at all. That would be a joke, as you say, and a terrible one at that.)

    • says

      Jonathan, thanks for commenting.

      I hear you.

      I would like to understand your context more … so if you don’t mind me asking a few questions to position our conversation in a time and place in my mind:

      1. What is your personal experience of Apartheid?
      2. Have you lived and worked in South Africa?
      3. Do you have first-hand experience of the extreme Afrikaans culture within South Africa?

      I positioned this piece from the perspective of a very naive young child in class 1, aged 6.

      As an adult I fully agree with you: the comparison carries undue weight. But as a 6 year old child, unable to converse in Afrikaans who has just been placed in an Afrikaans school with teachers who allow absolutely no freedom of expression, which you are used to, the situation is enlarged and contorted. This 6 year old child is also the only white child who sits with the few black children who have been brought into the school for the first time. She gets ridiculed along with them which she really does not understand because she grew up playing with her home-help’s children who she considered brothers and sisters. The child Claire very much sees the world in enlarged, exaggerated forms in these moments of rejection, however small they are in relation to the larger unjustices that were being carried out at the time.

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