“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” – Carl Sagan
I first came across this quote in John Daido Loori‘s The Zen of Creativity. It’s an important statement to understand from the creative’s point of view, because it is rare that we create something completely new.
Rather, creativity is about seeing the everyday with new eyes.
One of the common threads on the topic of creativity is the practice of collecting or gathering material for later use. Whether you’re writing fiction or creating fine furniture, there is this same essential process of collecting images and phrases, little bits of this and that, all of which we let steep until some time later, we rearrange and reassemble those bits, or the infusion that results, in a way that gives life and energy to our work. Writer Anne Lamott shares her take on gathering in Bird by Bird:
[W]hen you’re out in the world–that is, not at your desk–and you hear people talking, you’ll find yourself editing their dialogue, playing with it, seeing in your mind’s eye what it would look like on the page. You listen to how people really talk, and then learn little by little to take someone’s five-minute speech and make it one sentence, without losing anything. If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off.
Much like Pablo Neruda’s “world of objects at rest,” the material we find to work with is out there in the world.
In this article from Fine Woodworking, Designer Craftsman Michael Fortune suggests that “[i]f you are receptive, ideas can come from almost anywhere.” He goes on to explain how visiting a museum, or simply noticing lines and patterns in his daily environment – such as tire tracks in the snow or the leaves of day lilies – can provide fodder for the receptive imagination.
If you are receptive, he writes.
In Part II, I’ll dig deeper into the ways in which we can increase our receptivity to the world around us.