Creativity and Contemplation

Sometimes, when I return to a well loved book, I wonder what gave the author their inspiration. Where did the spark come from that created Jeeves, or Aziraphale and Crawley? What pushed Agatha outside her normal sphere into writing Endless Night? When various and sundries were up late drinking and thinking, what made them say “Your fazzer was a hamsterrr and your muzzzer smelt of elderberrrries.”?

What led to creativity in people we now call geniuses? Because let’s face it, if we met Agatha Christie, she would be embarrassed by our slavering zeal. Neil Gaiman lives without pomp in Minnesota (odd choice. Wisconsin’s nicer, Neil, and I live there….) Einstien didn’t run around buying bay leaves for himself to prove that he was a champion thinker. These people, while recognizing that they have abilities and talents, consider(ed) themselves ‘just folk’. But they are just folk who have contributed such deep oceans of knowledge and art to humanity that this modern generation cannot live without them. (that includes Monty Python. Imagine life without it. Imagine the Gobi Desert. Same thing.)

In this not-so-scientific article, I would like to posit that three things drive creativity. Quiet, Contemplation, and Persistance.

It has been said by someone (no footnotes for me, I’ve graduated) that ideas come on the bus, in the bath, and in bed. Sometimes this is the only time you have. If life is busy (and whose life isn’t busy), you are alloted these small moments of quietness when your mind can drop out of its frantic alarms and rest for a moment. If there’s never any quiet, there is never ever ever a chance for the brain to rest. Even music playing in the background has to be focussed through. Many people say they cannot think without music or the TV in the background. I do not understand this. When there is something in the background, a goodly amount of the brain must be devoted to drowning that out. Turn it off. Sit in the silence. Wait.

You will find that you being to think. To really think, and not just on the superficial fast paced level that today’s society has come to value. Modern America values the person who can make snap decisions and race hither and thither bossing people around and generally looking like the Road Runner after a cuppa. This, however, is not the kind of thinking that produced the great art, liturature and music of the past. There is plenty of documentation as to the lifestyles of Agatha Christie and Brahms. Look it up if you don’t believe me. They took a lot of walks and ate a lot of food. They were quiet people. And that gave them room to think. Think deeply, and without hurry. Really chewing over the problems and solutions they set themselves. They spent hours in contemplation.
~As a companion to this, I think there is a component of conversation as well. Again, not the style of mindless chat we tend to call conversation today. Time consuming discussions that require reasoning. The people we call geniuses of creativity conversed with friends to get to the bottom of the matter. But not all the time, and you know, before you can converse, you have to contemplate. So conversation is crucial to creativity, but is also only constructive when preceeded by contemplation. (Sorry, that devolved into academia. I was trying so hard not to do that…)

Finally, never underestimate the work that creativity takes. We’re human. We don’t get to say “let there be light”. Creativity doesn’t happen all of a flash. That’s a nice thought, widely publicized by cartoons. LIGHT BULB, and the problem is solved. I’m sorry. Creativity takes research and practice. The first solution is probably not going to work. If it does, put it aside and look at it suspiciously for at least a day. It would be better if you left it for a week. Do you think vulcanized rubber was invented in one go? It wasn’t. It was about the millionth experiment, and the apocryphal story is that the inventor’s wife came home in the middle of the experiment and the man guiltily thrust the offending product in the oven to hide it. I don’t know if that’s true, I read it in a kid’s book years ago, but it still highlights a fundamental truth. Inventors have to work hard for their creativity to pay off. Practice creativity. Practice Practice Practice.

So if you were writing a recipe for creativity, you have to see by now that the chief ingredient is Time. There is only the tiniest bit of inspiration as yeast. You have to give it time, and you have to work hard at it. I don’t know, you might be a genius, if you gave your mind space and time to think. I bet you are. Come, show me what you can do.

(But if you are short of time…there is a way to be clever. Perhaps not all the way to inspired, but certainly very, very, clever. It’s called a bottle of Jack and a good friend.)

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