(or, the importance of having the wrong tools for the job…)
“To speed up the terraforming process in the Eridanus sector, giant pine trees were grown. Riding massive ion beams, each tree would carry billions of micro-organisms to a target planet, and there serve as an initial beachhead to kick-start the conversion process.” *
I used to build a lot of lego spaceships. First as an eager student with my older brothers, and later on, with my kid sister, as a wise and experienced teacher (though of course she’s taught me a lot along the way as well)… it was the late 70’s and early 80’s, the first trio of Star Wars movies were all the rage, and spaceships were pretty much the only thing we wanted to build.
However, we didn’t have a lot of special spaceship-lego, it was mostly simple old blocky stuff, and certainly if there were any official spaceship kits in the collection, they were dispersed and the instructions were lost and to be honest, we never had that much interest in building them in the first place. The real fun was in making new, innovative, original spacecraft out of whatever pieces we had at hand.
Intrepid readers may already have guessed where I’m going with this… especially since I’ve already written about observing the innate creativity of my young son, about the pour-the-blocks-out-and-get-into-it spirit of creative adventure that permeates everything he does. If you’ve read any of my previous posts (and of course, if you’re new here, I eagerly invite you to do so!) you’ll know that most of what I know about creativity does not come from reading lots of books on the subject, but from observing myself and other creative people and thinking about what seems to work and why it might be that way…
(Mind you, I also have a shelf full of books on creativity, but by and large they mostly give me other perspectives and ways of thinking about things I’ve already observed; hopefully, the things I write about here can do that for you, too!) More
Greetings! Once again I find myself writing here after a much longer absence than I had planned, which is unfortunate – but also, in this case, instructive… Cutting straight to the chase, I have been struggling a little with motivation, focus and productivity lately. Well, actually I’ve been struggling either quite a bit, or not enough, depending on how you look at it. In any case it’s something I’ve been giving a good deal of thought, and I think some of it merits sharing here. So, on with the show!
A fine kettle of fish
To clarify, I should explain that I have a number of interconnected projects, initiated over the past couple of years, all of which I’m quite invested in but all of which are also somewhat ‘stalled’ in one sense or another. While none of them are exactly poised on the brink of completion, let alone massive success or return on the considerable time and energy investment I’ve put into them, I do feel they all have significant potential in one sense or another – whether on an artistic or business level – and so I’m quite attached to them.
So besides the obvious – too many things on the go – part of what is going on is probably the paralysis that kicks in when I get close enough to something to realize that the stakes are high and failure, possibly public and highly disappointing, is an increasingly real possibility. I seem to suffer from a kind of allergy against going the distance, finishing what I’ve started. A sort of disconnect creeps in and my attention drifts.
How is it that we (assuming this affliction is not unique to me, which strikes me as unlikely) can become so disconnected from meaningful work that we’ve spent valuable time and energy starting, thinking through, imagining and problematizing and re-imagining? More
Once upon a time, I ran away to join the circus. Not a big-top-style circus with elephants and lion-tamers, but a circus nonetheless. And no, I’m not speaking figuratively. About 11 years ago, when we still lived in Canada, I got a call from an old friend who asked me if I would be interested in moving to Europe and playing piano in a show that he had been working in for a while, for pretty good money. The catch was that I had to be there the following week.
If that’s not a test-your-fearlessness moment, I don’t know what is.
As it happened, my then-girlfriend (now my wife) and I had ‘put the idea out there’ not long before that we would like to do some more traveling. But not in the backpack-and-railpass kind of way – we’d done a fair bit of that already; we were interested in living and working somewhere else for a while. And here was an opportunity to do exactly that.
