Where Creativity Comes From

photo by pbkwee

I have some good news and some bad news. It’s about creativity. Well, mine anyway. After many years of alternately experiencing both droughts and monsoons of creative vision, I have miraculously discovered from where to harvest my most creative self. I liken it to mining for gold−since the result of every creative endeavor (on a good day) yields a precious, rare, wondrous thing of beauty and value.

Of course no two nuggets of gold are alike. If I’m really lucky, some are hefty chunks.  Others are tiny slivers, gossamers even, so slight that most people could not see their true value with the naked eye. Each one is multi-faceted, sharing characteristics that are, at times, even contradictory. Parts are smooth like glass, so that if you looked into it you’d see yourself−only better.  Some parts are scruffy and rugged with razor sharp points that could gouge your eyes out like the grin of a saber tooth tiger. The dirty crevices inevitably found in nuggets of gold always seem incongruous to their opulence. Crevices caked with dirty black deposits so dark, like the unknown of a cave. Let’s not forget the shimmery twinkly parts, gleaming with luster like a wink from a star. To me it makes no difference what form or size the nugget takes−they’re all solid gold.

Ok. Here’s the bad news. There’s only one way I can source these clusters of creativity. For me, the most successful excavation happens under one condition: when I’m in a horizontal position in a half-sleep. I’m not kidding. I discovered this years ago when I started writing my first novel. I’d sit for hours into the late night at my computer exhausted and weary, often with a steady stream of drool leaking from the corner of my mouth. I would try to push through the zombie state because these were the hours I needed to make writing progress−my young children were finally asleep. But I would be too spent to feign creativity or anything writerly, so off to sleep I’d go.

It was on those exceptional nights when I’d find the most wonderful sleeping position ever, the kind where all body parts are in the exact intoxicatingly perfect place. (Why can’t my body find that position every night?) It was on these rare nights, when I’d feel myself slipping off into a deep slumber, that someone from my novel, usually the protagonist, would urgently throw open the door to my semi-consciousness. My first thought was always, “What the heck are you doing here?” Then, “Where’ve you been for the last three hours? Now you got something to say?” I’d argue with the protagonist a bit, but it was clearly futile because I knew in my heart of hearts that a gold nugget had just been plopped on my pillow.

Well, years have passed and one would think I’d have a system for capturing these inopportune but welcomed visits of vision. Since they can take the form of great dialogue−so natural it feels like I’m eavesdropping, or a shocking plot twist or the greatest cliff-hanger chapter ending ever, I should at least have a pad and pencil on my nightstand. I don’t. Nor do I have a mini voice recorder. And since my memory sucks, and since my memory sucks, I can’t possibly depend on myself to remember any of it in the morning. Sometimes I create word associations to try to help me remember; they’ve had varied success. Other times, I’ve relied on the rhythm of sentences that I repeat over and over again in my sleepy state.  Oddly, I can remember the rhythm of a sentence in the morning and derive the words from there.

A mini recorder would be nice.

This pattern of getting gushes of creativity when lying down dozing off has become predictable lately. So much so, I can safely call it my technique. One in which I call upon now even in the middle of the day. If, say, after toiling at my computer for an hour or two, but I’ve yet to make any kind of inroads on the story I’m writing, I actually start to feel a little sleepy. I get up from my desk and lie down on the couch, snuggle up to my favorite pillow, and drift into a half-slumber. And voila! I strike gold.

I’m sure it sounds strange to some people−in fact it was strange to me in the beginning. But it makes sense in a world with so much buzz, distraction and sensory assault, that I would need quiet in order to think and create. Emails, facebook and twitter are an instantaneous click away from a Word document. I don’t look at creativity and inspiration in the same way anymore. Noise ignites inspiration, quiet ignites creativity. This brings to mind something I read in Anna Quindlen’s Newsweek piece, Doing Nothing is Something. “You can’t write poetry or compose music or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.”

My kids used to think it was crazy that I’d need to sleep to come up with my best writing ideas. They’re used to it now. In fact the other day my daughter and a friend were walking through our family room on the way to the kitchen. The friend saw me on the couch, curled up under a velvet blanket, and she whispered to my daughter and pointed at me. Through my semi-conscious state I heard my daughter say, “Oh, don’t mind her, she’s just writing.”

Gettin’ Jiggy with the Grid

photo by William Ismael

I know losing phone and internet service for thirteen days, twenty hours and six minutes, is not a big deal in the scheme of things. As it turns out, getting it restored is. But they don’t call me Jenny from the Grid for nothing!

After speaking with a Verizon phone agent, who troubleshot remotely, she declared our problem an equipment issue and arranged to send team #1 (as we’d eventually call them) in three days with new devices.

Team number one, the “inside guys,” went directly to our basement to check out the Fios box and more specifically the flashing lighted buttons. Two greens and one red. “That’s good,” said Inside Guy. I was elated.

Inside Guy assured me this wasn’t an equipment problem at all; it was an “outside” problem. Fearing the inevitable−that the “inside guys” couldn’t help with an “outside problem,” I started to grovel. “But can’t you just take a look outside? Did I tell you that my neighbor’s Fios is working?”

He agreed to take a look. Minutes later my doorbell rang. A fallen tree down the street snapped an electric pole, into which all the Fios lines feed. The “power people” needed to call the “tree people” to remove the tree, allowing the “power people” to revive the pole. Then, and only then, could the Fios “construction guys” attend to the wires.

