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.)


Photography and Poetry

I grew up in a household of art. My father has an absolutely unerring eye. By watching him, and by constant exposure to great art, I have a pretty decent eye myself. An eye for light, for focus, for composition. A love of the 6 1/2  minutes before the Purkinje effect, when the light is more gold and the world is rich with hues and overtones. And an ability to see beauty in unlikely and overlooked places.

The grand vista and the sweeping horizon are lovely, but capturing that…everyone sees that. It inspires awe, but it doesn’t reveal anything new. Nothing wrong with it, of course. Inspiring awe is one of the great and noble purposes of artists. I don’t intend to demean vistas or horizons. I love me the sunset and the mountains. I can’t get enough of distant islands seen from a ship.

However, the revelation of things overlooked and things of daily use as things of beauty is a noble purpose of art. I have seen this, most notably, in the art of photography. These are the photographs that really stand out in my memory. A door, a bouy, the corner of a house, the eye of a zebra. These close up views make me pause, scrutinize, realize. There is beauty in the light on a sloppily tiled roof? Yes, there is. There is beauty in a dandelion? Get the weedkiller, but yes, yes there is.

I was sitting in the balcony of a church last week, waiting patiently for the pastor to quit sermonizing so I could play my violin for the offeratory. I had already heard the sermon once, and round two wasn’t holding my mind, so I gazed around. That was when I noted the beauty of morning light on the corner of a roof. It was a tiny square of light, and saggy section of roof. I don’t know why it held me so enchanted. But there was beauty there, and I didn’t have a camera.

But there are many ways to capture the loveliness of light, and my medium isn’t really photography. My father takes pictures and paints in watercolor. My brother loves to daub in oil, and does a fine job of it. But I am not that kind of artist. When I want to capture a concrete beauty, I reach for a pen and start to scribble. In rhyme, in meter, and in English.

But my job is the same job. I must show you, make you see, point out and illuminate (all of that), something that you ordinarily would overlook. I am nowhere near the kind of artist that I’d like to be, but I hope that through practice and the constant pursuit, I may one day be able to use words to reach hearts the same way I am reached by excellent  photography through my eyes.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy the art of my fellow artists when it inspires awe or shows me something beautiful and new.


The identification, classification and organization of subtle minutiae consumes every specialist’s life. I’m a specialist (…happy nerd)  in a couple of areas. The important ones like music, violin playing and teaching , hymnody,  are impressive and will one day be colossal palaces of knowledge. The less immediately imperative spheres I relegate to a voracious amateur status. Nevertheless, I love them all, and am not afraid to tell you about WWI poetry, 15th c. Netherlandish iconography, or eating gluten free food without hating your life.

The difficulty is in the filing and referencing of all these tidbits. Improperly placed in the mind, you may find yourself reaching for the wrong anecdote. Remember that bad timing isn’t just bad comedy. It’s bad poetry, bad music, bad manners. Be especially vigilant with topic filing in moments of stress or you may find yourself in a sticky wicket.

At this IU upper string pedagogy seminar, I and 25 other detail oriented violinists and violists are filling up our heads with massive amounts of minutiae. The glory is really getting to be too much. On Saturday, we had 7 hours of lectures, 3 hours of masterclasses and a 2.5 hour concert.

Half way through the day, we took a break, and I noticed my brain drip out of my ears. A colleague and I were comparing notes and gauging our comparative “whelmed-ness”.

It is a fact, that one can be underwhelmed. One could certainly be overwhelmed. What is it to be whelmed, satisfied and with expectations met perfectly?

It’s like this, I said. Last year, I went to Greece and set forth in the Aegean to discover the point of being just whelmed.It was to be for posterity, and I meant to be my own brand of scientific.

I walked out into the ocean and stood to my waist. But there, I was half sticking out of the water. The waves came to my neck and I was underwhelmed.

I resolutely strode forward to meet the rolling salt cobalt sea. Oh! Too far! If you stand up to your neck in the Aegean, that’s nice, but the waves crash over your head. I was fully overwhelmed.

In the end, I found that to stand up to the armpits was just perfect. Wholly whelming in the Aegean.

I continued my tale, prattling dizzily to my colleague. Of course, this only works for the Aegean. The Atlantic is less sheltered, the waves of the South Sea are wholly other. But in the Aegean, one is just whelmed by standing to the armpits on a clear June day.

You know what I mean?

“I’m from Nebraska.”

Ambivalence My Plague

Again I fight an old won battle. I am ambivalent to everything I do.

Ambivalent not in it’s popular sense which adds a soupcon of lethargy and indolence to a mood boiled in ennui.

Ambivalence raw, powerful and as derived. I am of two wills, passionate each, whole and strong.

My ‘dayjob’ sufficeth not. It is dull, dreary drudgery which pays less than food service grunts at the hospital. It payeth not the bills, and doth kill all desire for creativity.

My day job’s gotta go.

So I want to move anywhere, anywhere, anywhere to get away from here! Free me, Oh God from the prison of the 24 month rental alternative and the chinrest approvals!

On the other hand, I have done a very good job establishing my reputation in this area. I am already a well known, sought after musician in my region.

Why would I want to give that up?

I am tied here by my love of several people and the heady effect of the respect of my colleagues.

I am forced away by the tide of my future.

So I would like to share Legion. I know Terpsichore and Melpomene know it well and I doubt not that you (dear reader…hehehe) may as well. It speaks to my condition and the conundrum faced my many of my age. How Oh Lord, are we to discern our path, if nothing is wrong with any of them.



Lord, hear my voice, my present voice I mean,

Not that which may be speaking an hour hence

(For I am Legion) in an opposite sense,

And not by show of hands decide between

The multiple factions which my state has seen

Or will see.  Condescend to the pretence

That what speaks now is I; in its defence

Dissolve my parliament and intervene.


Thou wilt not, though we asked it, quite recall

Free will once given.  Yet to this moment’s choice

Give unfair weight.  Hold me to this.  Oh strain

A point – use legal ficitons; for if all

My quarrelling selves must bear an equal voice,

Farewell, thou hast created me in vain.


C.S. Lewis