It’s time to rewind. All the way back to when I was born.
Because as my mom always says, I was creative from birth.
I can still remember watching Mr. Dressup on TV, following along with his drawings and crafts. Even if I didn’t have all the materials, I did the best I could with what I had around.
Something about putting things on paper just fascinated me, and it didn’t matter whether it was journaling, sketching, doodling, drawing, painting, charcoal, origami (I suck at origami) or otherwise, if it was creative, I was there.
When I was five turning six, my dad, my mom, my sister, and I moved from Canada to Japan.
I can still recall weekly Bible study meetings and church services. Not the details of the studies or services themselves. No. I remember doodling, making satirical newsletters, writing lyrics, drawing mazes, bringing my graphic novels to life, and even conceptualizing video games as these gatherings were happening around me.
That was my world. And not much changed in grade school, where I went through class much the same way, writing my own curriculum and following my impulses.
To that extent, creating is my identity. It always has been. I never had to go looking for art. It basically found me.
People often ask me what it was like growing up in Japan.
The quick answer is that I have nothing to compare it to.
The longer answer is that I transitioned from Jr. High to High School when my family returned to Canada, and because I got to see a little bit of what Jr. High in Japan and Canada were like, I have some frame of reference.
There are many things I could relay about Japan, but for all intents and purposes, this is what I’ll share (also reference Dave Barry Does Japan – you’ll thank me later).
Culturally, Japan is different. The people are more community minded. They are less individualistic.
In Japan, I always had a diverse group of friends with different interests around me. It didn’t matter whether it was video games, sports, fishing, or even putting things on paper – I could always find people to do things with.
And that made for an amazing experience. Life was beautiful. I felt needed. Wanted. Cared for. Supported. Something I would not feel – for the most part – since.
Education was different. I think it was better in some ways.
Everything I learned in school was basically miles ahead of what I learned in Canada. As I returned to the Canadian school system, I noticed that the lessons were all vaguely familiar – because I had already sat through them years ago!
(Remember – I’ve basically never taken a class in my life. I was busy doodling or writing!)
The school system was loosely militaristic, though, and that struck my parents as weird (again, I didn’t know any different). I can still recall marching in rows in the mornings and the calls of “stand at attention” and “at ease.”
I guess the equivalent in Canada would be orientation day or pep rallies, but this morning march happened at least once per week in Japan, where the faculty relayed needless information.
I suppose this was supposed to prepare me for what was to come in Jr. High, High School, University, and eventually employment. I’m glad I didn’t stick around for all that because elementary school could never have prepared me for what was to come!
My last visit to Japan was in 2017, and I savored every moment.
It felt like my friends rolled out the red carpet for me. My uncle, who lived in Malaysia for many years, calls it “Rockstar treatment.” Not to perpetuate stereotypes, but Asians often do have a gift for hospitality.
I had a list of things I wanted to do while I was visiting, and thanks to my friends, I was able to fulfill on all but one or two (and I wasn’t too sad about those).
I would not have changed a thing about the trip, except for maybe catching a cold as I was heading into Tokyo from Hyogo, and spending my last day alone in a concrete jungle hotel room (to be fair, I probably needed a break from all the drinking).
I would later come to reflect on the trip as a “perfect” experience. Nothing like my childhood in Japan, where so many things seemed to go wrong.
Same country. Different experience.
But something always goes wrong in childhood. It doesn’t matter who you are. And that becomes the unresolved – the baggage you carry with you for the rest of your life. It takes over and becomes your master if you let it.
I had author, entrepreneur, and musician Andy Seth on my podcast in July.
We had a strange connection from the get-go, because we are both rare individuals who identify as authors, entrepreneurs, and musicians. Plenty of people are authors. Or entrepreneurs. Or musicians. But a combination of all three is less common.
I shared the story of my childhood with him, much as I’ve shared with you here.
He responded by saying (summarized):
Wouldn’t it have been great if someone recognized those talents in you? If they had nurtured and supported that within you? If they had found a job or role for you?
But my parents, my family, my teachers, my coaches… They all did the best they could. They had their own life to live. Their own worries, concerns, and anxieties. Their own goals, dreams, and agendas.
So, I don’t blame them, though I do wish I had that type of support.
But perhaps, by sharing my story with you here, you’ll recognize the creative child. Maybe you’ll take notice of them and nurture their talent. Maybe you’ll ask them what they want to do in life. And maybe you’ll be a part of their journey and be there when things get tough.
Hopefully, I’ll do the same.
For the first 13 years of my life, creating is just about all there was. I was always creating.
Music and video games would stimulate my young imagination. And they would begin to influence and impact the direction of my creativity and even life.
I may not have chosen art or creativity. But I would go onto choose new things in the years to follow.
And I would also continue to create in the times to come, but it was different. Different because of what happened to my dad.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.