The mind is a place full of wonder but so few people realize its potential. Life intervenes. A partner, children, a mortgage and work. The need for survival that chains you to someone else’s ideas. But what would happen if your mind was allowed free reign, to follow its bliss? To create something new of your own choosing. With no constraints other than the boundaries of your own imagination. What would become of you if, at the end, you had no choice but to point to your creation and say, “Here it is, it’s all mine and I can’t do any better than that.”
So it happened. Life left me alone for months on end to think in a community of one, surrounded by my books and all the music, technology, performance and art I could find on the Internet.
In the morning before dawn I rode my bike 30 km to a coffee shop and talked to my friends, as cyclists do. Gear ratios, magpie attacks, sprint finishes and the greatness of the peloton: Contador, Armstrong, Evans and the patron Cancellara, called Spartacus.
In the day I reflected on my beloved profession and how it’s principles should be taught. I learned web technologies and studied the techniques of on-line teaching and movie making and slowly built a web site. The evenings went in studying Story and it’s application to explaining ideas, in a way that is frictionless – without loss. Along the way I lost the guilt of working on concepts not billable to a client at month’s end and challenged myself to create something new.
Concentrated reflection made me mindful. I began to observe my own natural creative process and draw conclusions. To be concise I’ve jotted them down randomly in blank verse so as not to waste your time.
You Need Time
Pure synthesis is a selfish occupation.
Marcus Aurelius advises us to,
“… retreat to the inner citadel of the mind.”
Creative icons do little else.
Picasso: 91 years, thousands of paintings,
seven major relationships.
He took the time.
Others were given it under duress.
Many classics were written in jail:
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan and
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli.
True discovery is not a part time job.
Get time to think.
Sleep On It
It’s best in the morning.
You awake from a good nights sleep
into a world of possibilities.
The problem you passed to your unconscious last night
is solved deep down in your dream-life.
But not always.
The birth of an idea is full of energy,
but in the morning the energy is gone
and what remains may be nothing.
I pin it on a clothes line,
view it from a distance,
read it out loud and,
if it’s still pompous or empty,
ditch it and start again.
Get in the Zone
Geraldine Brooks won a Pulitzer prize.
She starts her writing day reading poetry.
Then she sits quietly and listens for her characters.
They talk to her.
I love listening to great creatives.
Marvin Hamlisch composed A Chorus Line.
He wrote his songs on the people in the cast.
Like the dancer who couldn’t sing.
Rhythm is everything he says.
Elizabeth Gilbert gives the best YouTube talk on creativity.
Genius is a “devine attendant spirit,” she says.
It’s not in you, it’s with you -
but not every day.
Then I clear my mind,
demur negative thoughts,
banish anger and,
put away fear.
I know It will come
from somewhere else
through me, or so Bob Dylan says.
But it must have room.
There were side effects after months of this
I calmed down,
lost my fear of aeroplanes and
learned to listen.
But When it Doesn’t Come
I get on my bicycle and hammer up a mountain.
Ideas come out of the bushes.
My subconscious is a close friend,
loyal and true.
Unbidden, it works on problems
long after my conscious mind
has moved on,
then interrupts me with the answer.
So thinking about nothing in particular
is not a guilty pleasure.
Its a solution.
Experience is Mandatory
I’ve seen things.
A blood sun setting on the tail plane of a jumbo.
A rush to the overhead lockers for cameras.
An amazing feeling of fellowship amongst strangers
in a shared experience of awe.
Manhattan at night from two thousand feet,
a hang glider descending through the pines
to the shore of Tahoe,
dowop singers at the Met in New York.
Images catalogued while living.
Metaphors latent, waiting to project themselves
onto newer problems.
Twenty-four years after it happened
naked babies on a freeway
connected Fagan inspections in Extreme Review
The core of why we hate criticism.
Strong life images endure,
to be dragged out decades later
to inform life in the moment.
My daughter’s friend calls to say,
“Come help me bring my cello on the train.”
I’ll think on it.
You Need Pressure
A deadline is good.
I grab a thought and go with it.
I try not to kill it with doubt.
I write it down.
Keep the pen moving across the page.
Now I move the words around.
I budget for gestation.
Nothing ever comes to me at once.
First the skeleton, then the rendering.
Great things are made from good ideas
over time, with endless refinement,
in deadline death marches.
Watch the movie Nine.
