I recently read a few lines on creativity that really struck a chord with me.
I believe in a creative metabolism working in a way where I have ingestion periods. Then, I have gestation periods. Then, I have output periods. I feel like these three things are really, really important, and they work hand-in-hand, but they have to be discrete from one another.Mary H.K. Choi, On sustaining a creative metabolism
Lately, I have been caught in a loop of constant consumption. I have been reading, watching, and listening to others share their brilliant and mediocre thoughts on a wide array of topics. I haven’t watched television in over a decade and I don’t read mainstream news, but I research topics that interest me and subscribe to the newsletters of fact-collectors to discover more objects of fascination. That’s to say, my consumption is well-curated and free of ads and propaganda. Despite that, I am constantly succumbing to a tidal wave of input.
Over the past few days, John Greene has explained the origins of scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers and the seed potatoes of Leningrad, Michael Saylor has discussed Bitcoin within the context of anthropology, energy, and technology, and James Lindsay has explained that Dr. Seuss was cancelled because his books are a cultural anchor point for hundreds of millions of people. Jason Kottke shares an except from author Ted Chiang on how fear of capitalism manifests as fear of technology and economist Tyler Cowen asks, if UFOs are alien beings, are they just doing mood affiliation in visiting us? I spent my entire day off reading, completing a book of poetry, two books of sewing techniques, and 10% of a hefty science fiction anthology. We met a friend at a park and discussed lung health and fiat currency, and what a friend’s preteen could have done to violate PlayStation’s erotic or pornographic image policy (perhaps trolling, dirty anime, or.. worse). My mind is buzzing with new information. I’m anxious and antsy, craving that next hit of novelty.
Yet, I am realizing that I haven’t granted myself the space and the silence necessary to fully digest the materials. Similar to exercising just after eating, the ideas aren’t given time to settle in or be fully broken down. It’s just one article or podcast after another. I’ve researched some fascinating topics lately–blockchain technologies (the future is here!), the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, tips for writing science fiction, and what desert plants survive with no rain (Phoenix lost thousands of 100+ year old saguaros over the last year due to the growing heat bubble). And yet, I couldn’t recount the intricate details if my life depended on it. So, at the end of the day, what was the point?
Following the consumption and digestion of media comes regurgitation. If I were a mama bird, I would digest the worms and seeds and then spit out the final product to feed my youth. Here is the data, this is what mean, and here is what you can do with it.
I want the ability to take in a variety of topics, break them down into individual pieces, and then recombine the disparate ideas into a new and cohesive realization. If I were to allow those ideas to percolate and then consider the relationship between the long and growing list of random topics I have explored, I bet I could unearth some unique connections and piece together some bizarrely thought-provoking ideas. I want to write something worth reading and worth thinking about, even if I’m the only one doing so.
I used to regularly talk about how innovation lies in the overlap and emphasize the importance of broadening horizons and continued learning. Not learning for the sake or finishing a book or being about to comment intelligently on a social media post, but learning for the sake of understanding on a deep and profound level, however mundane the topic.
Unless we allow ourselves the quietude to process concepts–however simple or complex–the ideas will do little more than pass through our consciousnesses and then back out into the ether. Just as birds and graffiti just don’t on a moving train, ideas won’t stick in a racing mind. Sometimes we just need to slow down. I need to slow down.
Distraction is expensive. I left social media many years ago and consider it one of the best decisions of my life, as it was a huge time and energy sink. I don’t watch television or go out drinking or spend more than a few minutes getting ready for the day. And yet, I still find means of distraction. I listen to back-to-back podcasts on 1.5 speed and plow through books without stopping to consider topics or events before moving on. It’s high-quality content, but it’s a lot. I multitask in ways that compromise my ability to focus and, perhaps, the integrity of my work. I attempt to do too much at once, resulting in accomplishing nothing much at all. At least nothing impressive.
One of my favorite bloggers recently shared a post about his diagnosis of ADHD at age 40. As I read through, I could relate to far more than I would like to admit. Being a well-behaved kid and good student, he skated through life while enduring a secret struggle. It makes me wonder whether my frequent oscillation between hyper-focus and input inundation is just a manifestation of wonky brain chemistry, ADHD or otherwise.
Regardless of the circumstances, I always have the choice to read an article or chapter and then sit down with an open notebook and an open mind. I have the choice to sit down and wait for the content to be fully process. I have the choice to quietly wait for gestation. We can’t rush the birthing of a new idea. Sometime the effort comes naturally and other times it takes a concerted effort. The best we can do is fill our minds, let the contents spill drip-by-drip into our creative conscious, and then patiently explore the changing terrain in search of some yet-unknown treasure within the expansive void.