Creativity: Use It Or Lose It

“The idea will try to wave you down perhaps for a few moments, perhaps for a few months, perhaps even for a few years, but when it finally realizes that you are oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.” ~Liz Gilbert, Big Magic

Are we all creative? I think so. Some more than others probably, and it doesn’t have to be art. Creative people win in business, parenting, gardening, dog training, mechanic-ing, and … home building. It’s what makes us human, I think. The ability to create, that and opposable thumbs. So, when I say we are all creative don’t get all defensive about how you are not artsy fartsy. You can still be macho and be creative, bro.

I am stressing that we are all creative because I want to pass on the lesson I was reminded of this very morning to EVERYONE. It applies to all of us. So here it is:

When a creative idea comes to you, act on it. If you don’t, it will leave and find someone who will.

Genius right? Well, I can’t take credit for it. I just learned of this myself last year from writer Liz Gilbert. I have read a couple of her books in the past, Eat, Pray, Love, of course, and The Last American Man, but when the word got around about Big Magic, I knew I had to get it. While trout fishing one day in Boulder Creek, Liz was quietly speaking into my ear things that I needed to hear. Like, not rely on your creativity to pay for your groceries or car payment. That’s what jobs are for. Also, she said the very thing I’m trying to pass on to you, When creativity comes to you, if you don’t bring it to life, it will leave to find someone who will. Right away, I thought of the time in my life this happened to me, but before I tell you mine, bu let me tell you about Liz’s.

Peace out, Liz

I’ll be brief. Read her book to get the full story, or listen to the audiobook like I did, and she’ll tell you herself. Liz had an idea for a novel. A unique story about a middle-aged spinster who travels to Amazon jungle at the behest of her boss, who she is in love with, to track down a missing person and a large sum of cash. Upon her arrival, her quiet life gets turned around. Sounds like a pretty good story, right? Liz never wrote it, but Ann Patchett did.

Life happened. Liz put the story away until she could sort some shit out. When she came back to it, it was gone. Creativity, said eff this and booked it like it was on a bad first date. Later Liz befriended fellow author Ann Patchett. They corresponded for some time and then one day, out of the blue, Ann told Liz about a novel she was working on. It was a unique story about a middle-aged spinster who travels to Amazon jungle at the behest of her boss, who she is in love with, to track down a missing person and a large sum of cash. Upon her arrival, her quiet life gets turned around.

Ann didn’t steal anything. Liz’s notes and research were hand written. As far as I can tell, Liz hadn’t made her idea public at all. Creativity had just found someone else to execute the idea, and Ann Patchett did so in State of Wonder.

My tragic ending

I was obsessed with film in the 1990’s, especially Tarantino’s. I wasn’t a minimalist then so I collected every movie I could afford on VHS. When I worked the night shift, I would rent a movie a night and watch it to help pass the time. This caused to me rent movies I never heard of before, Indies. Watching all those movies led to me wanting to be in the film business. I wanted to make movies like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. First thing’s first, I had to finish my enlistment in the Air Force. In the meantime, I could start writing scripts.

I didn’t write shit!

I wasn’t a writer then. I probably was, I just didn’t have the self-confidence to write anything other than journal entries. I did have ideas, though. One was about a man who overheard his wife disclosing to the neighbor wife as they lay out in the back yard, how bored she was with him as a lover. To spice things up, the man then decided to write letters to her as an anonymous admirer. He convinces her to allow him to sneak in at night to anonymously make love. He had a mask on or something. I don’t know. I never wrote it down!

I had another similar idea. What I remember specifically about this idea was the ending. It’s beautiful and tragic and would probably leave the audience shocked with their mouths open—popcorn kernels trapped in their teeth.

That was around 1996. In 2002, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar was what is know as a tent city. We worked in tents, slept in tents, and shit in tents. Once a week a movie played at the outdoor theater, which was just several sheets of plywood pieced together and painted white. One night as I sat on a cheap, white, plastic, stackable patio chair, I watched my tragic ending unfold on the plywood movie screen. It happened just as I had imagined it. It was nearly perfect. There were a couple of things I would have done differently. I remember thinking to myself, Mother Fucker!

(I have been vague here because twenty years later I started working on the story that MY ending belongs to. I don’t know if I’ll finish it, but if I do it will be epic.)

You snooze, you lose

I would like to be able to say that first thing I do in the morning is NOT reach for my phone, but it totally is. I hit Instagram first and then Facebook. This morning I had a couple of notifications. One was from an obnoxious guy I served with nearly 25 years ago. The other was from Mike, my lead employee or head team member if you put it the way “they” say you are supposed to. One of Mike’s jobs it to listen to all my hair brained ideas about how we are going to improve and expand the business. One of these ideas is to build homes in Cape Girardeau, MO out of shipping containers.

Tcreativity: use it or lose ithe idea came to me a few years ago. I started watching youtube videos and bought a notebook and a ruler. I was going to design
a home. I went to the hardware store to price materials and saw what would work best for insulation. You got to find the best R-value without sacrificing the limited space you have inside of shipping container, you know. I even went as far a pricing them, to include delivery.  Like many things in my life the excitement faded and I forgot all about it. Well, I didn’t forget. I just stopped taking action.

The notification said, Mike said he was with you. He had tagged me in a post. It was a link to a local Cape Girardeau news story. The headline read: Cape Girardeau, MO developers hope to use shipping containers to build homes, awaits council vote. Laying there in bed with sleep still in my eyes, I immediately typed my response, Mother Fucker!


If you are a fan of magical realism, check out my novella!

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