Monday, January 29, 2018

Feeding Creativity

At 7 Criminal Minds this week we are picking our own subject. I’m writing about feeding creativity.

A few years ago I was working on a book and got totally stumped. I couldn’t move forward, but I couldn’t give it up, either. Finally, I realized that I had holed up and worked on the book to the exclusion of other activities. My creative brain had gone stale. I knew it was time to get out and about and feed my creative side. In this particular case, I went for a long walk. But not just any walk—not a mindless ramble. I focused. I promised myself to really look at everything around me. I noticed the beautiful red bark of the manzanita tree that I often passed without paying attention to it. I stopped to take in the incredible variety of the color green on a hillside—every shade from silver-green to deep jade, to the soft green of new shoots. I noticed that intricate patters of tree trunks:

Several years ago, I started taking painting classes. I have no “talent” at painting, and no illusions that I would burst onto the art scene. I thought it might make me better able to see the world. I’m not a natural at “seeing. I’m more tuned to hearing the world around me. Learning to really look at things turned out to be more rewarding than I could ever have imagined. I learned about the important of light and shadow and how difficult it is to replicate the colors of nature.

In my writing, it made me able to open up to description. I always had trouble describing scenes. I was of the “just describe everything in the room” writer. Nothing, it turns out, is more boring than reading a checklist of what’s in a room. From painting, I learned the art of picking out the important visual cue. I don’t see a tree trunk anymore. I see the roughness or smoothness of the bark, the way the trunk twists, the visible roots on the ground. Is see the intricate details of flowers:

I have learned over time to feed my creative side in all kinds of ways. One of my favorites is to go to art galleries. Did I say I was more tuned to hearing than to seeing? I realized several years ago that when a piece of visual art really speaks to me, I often hear a soundtrack with it in my head.
Here’s a photo I took while strolling through Bouquets to Art at the DeYoung Museum, a yearly exhibition in which floral artists interpret art in the gallery: Can you hear the music that goes along with it?

Bird-watching expeditions are a wonderful way to see the world afresh. In the Bay Area, we are lucky to have places to observe shorebirds, woodland and forest birds, as well as free-ranging raptors. Birds are around us every day, but “seeing” them requires being still and really looking for the subtle colors, watching the way they feed and preen, the way they fly and interact with each other and their environment.

Sometimes it isn’t nature that fulfills, but other arts. Going to a movie or to the theater can stir your imagination and set you buzzing with a new idea. Music: The symphony or the opera, or any kind of music. Rock, folk, jazz.

And of course, sometimes what works best is reading. Not just reading mysteries, but reading outside sometimes reading outside your comfort zone. I just read the brilliant Lincoln in the Bardo, not knowing what to expect. It reminded me that literature can take you out of your everyday experiences and fling you into a new way of seeing the world.

How do others feed their creativity? Do you work on your car? Cook? Rearrange your furniture? Take photographs?


RJ Harlick said...

Whenever I get stumped in my writing I take my dogs and go on a long walk in the woods. Forest Bathing the Japanese call it. And it works. Usually my mind relaxes with the natural serenity around me, so that by the time I've finished the walk, I've solved my problem and can move on. Good post, Terry.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I agree you, Terry. It's whatever it takes to get you into that zone.

Unknown said...

I like your examples. Long drives by myself are good - plenty of time to think. Doesn't always work though, like today - a three-hour trip through fog and snow, too busy staying alive to be creative! :)

And music of course. Better yet, long drives with music!

Terry said...

RJ, I love the idea of Forest Bathing.

And RM Greenaway, I had forgotten about long drives. Growing up in Texas, driving was a way of life. It was an easy way to unwind.