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  • Rodney Drought

Creativity, not just for the birds

I tried to trace the roots of my life long desire to make something out of nothing and after much contemplation, I believe it all began with Matchbox cars.





It was Christmas time. My sister and I took over a large bay window in our parents' bedroom and made a winter wonderland utilizing my glorious collection of Matchbox cars along with spray on snow. I think we might have fashioned houses for the cars and trucks to drive to and from. I can no longer recall if we did or simply imagined houses, a school, a gas station, etc. but on that bay window landing we made our little Christmas village and every day for most of December we would visit the town to have the milk truck deliver milk, the people leave for work and occasionally spray more snow to simulate a winter's day with vehicles skidding on roads.


It was the first time I created something from nothing and I have been fascinated with the concept since. It lead to G.I. Joe pretending, making baseball fantasy teams thanks to the miracle of the Strat-O-Matic Baseball game, then to short stories inspired by Poe in seventh grade, then to filmmaking in high school and beyond, to poetry, novellas, poetry, music and poetry, poetry, poetry.


The allure of creating something from nothing is that I get to play God, making characters and worlds. I always thought the ultimate act of creation besides procreating, was film production because you start with just an idea. You put the idea on paper. You find people to act/live in the world you put on paper. You find or construct scenery and sets to build that world. Then you put it on film, splice it together and add the sound you want in this magical place that came from mere thought. If that ain't God, then I don't know what is!


The word create in early language does mean to bring into being and was not used for human endeavors, only God could create. Here is a tidbit from the land of Wiki....


"Renaissance men sought to voice their sense of their freedom and creativity. The first to apply the word "creativity", however, was the 17th-century Polish poet Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski — but he applied it only to poetry. For over a century and a half, the idea of human creativity met with resistance, because the term "creation" was reserved for creation "from nothing"."


I like that it took a poet to hijack the word "creativity" for his own purpose.


But what good is creativity? Is it merely child's play or exclusively for people who wear berets and think they are misunderstood?


For better or for worse, our world is built on accumulative creation. Innovation can not exist without creative thought, just one example; Jules Verne's books, from Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon written in the late 1800's seemed in its day pure fantasy even though he spent much time in these books describing the details on what it would take for three men to make the journey. Despite the wild concept, it fanned the flames of imagination and possibility to morph into the first sci-fi/fantasy film, then of course, nearly a hundred years later, it really happened. This is how the world we humans live in, works. We are the products of creative thought.




Yet we are not the only species that has creative play as a vital part of development. Many other animals play in youth, enacting things they will do in adulthood. In a way most animals must rehearse and practice to be functioning adults as a matter of survival. Play in youth is crucial as is imagining. The interesting part for me is when and how does imagination turn to invention?


Humans used to be described as tool making animals but Jane Goodall blew that out of the water when she observed chimpanzees stripping twigs to fashion as a dipping stick to withdraw termites from rotting logs for tasty treats. Then another blow to the human ego came with a study on innovation within humans and other animals in an article titled Where Creativity comes from by Tim Vernimmen in the September 16, 2016 issue of Scientific American:


"... experts have typically attempted to study innovative problem-solving in children. But such investigation has turned out to be quite challenging, not least because kids do not seem to be very innovative. In a study published in 2011, researchers of the University of Birmingham tasked British children of various ages with retrieving a bucket of stickers that sat out of reach at the bottom of a hole using only the straight but pliable pipe cleaner they were given. Nine years earlier, in 2002, a captive New Caledonian crow named Betty made headlines when she solved the same problem, bending the straight wire into a hook to fetch the bucket, which in her case held a tempting payload of food. (Scientists have since observed her species making hooks and bending sticks in the wild.) But the challenge flummoxed most 5-year-olds and about half of all 8-year-olds. A 2013 study by psychologist Mark Nielsen of the University of Queensland showed that Western children were not the only ones stymied by the task: children of South African Bushmen find it just as hard."


In our imaginative youth, we are not great innovators. Crows and other animals can figure out stuff far better than we can. The difference between us and the rest of the world is we have an incredible ability to record, compile and build on imagination and knowledge, to pass it on to future generations. The rest of the animal kingdom has to rely on repeated behavior that eventually jells into genetic coding as a means for adaption and survival. Ain't we special?


Other studies disclosed that innovation is not born of necessity. It is in fact born from comfort. If a species of animal has time and lack of want, they are more likely able to create and innovate. A recent study showed that orangutans in captivity were much more likely to use and experiment with new items introduced in their environment compared to ones in the wild who would not go near something they did not know. Humans and other animals when stressed, in survival mode, only focus on survival. When they are living comfortably, their minds are free to roam, experiment, be creative.


It makes sense when you think of how imaginative children can be. Kids usually have little to worry about. With me personally, my most creative years have been when I was young and had little responsibility, and now that I am an old fart that have shed the constraints of being married, raising small children and working at a mind numbing, soul crushing job. One conclusion to draw from all this is that if we want the human race to be innovative and creative, we should do all we can to ensure people are free of worry and not trapped in constant survival mode.


Of course there is the dark side of creativity, innovation and communication. We have no doubt developed in such a way that very few of us can even comprehend the products of the world we collectively imagined. Recently, I have been on a three week quest trying to buy a new cell phone. I have learned that switching from an Android to an I-Phone is a daunting task. Three tech people tried to relate to me the difficultly in doing this. Their attempts at explanation did not register in my uncomprehending, non-tech brain. Their efforts were the equivalent of trying to explain quantum physics to a fly. I still have no idea why this is such a big deal. What I do know is that I now want to grow my hair long and hide out in a cabin far from phones and humanity.


Maybe that is why I write poems and stories and create worlds of my own choosing. I certainly do not do it for money. In fact, I lose more money than I make at being creative but It is after all, nice to be in control of something. It is a throwback to a time when my sister and I could make a pretty Christmas village and have it behave in a logical, mundane way that we could understand. In a perfect world, creativity should bring the simple satisfaction a crow feels when he bends a pipe cleaner into a hook and extracts from a hole his well earned bucket of treats.


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