A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

Thursday 6.5.14

In Books, Creativity, Dogs, Reading, Travel on June 5, 2014 at 6:00 am
Injured Lucy

Injured Lucy

Lucy and I have resumed our morning walks after several months of doing without. Last Fall, during a walk, she limped out of the woods, her shoulder lacerated, obviously the result of running into something. Despite two operations we could not get the gash closed and had no option but to wait it out. We applied raw honey to the wound, kept it clean, didn’t let her run and so forth. Eventually she healed. We are back to our schedule but she is considerably more cautious, and avoids that part of the woods. I keep a closer eye on her as well.

A morning walk has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Now that I’m back at it I have a greater appreciation of the benefits to starting my day in this fashion. It is likely not a coincidence that, after resuming the routine, I am writing this and that I wrote a post last week about, indeed, the morning walk. The creative benefits of walking are well documented. “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering….” wrote Thoreau. I have no genius for anything, but if I did, having it for the art of sauntering would be welcome.

* * *

Daily Rituals, How Artists Work

Daily Rituals, How Artists Work

We leave this evening for Europe: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tallinn, St. Petersburg. Sixteen days. Whereas Carole has been concentrating on which clothes to pack, I have been thinking about what books to bring. This disparity does not frustrate either of us.  After 35 years there are no surprises and few tensions. I am bringing Lily King‘s new novel,  Euphoria.  There is no compliment of activities like a good novel married to new travels. But feeling decidedly in need of self improvement, I’m bringing along a book my friend Thatcher recommended, Daily Rituals, How Artists Work. Opening randomly, I find the chapter on Sartre, “‘One can be very fertile without having to work too much,’ Sartre once said. ‘Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening. This is my only rule.'” Continuing the march to be a better self, I’m also bringing along Alain De Botton‘s, How Proust Can Change Your Life. (Jacket blurb from the NY Times: “A self-help manual for the intelligent person.”) I like to travel with books and feel no guilt about taking time to read them while on the road. (Indeed, I find guilt to be a generally useless and tiresome emotion and rarely invest in it.) Reading a book while in a foreign country, like seeing a movie with subtitles, enhances the experience. Thinking on Thoreau above, the ability to consistently “enhance experience” is a genius I aspire to.

The Burning Purity of Creativity.

In Creativity, Photography, Writers on March 4, 2013 at 6:00 am

I’ve been thinking about obscurity. This comes on the heels of my post last Friday, A Fashion of Discomfort, where I ponder this business of playing to an empty house, toiling for the sake of the effort without promise of recognition.

Do you recall the post I put up last summer, where, while exploring the North Woods, I happen across an art installation? Here is the photograph I took at the time:

Art in a land of wild giants.

Art in a land of wild giants.

I wrote:  “She–for there was something beautifully feminine about this exhibit–she, this goddess of creation, was beyond the work and the work was purer for that. It is possible to create for the purpose of creation only, not needing the prism of ‘the other.’ It was an exhibit of voided ego precisely executed.” The nature of this discovery was to understand that creativity is sometimes simply and purely an expression–without the need for reciprocity. That is the antithesis of obscurity and leads down the path to bliss. Yes, bliss–how else to express the satisfaction of creativity for the sake of creation alone?

Since writing the post last week I’ve been thinking of Emily Dickinson. Scholar and poet, Susan Howe, writing of Dickinson, says she was “one of the greatest poets we have, and I don’t mean ‘we’ merely in America. I mean she is one of the greatest of poets.” I do not know very much about Dickinson, but have no reason to doubt Howe’s assessment. Dickinson comes to mind because despite her obvious genius she published but one poem in her lifetime. (As Van Gogh sold but one painting.) Obscurity or genius operating beyond the prism of the other? I wish to think the latter.

Here is another, more contemporary, example: Vivian Maier (1926-2009). Maier worked as a nanny in Chicago, but we know her because she left behind a body of work–photographs–that she jealously shielded from eyes other than her own. In 2007 approximately one hundred thousand negatives were discovered in a garage sale. Eventually the cache was understood for what it truly was: a life-body of work, reflecting a singular genius, heretofore unknown. It was like the Dead Sea Scrolls of street photography.