So we took the plunge and, although much water has flowed under many bridges since then, we are still living in Germany a decade later. And while I left that particular show 6 years ago, I find myself working for a very similar outfit again now, and it’s given me a few things to think about – yet another lens through which to look at the endless subject of creativity through… More
I recently trained for and ran my 5th marathon, and as often happens since I started this blog, I began to think about what the experience might offer in terms of creative insight. I’ve written recently about the joy of creativity – about how good it can feel when it’s going well. This post will continue this theme, but also form a bit of a segue into what to do when it isn’t going so well…
(The title appeals to me because it contains a nice double entendre: the positive spin is that we are searching for and moving towards a lasting kind of creativity, a lifelong habit that brings joy and fulfillment to our lives and the lives of others; the flipside is that creativity can sometimes feel like an ordeal, something that must be endured, cannot be avoided. We just have to muscle through it somehow. The reality, at least in my experience, is somewhere in between, or more precisely a bit of both…)
I’ve noticed that sports and athletic metaphors are used quite often in talking about creativity. Perhaps setting the complexities of the creative mind against the different and somewhat simpler backdrop of physical activity makes it easier to observe and notice patterns.
Running, which happens to be my sport of choice, seems particularly fruitful as a metaphor, especially when tackling the thorny subject of creative burnout… More
I’ve been thinking about joy.
Perhaps triggered by the last post here, where it formed the focus of my central complaint about an otherwise quite amazing and important book… perhaps heightened by being near the end of a two-month holiday away from my instrument and principal creative medium, and looking forward to a blissful reunion.
Regardless, joy and creativity are on my mind, and I’d like to explore the connection between them a bit further this week. In my opinion and experience there has to be some joy in the creative process, on some level, even with dark material (and trust me, I’ve contributed to some very dark material), or else the whole thing feels hollow and cheap.
I have to be careful here, because this is dangerously close to a kind of Kumbaya, rose-coloured-glasses view of creativity and art as essentially light and fluffy, warm and fuzzy. There is no lack of this around the net, and I am not eager to add to it; generally it strikes me as unexamined and shallow.
No, I’m after something deeper, a kind of spiritual joy that comes from much more intensive and uncompromising self-observation and examination. I want to understand this joy and try to figure out what makes it tick, and how we might create the circumstances that give rise to it, a little more often…
Here’s a review of two recent books on creativity that have done rather well for themselves and their authors. The first is ‘The War of Art‘*, by screenwriter and novelist Stephen Pressfield (the title refers, of course, to the 6th century treatise on military strategy attributed to Sun Tzu, the Art of War); the second is the equally wonderfully-titled ‘Ignore Everybody (and 39 other Keys to Creativity)‘* by Hugh MacLeod, a popular cartoonist, blogger and general man-about-the-net.
While this will not be an entirely glowing review, particularly in one case, I want to start by saying that I consider both of these to be essential reading for the creativity space. Despite some misgivings, I think they are extremely valuable and accessible works and I heartily and unreservedly recommend them both.
There are a number of similarities, which is one reason I have chosen to review them together (another is that I happened to buy them together and read them sequentially). Both are edgy, streetwise and a little curmudgeonly, with short punchy chapters and an unapologetic willingness to take potentially controversial positions. Tough love, as it were, from a couple of guys who have done their time in the trenches – which is a nice change from the frequently more academic treatments of the topic.
Both are also written from the perspective of essentially solo artists, and portray the task at hand and the journey we are on as basically an individual endeavor. This might not ring true for everyone; as discussed in my previous post, collaboration is a deep creative well for many artists, and for some it is literally inseparable from the process; neither of these authors really mentions it at all. They may be more attractive to people working in similarly solitary idioms.
Finally, they are both fairly short books; I read each in a sitting-and-a-half, as it were, and will likely dip into them regularly for a bit of inspiration or a kick in the butt from time to time.
There are also some key differences: Ignore Everybody* is more practical, the War of Art* more psychological. MacLeod includes a selection of his own work in cartoon form, where Pressfield only makes reference to his novels and screenplays, in some cases quite self-effacingly. He also uses a lot more sports metaphors; this is the author of ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’, after all (subsequent events have cast a different light on his numerous references to Tiger Woods, but I’ll try not to hold that against him). More