Inspiration: Creativity as Play

Amidst a series of “How many … does it take to screw in a light bulb?’ jokes John Cleese brings up particularly poignant points about creativity.  He gives an actual recipe for its formation and hope to those of us suffering from creative block.

He asserts that “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”  People are not born creative.  It is not a high IQ or a muse on your shoulder.  Instead, it is finding a mode of working that allows for the creative which sits inside each artist to come out.

He cites studies and research which define creativity as “an ability to play.”  Creatives are childlike and have the ability to explore and frolic with ideas for no specific purpose other than play itself.

As I try to be more disciplined and determined in my writing practice, I find that this is something that I am missing lately.  If I’m not producing, I feel that I am not writing.  There isn’t room for play when deadlines and due dates are looming.  And yet, this is exactly what is needed for creativity: time and space.

“Creativity is not possible in the closed mode,” Cleese asserts.  But he also shows that working in both ‘open’ modes and ‘closed’ modes are necessary.  When we are working with a problem, we must examine it in the open mode.  However, once we find a solution, we must work in the closed mode to be effective at bringing it about.

For me, I have been getting better at the closed mode.  I have been developing my discipline and ability to sit down and write as if it is work, as if it is necessary.  But I have forgotten how to play with my writing.  I have forgotten to give myself the time and space to sit and play with my ideas, to let them be silly and run free.

The most useful part of Cleese’s speech comes in his practical advice for creating the ‘open’ mode necessary for creativity.

“You need five things:

1. Space (Away from the ‘real world’ so you can play!)

2. Time (Time blocked off especially for play!)

3. Time (The more time you spend playing, the more creative your solutions are!)

4. Confidence (Play means not being frightened of failure!)

5. A 22-inch waist.. Sorry, humour.”

He asserts that your creative play needs to be distinct from your everyday life in both the time and the space that you give it so that you can be free from the pressures (and ‘closed’ mode) that we usually operate under.  “Otherwise, it’s not play.”

“The most creative professionals always play with the problem for much longer before they try to resolve it.”

“While you’re being creative, nothing is wrong and any drivel might lead to the breakthrough.”

Of course, as he says in the beginning, “Telling people how to be creative is easy. Being creative is difficult.”

Oh, and also…

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one, but the light bulb has really got to want to change.

Inspiration: Look Up More: The Shared Experience of Absurdity

I’ll just come out and say it, I love the absurd.  There’s something magical and beautiful about frivolity that’s not tied down to reason and rationality.  Absurdity has this detachment from the material world which makes me remember that I am not only a physical body that needs to eat and shit, but also a mind that needs to be stimulated and awed.  There’s some sort of wizardry that the ludicrous possesses which can turn even the most mundane of situations and surroundings into a wonderland.

Take for instance Christo and Jean-Claude’s outdoor art, The Umbrellas.  It instantly turns a brown, barren California landscape into a fairyland. And that’s exactly what’s amazing about absurdity.  It’s play for adults.  It’s a time when we are pulled out of daily routine and everyday life and invited to immerse ourselves in imagination and wonder.  It invites us to see the world around us not as a hard, material setting but as a playground ripe with beauty and ready for exploration.

The magic and wonder of the ridiculous is never so powerful as when it is shared.  In the TED Talk below, Charlie Todd, founder of ImprovEverywhere, discusses the power of sharing absurd experiences.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the video:

“I love this moment in the video, because before it became a share experience, it was maybe a little bit scary, or something that was at least confusing to her.  And then once it became a shared experience, it was something funny and something she could laugh at.”

“There is no point and there doesn’t have to be a point.  We don’t need a reason, as long as it’s fun.”

This video really inspired me because it made me think about how something just a little bit absurd lends itself to an entire story.  The people who witnessed the no-pants subway ride (and all the previous ones that followed!) will forever have that story to tell — and to share.  It will be something to connect over and an experience that they can give to others through the telling of that story for the rest of their lives.

All storytelling should have an element of this.  Stories should leave you wanting to retell them, to share them.  Good stories are instant bridges between people.  They bring us together and link us in common experience.

And for me, I always want a little bit of the absurd.  I want a little bit of play, a little wink at my reader.  I want that moment when my reader and I are both frolicking in the playground of wonder and imagination and beauty that is the world we live in.

Because it’s really fun to play by yourself, but it’s even more fun to play with others.*

*Sexual innuendo absolutely intended.  I’m sorry.  I couldn’t resist.

Creative Commons love to Jon Delorey for the photo and, of course, to TED for the video!