If you’ve ever traveled to other countries, you may have noticed that it’s not that hard to fall in love with new places and people. You may develop a reverence and appreciation for culture and the diversity of life encountered on a journey. After all, it is an adventure—you’re probably in a good mood and everything seems magical and wonderful.
Assuming you’re traveling with good company and stress is kept to a minimum, the mind has a tendency to quiet down and become very observant of its surroundings. You may even feel that your experiences are somewhat mystical and transcendent.
If such a shift in perception happens, you might find yourself feeling interconnected with others. You begin considering quaint old expressions such as the brotherhood of mankind and the mountaintop experience, or perhaps everything all at once.
Or let me give you another example: You’ve attended a motivational seminar or gone to a spiritual retreat. You have an amazing time and sense that somehow your batteries are recharged and you’re ready to take on the world again.
Someone said just the right thing, or something in your mind made the most timely connection. You’ve had a breakthrough and now you’re full of energy and enthusiasm. You can’t even remember what it was like not to be driven and have a sense of purpose. I’ve had these types of experiences, essentially getting away from life and finding myself newly filled with life.
In 1984, I went with a college overseas study group to Italy. I applied for a student loan that I had no idea how to pay back and soon I was on an artistic pilgrimage in cities like Florence and Rome, looking at some of the greatest art in the history of the world.
The works of Bernini, Botticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci and many others spoke to me in ways no painting or figure drawing class could. Something inside of me resonated with what seemed to be a higher form of intelligence, as if the Italian masters were winking with an expression that could be interpreted as: You understand—you get it. There’s really nothing else to say—is there?
Leaving behind the Tuscan landscapes, towns and cities overflowing with brilliance and treasure to return home, I understood that I would never be the same again. I had fallen in love with a country and its warm people as well as a culture that can’t be described in books or humanities courses. From that moment on, I knew that I needed to be an artist, someone that spoke the language of aesthetics and symbolism, creativity and imagination. That’s what can happen when you fall in love.
In 1996, I met my wife, Jean. The world felt new. It was the American Northeast this time that became the backdrop for our drama—with all kinds of sights and sounds unfamiliar to me—new people to meet and ideas to consider. And of course being in love with my wife to be gave me the emotional component to be receptive and open to experience. Together, we explored museums, architecture, food and all seemed wonderful and new.
Perhaps, because of my mood and inspired state, I soon began to teach myself computer skills and eventually landed a job working for a technology company as a web designer and later a product designer. At the time, there were many people who didn’t even know what the internet was, so you might say that this timely career change also came out of love.
In 2008, my wife and I made our first long trip together to the island of Maui. We realized that we could finally afford to go on the honeymoon we never had. Exploring the winding roads through a tropical paradise, feeling the mist from waterfalls, hiking through bamboo forests and volcanic craters, all these things seemed to indicate to me that my life was somehow complete.
All the pains and heartbreaks of life, the years of frustration, the struggles, the fears and anxieties common to most—all these things had been worth it. As far as I was concerned, I could declare that one odd little soul in this world had deduced that his life had been, for the most part, pretty darn good.
However, an idea came to me (there’s always something new). It was at this time in my life that I decided to become an author—not something I ever thought I would be any good at. After all, wasn’t that something a person should want from the time you they’re in high school? I had known many a young aspiring writer informing their inner circle that they were taking creative writing classes and somehow exuding the quality of having an IQ levels above everyone else. As it turned out, it wasn’t rocket science or brain surgery, pardon the clichés.
I had simply determined that I might do a better job than some other writers. You may have noticed, most books aren’t Pulitzer Prize material. Writing for most people is essentially entertainment. Some of it pulls at your heartstrings, some books aren’t meant to be taken seriously at all, and of course, some writing does lack natural talent, or at least could have been better edited. (Quick tip: write as though you were speaking to someone. Slip into flowery language occasionally, but only for you own amusement.)
