What puts you in a mood to make up creative magic?
Music? Vodka? Nap?
(“And how’s that werkin’ out fer ya?”)
Creativity ain’t easy.
It’s that brilliantly infuriating gift where we can’t always harness it to do our monetary bidding – yet it’ll wake you up at 3 A.M. in a sweat and beg you to scrawl down the fountaining thought-froth brimming from your brain like something you put in the microwave for thirty seconds too long. And though I’ve written about some hacks before, I’m always looking for new ones. Why? Because unless addictive chemicals are involved, “routines” are exceedingly boring for me.
Ironically, a “routine” is exactly what one article I saw recently suggested. Some of our historic geniuses had the strangest little compulsions. For example, Beethoven was said to have counted out 60 perfect coffee beans every morning while Ben Franklin would “air bathe” – sitting outside about as butt naked as that front part of his head.
To be fair, though, maybe that was just a hydrophobic thing…
“…and in bacterial exposure, there is immunity” – me.
Boom! Who’s the genius now, Motha Franklin?!
Then, some more recent smarties like the dude who invented the floppy disk, are men after my own hearts. I feel most creative when I can either get a standard adrenaline rush, feel like I’m about to die, or have just narrowly escaped certain death. Maybe that’s why Dr. Yoshira Nakamatzu listens to music before diving under water and depriving himself of oxygen. It might sound silly – but between that sensory deprivation and how great that final inhalation of air must feel like when he surfaces, I bet it works like a charm. When all of my thoughts and feelings and anxieties start to aggregate in my head and neck and shoulders, these sorts of jarring experiences are like shaking up an etch-a-sketch. I can come back to my work with a fresher brain. I wonder if that’s sorta how my creative homies feel too.
But do their rituals ever lose their novelty for these guys?
I admittedly get bored with my own habits, but that’s just because I try to do the same thing with them that I attempt with my creativity: define and control them and thus expect them to work like Beethoven’s magic beans that grew not into stalks but brilliant eargasms. The problem with that is then I’ll fail to do my part because I’ve talked them up in my own head. And then they lose their power and I have to switch it up and find something new, which I hate.
The thing is – my “meeting it halfway” is actually less active than it sounds. It’s just a let-go-don’t-overthink-it thing. And when I’ve had a good workday, I feel like Sir Laurence Olivier did the night after he brought down the house performing Othello:
“His portrayal of the title character was deemed exceptional, but one night Olivier apparently outdid himself. After the show, the rest of the cast formed a tunnel, applauding him as he went back to his dressing room. But Olivier looked sulky, and shut the door on everyone. One cast member went up to the door and asked what was wrong, telling Olivier he had been brilliant. ‘I know,’ came the reply, ‘But I don’t know how I did it, so how can I do it again?’…”
Does that count as humble bragging?
That’s the thing with creativity. It only comes when we relax and let all our little weirdnesses surface on their own. These miscellaneous nuances the great minds of the past practiced were too weird to be something they suddenly logically decided to implement into their pre-creative daily schedule. And they may not have even given much thought to any of it while they were doing it. I tend to feel like something gets lost when we talk about how great our process is or describe it out loud. It’s always harder to lose ourselves in something awe-inspiring once we’ve picked it apart and given it a name.
Which is why my scientist side annihilates all things sacred when it pops up.
In the end, there’s at least one thing that’s always worked.
It works when I’m bored. It works if I’m stuck in a block. And it works when I’m embodying a depressed uninspired failure. What I do is get in my car, and drive down the street to the overpass that sits just above I95. Although most days my end goal is to exit my life dramatically like some tragic cinema vixen via freefall onto the freeway – thus far it’s just culminated in me driving by and haughtily commenting, “Saint Jesus’s balls! Just look at that traffic. At least I don’t have to sit in that shit every day.”
Then I bask in the echo of my own statement – laced with unintentional gratitude.
And then I take my ass home and write.