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.)



In my undergrad years, I had a bit of trouble with combinations locks. I went through 6 in my freshman and sophomore years. The trouble was not with the lock. It was with my head. Nothing I can do induces me to remember number combinations. I had to go to the custodian 6 times to have my lock cut off my locker. Embarrassed and at my wit’s end, I went to my mother (obviously. I was only 19. Who else could I tell? no…who else could I tell that didn’t already know…this was music school after all)

I am not a number person. Clearly! So my mother and my sweet brother went out and purchased a word lock. Have you seen one like that? The various barrels have letters and you line up the raised letters to spell a word. You can set it to a word that you remember. It was set for GRACE, which quality I desire.

I still have that lock, and it still works. Thank Goodness.

So here at IU, I got a locker, and it came with a lock. A number lock.


How am I supposed to remember 0271? I wrote a poem. It’s not a good poem, but the syllable count corresponds to the number I need next. In fact, it is a silly and dumb poem, but it worked.

Here it is!


They say
That all hard work gives profit.


Blankety Blank!

I wonder what can be done with a bad case of writer’s block, a deadline and a competition with my brother. Hopefully, he’s not reading this.

On my joint blog, The Egotist’s Club , you’ll find that I am in the throes of a bitter competition with my brother. It is a Sonnet Dual. The terms are fair and clear, and the deadlines are a very decent 2 weeks apart. The thing is, the original sonnet was inspired by strong emotion and written over a period of many years. Years in which I distilled my pain and focused on rhymes instead of on loss. It was a calm way to ‘dress’ the wound, both in a healing sense, and also in a literal sense. The structure of the sonnet wrapped around the naked thoughts and forced them into decency.

But this time, while I have a lovely idea, and a decent conceit, I have no such strong attachment to my topic. I haven’t got that need to write. And I can’t seem to commit to anything. I write and re write lines, so that my rhymes are yet unformed, noncommittal or else just bad. For instance, ending a line in bower and rhyming it with tower is not really such a good idea. Strong, yes. Tasteful….well…less so.

So I am hoping that Stravinsky was right. (funny typo moment: Stravinsky was rite.) “Just as appetite comes from eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning”.  So I’m off to fight with my conceit, my rhymes, the shadow of Shakespeare, and lethargy. On Sunday the thing will be accomplished.

Children’s Games

Egotist's Club

You know, I don’t usually think too hard about homophones. Context, under ordinary circumstances keeps me reading and understanding what the author means. Yesterday, there was the tiny issue of exhaustion preventing me from properly understanding my own writing. I wrote something about violin playing and bowing. Not an issue, yeah? But do I mean bowing or bowing? Uh oh.


My mind ran in tiny, paranoid, ever narrowing circles trying to remember if the my bow and bowing were spelled the same as the bow and my excellent bowing. Oh dear. Pretty soon, I couldn’t remember which I had meant. The Pernambuco and horsehair in my right arm? The gesture of humility involving elegantly folding oneself more or less in half? What on earth is haaaaaaaapening????

Well, I’ve got it figured out. There’s bow, bow, bow and bow. No big deal, yeah?

Not at all. In fact, I have…

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I’m not at all sure about this cabbage. There’s just something a bit off. Perhaps I added too much cinnamon.

And this pork chop. It’s a bit peculiar as well. What is up with this Dijon mustard glaze?

It’s been a day of successes, small and large. On the small but important hand, I filed my taxes. So early! How Mature! On a larger scale, my review at work was a roaring success. Fantastic. Grandly, I applied for a job I’d actually like to take but that was far far away and took a lot of courage.

This exhausted me. I came home and put some things on the stove to cook in a daze.

Now, through the haze of steam and cookery, I am doubting my choices.

Not my decision to act like a grown up and face forward with solemn courage. You know courage. That’s when you know the odds are 100 to 1 against you but you get out of bed anyway. When you thaw the freezing clutch at your heart with an act of Will and Faith. When you breathe through the pain and drive through the blizzard. Courage… I’m not doubting that.

But I do doubt this dinner. God give me the last ounce of courage to confront my suspicious cookery!


Peanut Butter Sandwich

It’s just a fact that sometimes things run smoothly and sometimes they just don’t run at all. Cars, for example. Or plans. Now I think, indeed, I think very much, that anything can be solved. Cars fixed, walls demolished, doors unlocked. IN the meantime, though, I do feel like having a tiny moment to say:

Why isn’t everything as easy as making a Peanut Butter sandwich?

In my egocentric bid for attention, I posted much the same thing on the Facebooks. Within minutes an old acquaintance of mine responded in his usual slightly off center way.

“Where is all this bread coming from? This isn’t a knife! Why is everything sticking together? WHAT WENT WRONG?”

Which of course made me remember that it’s not necessarily easy to make a peanut butter sandwich. I’ve just made a lot of them. In fact, a peanut butter sandwich is rather a trial to produce. The more radical you consider, the harder it is just to get a daggone peanut butter sandwich.

Did you ever write one of those “creative writing” exercises? So many of them are drudgery, but I really loved writing How To essays. My mother and a friend once made the 4 collective children write “How to make an Ice Cream Sundae.” Our mothers promised to follow our directions to the letter and allow us to eat whatever we could describe. Well! That is certainly a proposition we children were happy to accept!

We sat chewing our pencils for about an hour, meticulously describing all the delightful things and ways we wanted our Sundae to delight us. I’ll spare you the details, but tell you that my friend got a bowl of ice cream, a wooden spoon and a can of sundae fudge, unopened and balanced on top precariously.

It’s not easy to do all the things we do in daily life. We’re just used to them. Maybe getting through these problems will form habits for later so that everything feels easy. I hope so!