“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” ~ Albert Einstein
Of all my mistresses, I have always loved creativity best.
We don’t see each other as often as we used to, certainly not as often as I wish we did, but when we get together we’re a very comfortable fit, as long-term lovers should be. We understand each other’s moods, needs, and whims. But, as is the case with mistresses, ours is an affair, a diversion from the norm. Being such, we sometimes look much better to each other than we, in fact, truly are. I see creativity in all her supple youth, her willingness to let me use her as I wished without fear of ridicule. And she, in turn, still sees me as eager, but callow in a way that excites her. Even at this point, decades into our relationship, we hold hands across time.
As far back as I can remember I always had a passion for words. It would enchant me the way a skilled writer would create passages that wrapped around my mind and drew me into places and situations that were at once both real and yet distant. My earliest recollection of this enchantment was as a young boy reading an excellent English translation of the Arabian Nights stories, the collection of which an aunt had sent to me probably as a birthday present. Reading the tales I could feel the heat of the desert, smell the spices in the bazaars, feel the soft skin of princesses’ skin, and be blinded by the glare of mid-day sun off the tip of a scimitar.
Years later, I would know the desperation of the disenfranchised in Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, the fear of Don Corleone’s enemies, the fervor of Don Quixote, the passions and strengths of Amy Tan’s women, the emotional needs of Pat Conroy’s men. And, at as an adolescent, I wanted to be among those who stimulated the imaginations of so many.
Just as was the case with so many other teens in the mid-to-late 1960’s, I wrote poetry, most of which was at once both revealing and really badly written. And, as was the case with many of my contemporaries, I failed to understand how the Village Voice missed the obvious value of my free verse (iambic pentameter was for wimps). Of course, the more I read of the great poets — I particularly favored E. E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, and Walt Whitman — the better I comprehended the reason for the rejection letters.
Poetry yielded to short stories and one-act plays. Creativity constantly sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear as life progressed. Everything I see and everything I do became fodder for the fiction in my mind. Even now, as I sit in a public library and look at the people around me, I create tales of who they are and what they’re doing. The older couple sitting at a small table; the angry-looking young woman, whose eyes are burning through the pages of the slim volume she holds; the disheveled middle-aged man with a week’s growth of grey-white beard, slowly falling asleep in a soft chair; the two children engrossed in a shared picture book; all become fascinating to me in a mix-and-match series of plots and dialogues. Unfortunately, for me anyway, I haven’t turned any of these plots and dialogues into a short story or play in years. I could say that life got in the way, but that’s a cop-out. Somewhere along the line, I lost some faith in myself and succumbed to self-doubt.
Perhaps, then, it should go without saying that I privately recreate epochal moments in my life to suit better outcomes. Sometimes, these moments become graphically violent as those who wronged me are introduced to a carefully crafted Machiavellian (occasionally Draconian) turn of events from which I emerge victorious. Walter Mitty, meet Stephen King. These mental recreations do not, of course, make me unique and their details have never been shared with anyone. I like to keep this dark side as close to my vest as possible, thank you. Again, though, I know having thoughts like these undoubtedly puts me in the majority and, of course, the thoughts themselves are probably harmless and definitely cathartic.
Sylvia Plath, the brilliant writer who died far too soon, once observed, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Is there anything worse to the creative spirit than self-doubt? Plath clearly referred to writing, but creativity is absolutely essential for every aspect of life. Obviously, anyone associated with any of the arts will be paired with being creative and condemned for not being so if their work doesn’t meet some pre-determined standard. But as any entrepreneur or great mind knows, without creativity innovation isn’t possible. Albert Einstein combined science with creativity and opened the world to a new way of thinking about the universe; Ray Kroc combined business acumen with creativity and turned a small, family-owned hamburger stand into an international fast-food empire; Bette Nesmith Graham, frustrated with typing correction inefficiency, used creativity to invent “Mistake Out,” which was then marketed under the name Liquid Paper. Did self-doubt ever stop these three, and thousands more like them? Certainly not, for they were successful. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t experience self-doubt, only that they overcame it.
And that, gentle reader, is the key: overcoming self-doubt. Of course, a degree of questioning is essential to any process, but when the need to question overshadows the need to succeed, there cannot be a good result. Worse, self-doubt can be a self-perpetuating process. So how to reverse this self-perpetuation? I’m not sure. But I imagine a good starting point is just that — have a good starting point. Thomas Edison said that he never failed; he found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. While I don’t know if he actually tried something that many times before succeeding in meeting a goal, I do know that his repetitive behavior was a punch in self-doubt’s nose. And I also know that if I ever want to write another short story, poem, or play, I need to stop thinking about the reasons not to do so, and simply put my fingers on the keyboard. If I want to learn a new skill, or re-learn a lost one, I have to just try it. It is an absolute that if I try, I just might, but if I don’t try, I definitely won’t.
The other day I sent to a friend a humorous piece I wrote a long time ago. Shortly after sending this silliness, it occurred to me that I haven’t been with my favorite mistress in some time, and I wonder if she remembers me.