Catching Creativity

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(Editor’s Note: This appeared initially as a blog for SKIRT Magazine)

I was never much good at catching fireflies.

In my youth, fireflies would twinkle in the soft light, creating magic on the back lawn.

My cousins would burst out into the twilight, armed with glass baby food jars, their legs streaked with the blood of the last swatted mosquito like some kind of warpaint. The evening would be filled with the fwop-fwop sound of their palms slapping to seal the fireflies inside the jars. They compared who would have the brightest firefly nightlight at their bedside.

I would wander much more slowly through the dew-slick grass, an ambler where my cousins were marching warriors. The fairy lights attracted me but once I captured a firefly, it looked puny in its glass prison, its magic diminished with captivity.

Eventually, I let the fireflies be.

As an adult and a writer, I found that the bright sparkle of creativity too would diminish the harder I tried to tame it. Grabbing onto a muse was like trying to pick up a raw egg yolk with your fingers – it slipped and slid just out of your grasp.

Creativity is supposed to be a spark, implying that you can just strike two blunt things together repeatedly until it happens.

It doesn’t work that way for me. I can’t force creativity directly. I can’t even sneak up on it. If I stare at it directly, it wisps away. I can only catch it out of the corner of my eye and let it sneak up on me.

Creativity sparks when I shamelessly eavesdrop on other people’s dramas, the tears of an overwrought stranger watering my creativity. It sparks when two disparate things suddenly seem related, like butterflies and physics. And it sparks when it is most inconvenient – nudging me awake at 3 am to get up and capture a scene or a dream.

But, the times I sit alone before dawn at my keyboard, hammering out the words that seem to come at the speed of light?

Creativity hovers like a bright cloud of fireflies.

fireflies-long-exposure-photography-2016-japan-19

Be A Better Writer To Be A Better Lover

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I am a writer, which means that as I sit before a blank page, I check my e-mail, hop on Facebook, and read about writing all as an elaborate warmup to the actual writing. Or, to be brutally honest, I goof off before word one hits the page.

As I was goofing off today, I was reading an excellent article about the psychology of writing, and I began to see a subtle but sure relationship between writing – something I enjoy but don’t always protect the time for – with, well, romance.

The article said that writers perform best when they achieve a state of “flow” that overcomes anxiety and boredom. I have written without looking at the clock in a fever of creativity, surprised when my plot hits a crescendo and I stop, amazed at how much time has flown by. Similarly, nothing stops romance colder than anxiety or clock-watching. There’s a great scene in one of the Sex & The City movies in which Miranda, the brainy one, lies beneath her good-guy husband, Steve, and asks him to hurry up. You can imagine his…um…crest-fallen reaction.

The article continues that ritual can be important for writing. Sit in your “writing place” so that becomes where you get used to being creative. The article talks about “cognitive cueing,” in which ritual can ensure that the same sights, sounds, smells cue your mind that now is the time to create. The analogy between this and romance is undeniable. How many times have we set the scene with candles and music to indicate that tonight we’re not watching Jon Stewart?

Finally, the article says bluntly, “There is no ideal rotation of the chair or perfect position of the desk clock that guarantees a Pulitzer. What counts, ultimately, is putting your backside in the chair.”

And that, too, is great advice for those of us in love. Just be present. Just put in the time. Because, there are no flowers or candles that are more romantic than someone who really listens, who is there for you without distraction.

Sometimes, just doing is your inspiration.Pen and Ink

Balancing the Forces

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It has been a year now since I have semi-retired. Friends ask how I’m doing, what it’s like.

The truth? I’m a living science experiment. My semi-retirement is an example of centripetal force and centrifugal force.

Centrifugal force is that force that pushes an object away from the center of a rotating object. If you’re on one of those carnival rides that rises and rotates, it is centrifugal force that pushes your chair away from the center pole as you spin. My retirement is my centrifugal force. It makes me step away from the center, reluctant to involve myself in things that aren’t worth my time. It keeps me inoculated from office politics, and places me in the middle of huge swaths of solitude. It makes me grateful that I will never have to willingly spend time with a twit again.

Centripetal force is what pulls things toward the center of a rotation, keeping it neatly moving in a circle. Back to the carnival, it is centripetal force that keeps you in your seat when you’re suspended upside down at the top of a roller coaster loop. It’s the “semi” in my retirement that keeps me coming back to the center of action, getting involved in writing groups, taking cooking classes, taking an interest in local politics. Perhaps it’s ego, but the sting of answering “Nothing” to the query about what I do for a living keeps my calendar filled.

But here’s the key. If you read about these forces, there’s an important clue in the definition: “In a properly rotating part, such as a wheel, both forces must be equal. If the centripetal force is overcome or ceases to exist, the wheel will ‘explode,’ the parts flying off in all directions.”

So what is semi-retirement like? It’s trying to find the balance so the parts don’t fly off in all directions.

Carnival swing