Pieces of Me

When I left work today, I had two things on my mind. First, I wanted to cook. Second, I wanted to write. Both were slated to be creative endeavors as I had something I wanted to try cooking and I had an idea for something to write for this blog.

As to the cooking, it was something that came to me early in the day. This morning, I had thought about making some pasta and meat sauce; with the meat sauce, I wanted to try browning the ground beef in bacon grease. (Yes, it was a inspiring moment that you might find on some other blog.) Kathy had thought that this might not work, which only spurned me to try it even more. So, after work, I stopped at Wegman’s, grabbed everything (plus some other things I thought might spice it up), and headed home to cook.

What I like about cooking is that it appeals to the mad scientist in me. In the past, this has lead to some memorable disasters and certainly culinary miscues on my part. (The best miscue that Kathy will tell to complete strangers was adding cinnamon to ground beef for hamburgers. It seemed like a good idea at the time…) But since I have enough money to negate any cooking disaster with consoling takeout, it has given me a safety net for trying things I’m not completely sure about. These days, I will consult The Flavor Bible to make sure there are some flavor affinities going on so I know I’m headed in the right direction. And tonight, I was headed in the right direction for some tasty success.

(For the curious, the final product had ground beef browned in bacon grease, organic marinara sauce, chopped bacon, black beans, dark red kidney beans, garlic, onions, chopped grape tomatoes, a dash of cumin, a dash of freeze dried basil, and a couple of turns of a pepper grinder. I served it on angel hair pasta with rosemary Italian bread with salt. I don’t use measurements for ingredients since I function under the “close enough” system.)

After cleaning up the kitchen, I went to office, sat down at the computer, opened up Windows Live Writer, jotted down the couple of thoughts I had on what I wanted to write, and then… nothing. No more words, no more thoughts, just me and the blinking cursor of the DAMNED on the screen. It was in that moment that I thought that one out of two creative projects was good enough for today and that I would just find something else to do.

Such began the winter evening of my discontent: nothing was holding my interest. World of Warcraft, Google Reader, my usual web haunts and message boards; I was thirsty for something to do but not those. I ended up on the TED talk website looking through the topics and speakers. I had watched a couple last week and remembered that there were some talks I had seen listed that I was curious to try out. So I watched one, skipped around to a couple of different ones, and had literally text a friend about how damn bored I was when I found the TED talk I have imbedded below. I watched it and, lo and behold, a marvelous thing happened:

I thought of something to write about.

(If you want to watch it before reading the rest, go for it.)

Before Elizabeth’s talk, I had never thought of the creative process in any sort of substantial terms. For such a fantastic process that produces such interesting results that have certainly changed my own life and people around me, there was no curiosity about the process, how it happens, or why it happens. “It just happens” was a sufficient explanation without further thought or consideration. In the walk I took after her talk, I began to think about the process and how I would describe it to outside observer. How would I quantify and/or qualify my creative process? As the houses went slowly by and my feet strode across the pavement, I finally settled on a way that I think best describes it for me: a haunting. Allow me to elaborate.

There are two ways that ideas come to me. The first is like a poltergeist; a sudden appearance of a thought that rattles around for a moment and then quiets down just as quickly. It is a fleeting disruption to whatever I am thinking or doing at the time. I’m not always sure where it came from, nor whether I even like what it is; all I know is that it’s now there for me to either build on it or discard it. Like any haunting, it can strike anywhere such as in the car, in the shower, laying in bed, or any other situation in which paper and pencil are not immediately handy. And, like poltergeists of traditional telling, these random flashes of inspired thought come and go as they please.

The second way is more like a possession. It is an idea or thought or concept that simply grips me and holds me in its sway, taking over my active thought process. It takes an ‘exorcism’ of output as I must either banish or get this idea down in some form lest it drive me mad with its incessant chatter and visualizations. An undismissable flight of the fantastic, not all of them will be advanced, but they will all be heard. Even when jotted down in my notes or potential projects list, they linger on, watching and waiting for me to act. This description is more sinister than it actually is, but I really can’t think of a better way to express how it feels to get an idea that simply won’t shut up or go dissipate.

(To me, the truly bothersome thing about my creative process is that I really don’t take anything off the table when it comes to my imagination. This means that some very dark and disturbing things can show up at times. These are the kind of  things that keep me awake at night and make my palms sweat in the middle of a perfectly normal day. They are wholly depressing, ideas of a true profane and vulgar nature that frighten me to ponder what people would think of me if they ever heard them. I know we all have our dark side, but I’ve never liked this end of the creative abyss.)

What really got to me in Elizabeth’s talk was the part about the product of such creative minds and how it affects them. For all of the projects that I handle in the course of the day, it is the ones in which I am personally invested (like this blog) that are the most mentally taxing. While not each post is the finest of my efforts in prose, there is a bit of me that goes off with the pressing of the “Publish” button. For those entries where I put myself out there to the greater library field (like this recent “Why I Support Library 101” post), there is always a moment riddled with unnerving doubt that assails my senses. To get this post published (or whatever I’m trying to reveal beyond myself), I pay the psychic toll it is demanding: a bigger piece of myself. I don’t know whether it is a fear of failure or disappointment or the creative process trying to protect one of its own from harsh realities of the outside opinion world, but it is most certainly unpleasant. There is validation in the compliments of my peers for some of the more thoughtful posts I have made on various subjects, but the price paid is not forgotten.

In the end, however, I think I have gotten a better understanding of the entire creative process from start to finish. I can feel how creativity flows within me, how it expresses itself, and how it manifests in the final product. And, more importantly, why it is ok to let a bit of myself go out with it. I think it would be a shame to leave this world not having given everything of yourself away, for you truly cannot take it with you. With each act of creativity, let there be an act of courage to share it. And let me leave you with a thought for your own approach to the creative process:

Creativity is the original open source software.

It should be shared and shared alike.

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