Monday, September 15, 2008

The Creator Within

Inspiration. Where does it come from? For that matter, where does it go? What mercurial demon drives every original thought from your head just when the big opportunity looms in the form of a [client, boss, publisher, you pick the authority figure who can make or break you], leaving you an empty, non-creative husk, just as s/he asks [pick the one that applies]: "Tell me about your [portfolio, play, book, project, great idea]."

ARRGGGH!!! Pardon the venting. I just had to get that out of my system. I'm sure the twitching will stop soon.

Anyone who's done anything other than file paper clips has been there, if only in their nightmares. People who live and die by their creative ideas spend more time there than the average person, which only heightens the blind terror induced when that kingmaker looms on the horizon.

I was a lyric soprano in my twenties, and when I was singing my worst nightmare was, you guessed it, forgetting the words in front of a packed house. The night of my Master's recital, I took my spot in the crook of the piano ready to perform a Handel aria with a trumpeter who launched into his opening volley with great gusto. Just as he reached the high note that signaled my cue, my mind did the unthinkable and went completely blank.

The words disappeared as if I hadn't spent the last 9 months preparing for that moment and I stood on the precipice of disaster, my mind racing through all the other music I was going to sing later in the program. Everything but the first line of the Handel aria ripped through my cranium in a torrent that would have crashed a Superdome and time telescoped in front of me like the yawning gates of Hell. Then I remembered the most important thing my first voice teacher had ever told me. "Relax."

I opened my mouth and the words came out, completely unbidden and with no conscious thought whatever. My subconscious genius kicked in, carrying me along on a wave of music that I rode through the rest of the concert. I was still there, breathing, counting, hitting my marks and playing off the energy of the chamber musicians I performed with. But my conscious brain became the observer who watched the "Underlord" pilot the ship to safe harbor.

I'm convinced that the reason the concert was a transcendent experience was because I turned control over to the part of my brain that doesn't play in the mundane sphere, allowing it to open me up to musical possibilities I'd never have reached with the seatbelts on.

These days I work with engineers and designers who dream stuff up, and I write because I really can't stop myself. I've always been a writer first, second and third, but that's another story. The thing that struck me today was the idea that all of us have this hidden genius that takes different forms, depending on our personal inclinations & talents. And I am regularly blown away by the things creative people produce, seemingly from balls of string and paper clips.

I saw a piece in the April '08 issue of Wired Magazine that speaks to this. It's a photo essay by Nick Waplington (text by Mathew Honan), documenting the places where inspiration struck a few of the creative geniuses of our time. Check out Eureka! and comment on an unlikely place where you had a moment of inspiration that really led to something you treasure.