If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading Maria Popova’s brilliant site, BrainPickings, you really have to head over there. There are days when I don’t dare wander too far into it because once I’m in, it could be hours before I get out again.
She scours the net for beauty, art, inspiration, joy, and I’m never disappointed in what she finds. Here, in one paragraph, she strikes gold:
Complement the altogether terrific [Studs Terkel] And They All Sang with Joplin on creativity and rejection, then treat yourself to more enduring wisdom from beloved musicians: Bob Dylan on the unconscious mind and the ideal conditions for creativity, Leonard Cohen on work ethic and the muse, Leonard Bernstein onmotivation and why we create, Carole King on how to overcome creative block, Aaron Copland on emotion vs. the intellect, and Amanda Palmer on the art of asking.
In another link, Salon writer J.P. O’Malley does a Q and A with Tracy Daugherty, author of “The Last Love Song”, a new biography about Joan Didion:
Did Joan Didion believe that language gave her a certain amount of power in life?
Yes. Didion once said the only time in her life when she feels in control is sitting at the typewriter, because then she can control the story. And her language is so tight, powerful and direct that you can see on the page how hard she works to maintain that control. For Didion, whatever happens in life, you can always form it into a narrative which you can control.
Then, over at Genius.com, John Cleese “lectures” on creativity. He says creativity is just play, but very serious play. It’s playing with ourselves (not in that way! Jeez!) so we must make play dates with ourselves, but they have to last more than 30 minutes because it takes at least 30 minutes of alone time to calm down enough to forget about who we’re supposed to be calling, or what we need from the store, and get to thinking creatively.
I’m paraphrasing Mr. Cleese so don’t hold me to it. Also, what he has to say is cleverer (because he’s John Cleese) and much, much longer than my explanation (which may or may not be right). But it’s worth spending a few minutes of your playdate time to read it.
Let me just sneak my own thoughts on creativity in here: We’re all hardwired to be creative; that’s how homo sapiens learned to survive–by creatively figuring out ways to get things done, but artistic creativity is built into us, too.
Every society, every tribe, even the most primitive, leaves behind works of art having nothing to do with utility. Art for art’s sake. We’re hardwired to express ourselves in art, in music, in writing. We’re surrounded by evidence of the need to create. And sometimes it surfaces in the most unlikely places.
I love books and I wouldn’t dream of cutting any of mine into tiny little pieces, but I have seen books turned into such astonishing sculptures I’m able to pretend they’re not made from real books. They’re that good. And so is the story behind them.
In 2011, mysterious, exquisite paper sculptures began appearing in libraries in Edinburgh, Scotland. Nobody saw them come in and nobody knows who brought them. Each sculpture had a gift card attached, thanking the staff for encouraging reading and art. I never get tired of looking at them, and I’m still curious about the sculptor, but some mysteries are best left mysterious. I’m okay with that. In this case, it adds to the story and makes these sculptures even more exquisite.
Sometimes, when the world around us threatens to get too crazy to ever settle down, we need to seek out those moments of wonder and joy. They’re all around us, often free for the taking. And they’re there because someone else saw the need to create just the thing we needed at just the right moment. All it takes is for us to open our eyes–or to look in another direction.
Funny how that works.
(I should explain the photo above. I plucked a Goats-beard about to go to seed from the side of the road and stuck it in between boards on my dock, where the light was stronger and the background more interesting. It’s one of my favorites, and I’m happy that it’s copied and shared more than any of my photos. The elements finally finished off our dock this year, so next year it’ll have to be replaced with a new one. I’ll miss that old dock. It had character.)
(9/13 – Adding this Brain Pickings article by Maria Popova about Oliver Sacks because it took my breath away and I don’t want to lose it.)
(10/25 – Okay, one more: Brain Pickings celebrates nine years on the web and Maria Popova offers “9 Learnings from 9 Years of Brain Pickings”. Perfect! And now that I have them here I know where to go whenever I want to savor them again.)