On the other hand, what had the opposite effect on me and gave me the most motivation to become a writer were extremely well written books. There’s nothing like a beautiful story that slowly puts one in a trance—nothing like the manifestation of something that is almost otherworldly to cause a writer to wish they could do the same.
With writing as in a sculpture by Michelangelo, something is conveyed from an ideal plane of existence. But unlike sculpture, one finds the audacity to express what words cannot convey with… words. Again, creativity baffles our sensibilities. The process is somewhat akin to a child watching their favorite sports hero and wanting to go outside and pretend to be that person. The play, the dance, the brushstroke are in and of themselves enough.
You might see what I’m getting at here, being childlike, inspired and in love with your muse, whatever it may be, is the stuff that fuels the creative process. I experienced this phenomenon again in 2010 when I went to China. Two years later, my solo art exhibit opened with a gallery full of paintings inspired by the modernity and technology of the Shanghai World Expo and the ancient art and culture of Beijing and other cities. It was about this time that my first novel was named a finalist in the International Latino Book Awards.
In 2013, it happened yet again. I spent cherry blossom week in Kyoto, Japan. And two years after that I was greeting art lovers at a well-attended solo exhibit opening featuring my paintings and kokeshi dolls inspired by the geisha, maiko, samurai, manga, anime, and—well, you get it—things that were exciting and new to me. Probably, at that very moment, there was a younger version of myself, perhaps inside the International Manga Museum in Kyoto, realizing that they would never be the same—they were hopelessly in love, needing from that moment on to be an artist.
And so I continue to write and paint and consult for technology companies. But, you may wonder, where does all the creative fuel come from? One can’t possibly be traveling the world at all times, finding new things and brimming with inspiration. What I have described seems like a dream, what about the real world? Projects are due. Not everything is like fine art. Not every task that requires coming up with an idea is going to involve a trip to a museum and an emotional encounter with the ineffable, divine and sublime.
Life can be humdrum and practical. Even work that may seem exciting at first and at least allow greater freedom than endless repetitive tasks can eventually lose its appeal. Most people simply need the ideas to come—however they come. Nearly all creative challenges have more to do with everyday problem solving than changing the world. The client needs a different look for a web page. The online news aggregator needs a feature written for its column. A deadline is fast approaching and you’re drawing a blank.
Well, we both know that projects can be dropped upon us when we least expect them and sometimes when we’re not even in the mood to tackle them. How do we tap into our imagination? How do we produce when there are no specs or clues or creative direction?
As a writer, visual artist and web developer, I’ve surveyed the territory, experienced both frustration and eureka moments, and have found that most creative endeavors share much in common. As with art, experience reveals much more than any set of instructions or assembly manual.
So, to put it in the nomenclature of a novelist, I won’t tell you, I’ll show you. Just like learning a language by immersion, you might find that in my wringing out of thoughts, stories and happenings, some things might cling to you and even become a part of your own way of figuring things out.
Spend a little time with me and perhaps crunch time won’t be so crunchy anymore and the future won’t look like a gauntlet of intimidating challenges. You may even learn to smile with eagerness when asked to do the impossible.
This book is not based on any particular scientific study or methodology. Neither is it a book that offers nebulous suggestions about thinking outside the box. The box puzzle that you are trying to draw lines to connect isn’t real. Your imagination, however, is. That’s probably why creativity workshops have been around for decades and the ideas still don’t come, despite the researchers well-meaning counsel to extend the lines outside those confounded dots.
Whether you want to be a multidisciplinary artist who writes and paints like William Blake (Yeah, the guy did both) or make your own personal Steve Jobs happy (insert your boss’ name here), this book will give you some concepts to think about, or perhaps reveal the notions we need to abandon in order to make something appear out of nothing.
I happen to make frequent trips out into the place where the big question mark lies. I’ll go out again and this time take you with me, sharing my life and creative journey. It’s nothing short of a pleasure to do so. Stay close, I have much to say. Excuse me if I get a little giddy talking about a subject so dear to me—creativity.
Kindle e-book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N4599YN