A Creativity That Transcends Time
Joan of Arc embodies the creative thinking we use in media
When you think “media”, the last era you think of is the Middle Ages.
And yet, one of the most powerful inspirations of creativity houses her story there.
Joan of Arc was born in 1412, supposedly on January 6 (when handling an era before constant documentation and easily salvageable records, researchers cannot be positive about a birth date).
The daughter of peasants, she grew up in a France ravaged by the Hundred Years’ War against England.
Joan’s courage and cunning guided her in leading the French army and eventually turning the tide of the war. Voices of three saints beckoned her to liberate the town of Orléans. Accused of heresy, she was captured and burned at the stake at only 19 years of age.
Her story is nothing short of legendary.
That she liberated her country from English rule is only half of the battle (forgive the insensitive pun). It’s how she did it.
Creativity is far more than what you accomplish; it’s how you got there. La Pucelle (Maid) d’Orléans had every conceivable obstacle against her — she was an illiterate left-handed French peasant girl with no previous battle experience.
It doesn’t take a historian to realize how little promise these factors hold in 15th-century war-torn Europe.
Creativity means working with your circumstances as best you can. The technique lies in playing the cards you’re dealt, even though you cannot control the hand you’ve been given. Joan of Arc had never so much as held a sword before, but when the saintly call to action arrived, she chopped her hair short, donned battle armor, raised her standard, and charged into battle.
Your circumstances do not define you, and yet life is a journey in learning to work with — and maybe even accept — them. It’s quite the beautiful paradox. A year and a half ago to the day (as I write this), I had back surgery, which meant dropping out of school a month before graduation, a decision that took me months to accept.
In addition to the two remaining herniated discs in my back, I have a laundry list of allergies.
When you’re allergic to the world and to the bracelet that says so, it requires pretty creative thinking — reading and rereading labels on everything your body comes in contact with, including sunscreen and toothpaste, and learning the Latin names of everything in the process thanks to the ingredient statements; improvising meals with whatever safe ingredients happen to lie around the house.
The creative journey entails taking all of these things that make you you, bundling them together, and pointing an accusing finger at that bundle, saying “I’m going to work around this. I’m bigger than my circumstances and stronger than anything that happens to me.”
Of course, this declaration need not be as drastic as literally living and dying for your beliefs as Joan did, though her feats certainly solidify her place as a hero in any sense of the word.
Mark Twain idolized Joan, claiming that his best work was his novel about her. “In the things wherein she was great she was so without shade or suggestion of help from preparatory teaching, practice, environment, or experience,” he affirmed.
“There is no one to compare her with, none to measure her by,” Twain continued. “She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.”
Creativity hardly involves just pen and paper. Joan’s weapons of choice were literal weapons — a sword and a standard, tools with which she led her nation. That requires just as much quick thinking and improvisation as any other creative deed.
A Left-Handed History of the World, my beloved lefty bible, praises Joan’s “ability to persuade men in positions of authority to adopt her cause.”
So sure, she’s not the conventional media idol. She was a young uneducated peasant girl. But her story, and more importantly how she arrived there, serves as a powerful example of overcoming the often numerous and scary odds against you.
If that’s not the epitome of creativity, don a sword of your own and fight me.
We’re all navigating this world, trying to find our place in it and make sense of it in our unique lens.
We’re all fighting our own battles. Take comfort, share the struggle, and refuse to back down.
The fact that she existed in a time before constant documentation leaves a lot to the imagination regarding her story, which is the best part. Maybe we’ll never know exactly when she was born, or what hair color she had, or how she spent her free time.
That mystery lends itself to a wonderful little curiosity and fosters open-mindedness, a key quality in any creative journey.
“Joan of Arc stands alone,” Twain declared. From one lefty to another, about another, I couldn’t agree more. And, even though she was left-handed, I think she is all right.