Friday, August 12, 2016

Creating a Vacuum to Leech Out Eurekas

This has been the tough stretch of the secret project I've been laboring over for 18 months. Grinding and grinding, drawing worrisomely close to the point I described here where my life starts falling apart just a little as I let everything else go (this is where creativity connects to depression; depression is simply a misuse of creative faculties; both look similar to an outside observer, but creativity actually pops out a useful result). Beethoven composed in a diaper, you know.

Roasting at my computer in a 100 degree heat wave, researching opaque fine points of Cambodian sub-ethnicities, way too immersed to be fully miserable, I had to wrench myself out of my grind and put on my manager hat to speak with one of our project's Grown Ups. And during that discussion, it became clear that we'd need to change the project's title. And we'd need a new one ASAP.

Every creative reader just groaned in pain. Titles are hard to devise under the best of conditions, much less in mid-project while waist-deep in the weeds of filling in blanks and getting stuff done. When you're slogging along under the gun, you're the very opposite of creative, inventive, clever. You're just not that person. That person's a capricious dreamer, whereas you're an industrious worker ant, covered in mud. The twain don't meet.

Creativity requires space. You don't tighten your belt to foster your best creativity, you loosen it. You don't bear down, you dilate.

If you were to observe me, you'd think I was the biggest slacker in the world. When not in mid-project (actually executing the things I've dreamed up), I spend an awful lot of time sitting around, watching TV, ruminating, hanging out, not doing anything productive. This used to mortify me. I figured I was lazy, shiftless, broken, and worried that I was wasting my life. It's been a huge source of shame since early childhood. But at a certain point I turned around, looked back, and noticed, to my surprise, that I'd actually accomplished stuff, and developed a range of skills, even in my seeming sloth. Magically, stuff got done!

I know now that it's easily explained: creativity is fostered by loosening the belt, by making space for epiphanies. An awful lot can get done via relentless hard work (and I eventually learned how to knuckle down into that in order to execute my ideas), but creativity is a different animal, and it looks lazy.

But it's hard to shift - to jam on the brakes while in "knuckling down" mode and go back to "expansive dreamer" mode. The prospect nauseated me. So I hatched a plan.

I resolved to go easy on myself (always a good move; indeed, this was an important Postcard From My Childhood I'd sent forward to my elder self as a child). I'd cease work completely for a day, but be very careful not to start thinking about title quite yet. I wouldn't turn the issue around in my mind, nor would I turn around in my mind the impending need to turn this around in my mind. Two levels! No struggle, and no underlying dread of the upcoming struggle (meditation helps for this sort of thing, enabling rather precisely-targeted "letting go" processes).

After a day of decompression, I'd take a long drive, and think about titles in a state of dilated, dreamy relaxation. I'd make space. And I'd even make space around the space-making. In the meanwhile, with work ceased, and all stress suspended, I relaxed into what seemed like a pregnant vacuum. I went to bed. And I woke up at 4am with the perfect title. Eureka.


Now, of course, it's going to be hell to push myself back into industriousness mode. I'm in a frame of mind where I want to write poetry, think up loads more schemes, and go do fun things, when I really need to knuckle back down!

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