The “Be Italian” dance sequence
was in rehearsal for two months
for a four minute scene.
Finally you must push it out.
Publish and move on.
It will never be perfect.
Poems are never finished – just abandoned.
Metaphor is Everything
The US government wanted Indian territory.
In despair Chief Seattle watched a spider work.
How to explain that the land was not his to give?
“Man did not weave the web of life
He is merely a strand in it.”
Abstraction from the spider,
projected on the problem.
Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be …”
informs debate on euthanasia.
The Airbus A380 has a “gull wing”.
In the cockpit
pilots strap it on like an exoskeleton.
In software engineering we cannot function
objects, classes, inheritance, polymorphism,
proxy, state, mode, thread, queue, tree,
layer, relation, sequence, semaphore,
selection, iteration, recursion, waterfall, agile.
Metaphor is life critical.
Robert Frost said:
“A person not educated in the workings of metaphor
is not safe in the world.”
To find the sublime metaphor
is to project from temporal life
To invent the games of legend
played in heaven
with the oldest songs ever sung.
Through metaphor we make connections
and open up possibilities
now and forever.
My life is an endless quest for metaphor,
its stuff is everywhere.
I have a wicker goat.
What could it mean?
Bump Into Someone
One-on-one is the best,
people on the borders of your field
or someone totally unrelated.
I spoke to a priest once.
Two hours with an educated man – wonderful.
Steve Jobs positioned the mailboxes and washrooms
so chance meetings would happen
My friend Suja targets mentors.
She calls strangers up for coffee
to chat about – life.
You can’t do it alone.
Read, Look and Listen
With no input there can be no transformation
and no output of value.
The fertile ground is outside your profession.
The sign on the wall in an art gallery,
the graffiti on an underpass in Valparaiso,
five books on the go at once,
a chance comment on the radio,
a glance out the window.
We humans are unique,
we can imagine ourselves into other worlds.
Don’t get comfortable in your own,
you could lose it.
Copy and Transform
Shakespeare derived the balcony scene
in Romeo and Juliet
from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.
“But stay! what star shines yonder in the east?
The lodestar of my life, if Abigail!”
“But, soft! what light through younder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!”
Bob Kane combined Zorro
with the winged design
of Leonardo da Vinci’s ornithopter and
concepts from Roland West’s early talkie
The Bat Whispers
into a crime fighter he called “the Bat-Man”.
Manned flight came from
the Wright brothers’ aerofoil design.
The Wrights’ creative surge atrophied.
They distracted themselves suing competitors
for patent infringement
while others advanced the science.
Higher, faster, safer and then into space.
All creativity is derivative.
There is no shame in copying
if you transform and improve.
A 3M team joked:
“Let’s make a glue that’s not sticky.”
post it notes
Plastic Surgeon Dr Fiona Wood
exhausted by the lengthy procedures required
to cover burns with synthetic skin mused,
“wish we could spray it on, ha ha.”
spray on skin.
It is necessary to laugh a lot.
Travel is Essential
Get out of your environment and go somewhere else.
If you’re in jail or powerless to move
it must happen in your imagination.
Hemingway wrote in coffee shops.
I love Venice and the Biennale,
Paris and the epic Delacroix of the Louvre,
romance on the roundabout at the Trocadero,
the Catalan pickpockets of Barcelona,
solitude in the desert of the Atacama,
the potted history of flight
in the hanger at the Smithsonian
Air and Space Museum.
Don’t stay at home
it hollows you out.
Do Not Fear the Dark
The creative studio is a dark place at times.
Get ready for days of self doubt and despair
when nothing comes.
And when you publish
your best work is ignored – silence.
Its normal to be despised,
looked down on by people with
and fat retirement plans.
My actress daughter says,
“Its like being a pig farmer dad.
They can smell it on you.”
How much do you want it?
Commitment is everything.
But Then it Does Come
And you know it’s good
and you’ve been at it since dawn
and the sun has gone down
and you’ve only just noticed
and now you’re hungry
because you’ve forgotten to eat.
And you don’t care what people think
and you accept that when you put it out there
there will be silence.
But then one day someone says,
“I love your stuff!”
And there’s a buzz in your head
and a feeling of immense satisfaction;
beyond money, beyond time.
Because you know you’ve created something -
What became of me? Judge for yourself. Here it is and its the best I can do.