“How’s all that,” I stammered, “gonna happen?”

He chuckled a little at this, then reassured me that they all keep in close contact and it wasn’t necessary for me to call anyone or even worry. The next time I’d pick up the phone it would be to the sound of a dial tone. He told me how lucky I was. The mere involvement of the Verizon guys meant that the “power guys” would make this pole repair a priority. Hence, power would be restored much faster.

“Really?!?” I felt a rush of excitement. “A priority?!?”

After I told my neighbors that power would be back imminently, due to my call to the Fios guys who in turn would ratchet up our power restoration with a call to the “power guys,” I received a text from Verizon: “your issue was resolved and ticket is closed. Thank you for using Verizon.”

I was apoplectic. I spent the next three hours alternately on hold with, and disconnected from, Verizon to reinstate my request for a repair.

The next day my neighbor down the block called me and said a Verizon truck was on our street. I sprinted to her house in my pajamas and down vest. Three guys wearing hard hats huddled on the curb; one of them agreed to “take a look” at my situation.”

“Do you want to look at the box in my basement?” I felt myself batting my eyes.

“Can’t do that, ma’am. I’m an “outside guy.” I only look at wiring from the house to the grid.  If your equipment’s good, must be the wires.”

“But my neighbor’s Fios is working,” I insisted.

“Well, something could be broken inside the wires. We need to test the lines to see where the signal is off. ”

“Oh, thank God you can test them.” Finally, a doer.

“I can’t test them. You need a splicer. He’s got the tool.

“You’re not that guy? Don’t you have a tool?”

“No. I’m a “construction guy.” All you need is some guy to go up that pole and test the feed.

“That’s all I need?”

“Yeah. He might not even need to splice anything. You might just need a jiggle.

“What?”

“You might just need to jiggle it.” Then he took his index finger and did something that I won’t try to explain. Let’s just say it made me uncomfortable enough to whip my head around to see if any of my neighbors were walking their dogs, watching this guy with his finger, talking of “jiggling” to me in my pajamas.  “Sometimes it’s just a plug in the grid that needs a jiggy.”

I was exasperated. A “jiggy”?!? For Pete’s sake. If it turns out to be a jiggy! I was desperate to ask this guy if he would be the one to jiggle it.

But I just couldn’t.

Anyway, he already told me he wasn’t my guy.

I needed the guy with the tool.

He called his supervisor and relayed my house number, then said, “I’ll tell her you’re sending him over.”

“Now?” I asked. “He’s sending him now?”

The “construction guy” assured me the splicer was on his way; then he wished me well. I watched him walk up the street toward the other hard hat guys and wondered when, or if, I’d ever see my guy.

I waited by the window for the “splicing guy” with the tool. He had my number. My family tried to lure me into the kitchen with ice cream (power was back), or to watch the new episode of Project Runway All Stars (we had limited tv service). But I needed the internet. I was prepared to wait. After a while my husband found me, “You’re still waiting for him?” He turned and mumbled to himself, “That’s not gonna end well.” I wasn’t moving till he came.

He never came.

The next day I took my kids to school after ten days at home. I had some storm chat with other moms before getting in my car, at which time my cellphone made “you of a missed call and have a new message” beep. It was the “splicing guy” telling me he was at my house but no one was home so he left.

“Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!” I sure was glad the car windows were closed.

Once home, I spent 83 minutes on hold with Verizon. The next appointment was in five days. I cajoled and pleaded. I told the telephone agent, his supervisor, and her manager, the whole story. I told them about the “troubleshooter” and the “inside guys” and “construction guys” and “power guys,” “tree guys” and “splicing guy.” I told them about the tree and the pole and the wires and my neighbor. I told them about my box and the lights and the plug and the grid. They said they’d send someone in five days.

On the fifth day, a Sunday, the doorbell rang. I was in the kitchen with my daughter and I said to her, “Pray it’s the Verizon guy.”

I opened the door and who did I see? With outstretched arms, I cried, “It’s you!!”

He looked over his shoulder, then tentatively said, “Me?”

I invited the Verizon guy in, and with a little giggle and a gleam in my eye I told him we were expecting him. I told him about the “troubleshooter” and the “inside guys” and “construction guys” and “power guys,” “tree guys” and “splicing guy.” I told him about the tree and the pole and the wires and my neighbor. I told him about my box and the lights and the plug and the grid.  And finally, while blushing, about the jiggle.

He remained silent. And, a little apprehensive. Caution was in his eyes. Or maybe he was just tired. He went to the basement, and then outside, up the pole, down the street, up that pole, back to my house, down the basement, and when he came back up he said, “It was an equipment problem. Bad box. Must have blown out in the power surge. Anyway, there’s a new one down there now. Everything’s live. You can check it before I go.”

My jaw dropped. Could it be true? Or would I be falling for another Verizon guy’s line? 

“Do you want to check?” He said again to jolt me.

So I did. And discovered the unimaginable. My emails! And Facebook! And Twitter! I was stunned. Could it be true? Did Justin and Selena really just break up? As I thanked the Verizon guy for bringing peace back to our household, I couldn’t help but wonder. Who was this man? Who sent him? How did he find me? This un-earthly creature who asked nothing of me. But gave me everything. Phone service, internet, the ability to DVR! A new box even.

And never asked me to jiggle a thing.