There is much I find encouraging here and it has something to do with the soaring capacity of the human creative spirit. It uplifts me, as it should any human being, to glimpse the burning purity of creativity, no strings attached. I am reminded of a passage in Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen: “This is a first principle in the study of Zen and of any Far Eastern art: hurry, and all that it involves, is fatal. For there is no goal to be attained. The moment a goal is conceived it becomes impossible to practice the discipline of the art, to master the very rigor of its technique.” There is a white flame warmth about that.

_______________

A three-minute CBS story on Vivian Maier:

Bullet Point Number 2: Imagine “What if?”

In Business, Creativity on February 18, 2013 at 6:00 am
Book Series: Inside the Minds

Book Series: Inside the Minds

I contributed a chapter to a business book a few years ago. The book was part of a series called, “Inside the Minds” (Aspatore, 2002). My contribution, specifically, was in a book called, The Entrepreneurial Problem Solver. Other Inside the Minds books focus on venture capital, economics, personal success, and so forth. For a reason I’ve yet to fathom, I am now transcribing the chapter. Perhaps why I’m doing this will become apparent at some point–to me, I mean. Regardless, I close the chapter with a list–and we know how much I like a list. I thought I’d share it with you.

  • Be creative
  • Imagine “What if?”
  • Challenge the status quo.
  • Train for the summit every day.
  • Quest for leadership where it is not apparent.
  • Where leadership is apparent, strive to make it better.
  • Do not give up until it is physically impossible to satisfy a business need.
  • Fill the organization with complementary talent.
  • Be lean and never spend more than you have.
  • Honesty will earn trust.
  • Expect more
  • Have fun

It is obvious to me now that my business life was not significantly different from my current, non-business, life in the important particulars. Specifically, as an entrepreneur I was, by definition, not part of the herd; rather, I built a tribe. The ruling mantra, particularly during the early start-up, was that of creativity. In fact, my chapter had the clunky title, “Did I Say Entrepreneurialism? I Meant Creativity?” And, like much I think is right about how to live, starting a business and growing it is an exercise in vision, simplicity, and discipline.

In a significant way, business never provided me the degree of satisfaction I observed it often provided others. That restlessness is constant; it was then and it is now, and circles back to the question of imagining “What if?” If there were to be any wisdom a person might impart it should be close to this.

Thanks for reading. And to my last point above, Have fun!

d

Boredom

In Creativity, Happiness, Life, The Examined Life on February 11, 2013 at 6:00 am
imgres

“C’est la vie”

A few lines from the poem, Bored, by Margaret Atwood:

Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would. The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes. Such minutiae. It’s what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows.

Big question: What I am doing here?

I used to proudly declare that, “I’ve never been bored.” It was a statement delivered with much the same self-serving gusto one hears when over-achieving middle-class poseurs declare, “We don’t own an TV” or “I only watch PBS.” It makes my eyes roll and my gut contract. “I’ve never been bored” now has the same effect on me. Agghh, what pretentiousness! (I also used to pontificate, in a similar vein, that boredom, like guilt, was a manufactured emotion.) I now understand that boredom is the foundation of everything. It is the pearl-constructing grit in the oyster’s shell, the red phosphorous that makes the match explode. Avoiding boredom is the motivation of modern life. I say modern life because I’m not sure this–boredom–has always been the case. The word boredom didn’t even appear in the language until 1852, when it showed up six times in Dicken’s novel, Bleak House. Given that the English language has been around in a form we (might) recognize since Chaucer (c1340-1400), it strikes me as dead-on that this notion is rather recent, that boredom is a symptom of modern existence.

It’s not an original thought. Heidegger (1889-1976), as have others, spent a lot of time on the subject. “Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference,” he wrote. “This boredom reveals being as a whole.” I don’t want to get up on a soap box, nor do I wish to write a thesis on the existential significance of boredom on modern life. That would be boring, would it not? And that is precisely the point.* Let’s not do something that is boring. To the opening question: What am I doing here? I now have an answer: I’m trying to out-sprint boredom.  Does my life have meaning? I submit: Only to the degree I can appreciate Heidegger’s “remarkable indifference.”

