Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that “creativity” is not a talent; it is a way of operating. [The coolest thing is anybody can do it.]
I guess it’s a cliché now. One way to enhance your creativity, they tell us, is to keep a journal. Snuggle up with your thoughts and illuminate your feelings, write down your dreams and hunches, collect quotes from the famous and the notorious.
Spend time in your own head. Be your own psychotherapist. Be your own guru. At the very least, you can be your own pen-pal.
Journalizing your life is part of a long, long tradition. In Enlightenment-era Europe, during the “Age of Reason” (which most people say runs from around 1685 to 1815), it was all the rage.
The smarty pants and wise guys then all kept what they called “commonplace books.” These were personalized encyclopedias of quotes as well as thoughts and aspirations and other bits of their own writings that scholars, amateur scientists and aspiring men of letters put together.
Some folks transcribed whole gobs of books they found interesting in their commonplace books. (One guy cobbled together parts of the Bible that made sense to him, leaving out the parts that didn’t. This was not well-received in some circles.)
One of the leading lights of the Enlightenment movement was John Locke. He was a systems guy and from an early age he was busy devising new systems and new ways of looking at things.
Locke developed a version of the commonplace book in 1652 (during his first year at Oxford) that was a cause for excitement among the geeks and nerds of the day. Locke put together an elaborate system for indexing his commonplace book’s contents which made it easy for him to find passages and ideas that he wanted to revisit, review, and use. Others followed his example.
Nowadays journals come in all shapes and sizes, fancy and plain. They’re mostly blank books that you fill in your own self. Some are peppered with other people’s thoughts, all ready for you to use. They’ve come to be one of the default gifts you want to give to people who are Makers (or who want to be).
You can write in them and you can turn them into sketchbooks or artsy work notepads and such. You can even turn them into works of art.
The things are ubiquitous. Everybody gets one at some point or other. There are magazines, how-to videos, courses and guidebooks for making your own as well.
If you’re not particularly into deep thinking, if writing is boring for you, or if you are insecure about your art skills, receiving one of those things can precipitate a minor crisis of sorts. (It becomes one more thing to hide under your bed or tuck behind other stuff on the shelves and ignore.)
For the people who have never been able to “finish” one of those ready-made journals, here’s a You-Tube video about WRECK THIS JOURNAL, a book put together by guerilla-artist, author, and illustrator Keri Smith. It was published in 2012 by Penguin Books as a promotion for her book of that name.
That book took off and is the first of four volumes in a series.
Over the years, Keri Smith has made an astonishing array of books about creativity and getting your art on. Her books include bestselling concept books like:
- HOW TO BE AN EXPLORER OF THE WORLD: Portable Life Museum
- THE GUERILLA ART KIT: Everything You Need to Put Your Message Out Into the World
- MESS: The Manual of Accidents and Mistakes
For many years she also maintained a popular website, Wish Jar, that is a beautifully constructed on-line journal of sorts. It doesn’t seem to be very active these days, but the site is lovely to explore anyway.
THE JOY OF DIGITAL ARCHIVING
And that’s the other thing: Computers can be turned into journaling tools, if that’s your bent. You, too, can put together a digital archive.
You can fill it with all kinds of stuff: quotes, research on specific projects, passages transcribed from articles and books, web page clippings, and random discoveries, hunches and intuitions of your own.
Some folks call clunkier, more workaday versions of these things “swipe files.” (That term gets my back up. It sounds like an invitation to thievery or something.)
I prefer to think of the things as a stewpot simmering away over a bunson burner or a hot plate. (Or maybe it’s a cute personal crockpot, if you’re not into minimalism.) You can get some really good writing or art-making “stock” out of that stuff…even from the yawn-inducing junk.
I am a writer and a poet. For me thoughts and ideas are building blocks and ingredients that can be cooked together in a variety of ways. The thoughts you add to your archive (whether digital or paper) can add savor and flavor to your own efforts at writing or art.
Even if you fish out all the bits of meat and vegetables in a long-cooking stew, the broth holds the flavor anyhow.
Here’s a poem:
ON READING OLD JOURNALS
This is what they’re for:
I wander through the pages,
Poring over the
Old maps I have drawn of
The counties of my mind.
I stop here and there,
Remembering the stances
I have tried that now
Lie crumpled like improbable fashion
Statements that didn’t quite work.
That mix that didn’t match…
Ooh! This one’s embarrassing!
Old revelations sparkle
In the pile of dither
And the tarnished dross of
Plated costume-jewelry thoughts.
I see the spirals that I dance,
Around, around, around
And I have to laugh at all
The silly detours and digressions
That lead me straight back to
The core that stands there still,
by Netta Kanoho
Header Photo credit: “Reflections of Maui” by Mark Faviell via Flickr [CC BY-ND-NC 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.