Signs that You’ve Begun the “Losing Spontaneity” Stage of Life

Remember when, in your twenties, a friend would call and ask you to join her for a run? Me neither. No one ever asked me to go for a run. I wouldn’t be caught dead running.

Ok, let’s say she called and said, “Do you want to go for a walk?” To that I’d reply, “Yeah, sure. I’ll meet you at the park.”

But my response to a question like this, these days, is very different. That’s because I’ve entered the “losing spontaneity” stage of life. You’ll recognize it in yourself if you start to talk like Woody Allen in Hannah and her Sisters.

These days when someone asks me to go for a walk, my first response is, “A walk?” Then, “Now?”

Once it’s established that the friend indeed said walk and meant now, I mumble something about how I haven’t had my coffee yet, and that I can’t go anywhere without coffee.

“I’ll meet you in 45 minutes,” I say to my friend.

“It takes you 45 minutes to have coffee?”

“Well, I need to eat something. I can’t drink coffee on an empty stomach.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll come over and pick you up.”

When my friend arrives I’m practically ready to go. I welcome her inside while I run (walk) to the mudroom for my running (walking) shoes. Two minutes later she’s at the door of the mudroom. “What are you doing?”

I’m on all fours looking under the shoe bench. “I can’t find my left orthotic. I can’t go on a walk without them.”

“I didn’t know you wore orthotics.”

“Ever since the plantar fasciitis, I can’t walk to the damn bathroom without them. Which, I’ll have you know; I walk to frequently.”

My friend gets on the floor to help me find it. “We better hurry,” she says “it’s supposed to rain around lunchtime.” We find the left orthotic; I gear up, grab my sunscreen and slather SPF 75 all over my exposed skin.

“You’re not gonna need that,” she says, “it’s about to rain.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I say, “that medication for my arrhythmia makes me photosensitive. I can get a sunburn in the dark.”

My friend claps her hands like a coach. “Let’s go.”

I slip the sunscreen into my backpack while reaching for my nose spray from my fleece pocket. I give the left nostril two squirts. “The leaves at the park are gonna kill me. Did they remove those yet?”

“I don’t think they remove leaves from a park.”
“Well, those leaves are just one big mold pile now. You should know that I’m crazy allergic to mold.” Two squirts in the right nostril. “It could trigger a maniacal sneezing frenzy. I never used to care about sneezing fits, but now with the arrhythmia, it can really spell trouble. Just fyi, if that happens on our walk don’t hesitate to call 911. I don’t wanna have a heart attack in the park so that gossipy tennis lady, who I sometimes get stuck playing doubles with, will see me foaming at the mouth.”

“I don’t think you foam at the mouth when you’re having a heart attack. But if you prefer, we could go for a hike in the reservation. We don’t have to go to the park.”

“No. What are you crazy? The park has a bathroom. I can’t go on a hike where there’s no bathroom. Come to think of it, I need to go right now.”

“I’ll wait in the car,” says my friend.

I run to the car and we pull out of my driveway. “This is gonna be fun,” I say. I breathe in deeply, “Nothing like fresh air tinged with the smell of rain. I just love days like today. Great “walk in the park” weather.”

Before we get very far the skies open up and unload torrential rain. It gets so fierce that my friend needs to pull over to the side of the road and wait for it to lighten up.

She takes a look at her watch and then over at me. “Wanna go for something to eat. It’s practically lunch time.”

“Lunch? Now? Without my Lactaid…?”

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.”