Boredom is, paradoxically, the disease and the antidote. We might be challenged by the thought that nothing remains that is new, a thought which prompts (some of) us to attempt the new. I have long held that creativity is key to the profound in existence. What I never really appreciated is that creativity is, to one degree, the response, should one be inclined to respond, to the threat of remarkable indifference. Creativity is the fear of the same styled into the unsame. What am I doing here?–both the practical and the highfalutin metaphysical answer is: wrestling against the threat of boredom–with my notion of creativity. And you?

* Perhaps you might be interested in a more modern–more creative–take on the subject: Consider David Foster Wallace‘s The Pale King. (Can we long for the nostalgia of boredom?)

_____________________________

And of course there is a Ted Talk on the subject, as there appears to be a Ted Talk on every subject:

______________________________

A long(er) version of this mini-essay appeared a few years ago over at The Nervous Breakdown. My essays at TNB can be found here. (Was boredom the motivation to lifting this essay…?)

Muses Nine Come Calling.

In Creativity, Mythology, The Examined Life on January 29, 2013 at 6:00 am
Apollo, to whom the Muses reported.

Apollo, to whom the Muses reported.

Apollo released the Muses this morning! What an underserving beast I am to enjoy such grace–the beautiful sprites, dancing on the frozen tundra–Calliope, Clio, Urania, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polymnia, Melpomene, and Terpsichore.

We have an ancient agreement, me and these nine temptresses. “Only questions,” they demanded. “We give you the blessing-curse of questions only.” (Remember Foucault: “There are no answers!”) Eons past I agreed to their terms, hard-bargining tarts that they are.

The nine muses

The nine muses

And so, this morning, they surprised me as they occasionally will, and  accompanied me on my walk–sun rising, frozen snow crunching beneith my boots, crystalline air. It was an exercise in the sacrament. Less whisper, more choral, as befitting the dawn. And the questions–oh, the questions they ask:

  • What will be the tools of your creativity today?
  • When did you last sharpen them?
  • How, today, will you best perceive experience?
  • Can you plumb the depth before nightfall?
  • How, today, do you intend to better become yourself?
  • Do you recognize the face of satisfaction?
  • What mystery will you perform to advance your vision?
  • What can you do to help others in their advance?
  • Last night, did you note the last breath before sleep?
  • How do you seek the source of the question?

Was it the unearthing of things Zen past? Was that the triggering madeleine? More questions–an infinity of questions!

North of “Not Many”

In Adventure, Creativity, Nature, Writers on August 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

Art in a land of giants.

The North Woods. We capitalize the words. Sometimes its the Great North Woods. It’s been reported that Maine’s Great North Woods comprises the largest contiguous undeveloped landmass in the lower forty-eight. I don’t know if that is factually correct, but I hold it true because it comforts me, knowing it’s up there, the vastness of it. Approximately four million acres of pine and moose and bear and lakes and ponds, a few modest mountains, and a lace-work of lumber roads.

A person can get seriously lost in such a place, and frequently I go north and attempt to do precisely that. It was during such an effort last week that I stumbled upon the cache of “drawing pencils” in the photograph above. I was north of the little village of Kokadjo. The welcome sign to Kokadjo states the population as “Not Many.” It is good to have a sense of humor in such a place. Passing through Kokadjo, I left the tarmac and rumbled along a lumber road for untold miles, then turned off onto an unused road. It was pitted and grown-over and I followed it until it began to bog out. I noticed a patch of St. John’s Wart and stopped. I let Lucy out, after attaching a bear-bell to her collar, and began to pick the St. John’s Wart. Harvest the flowers, dry them, crumble them, and you’ve got a winter tea to drive away the doldrums.

I stretched my legs, walking down a path, when I found them, the giant pencils, stacked neatly as you see them in the photograph. I looked around. No cabin. No evidence of life. No recent tire tracks, foot prints, nothing. Yet, here was art.

Joyce said that “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” I thought of this quote and wondered who this God of creation was. I was struck by the obvious purity of the endeavor, as well as the humor. She–for there was something beautifully feminine about this exhibit–she, this goddess of creation, was beyond the work and the work was purer for that. It is possible to create for the purpose of creation only, not needing the prism of “the other.” It was an exhibit of voided ego precisely executed.

I do not know where I was. I did not check coordinates. That seemed contrary to the experience. It was quite simply my reward for giving myself up to the woods.