In recently procreating a pair of offspring, I have given myself access to a new swath of metaphors. Babies, while dreadful at conversation, can occasionally be a decent source of inspiration. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the things that these tiny humanoids can teach us about approaching our own creative process.
Leap, Then Look What You Did!
This is a tough one to learn, because it requires some rewiring. We’ve been programmed to see the next stepping stone, to wait for the swing to come within reach and to time our jumps so we know where we’re landing. What babies teach us, and what we’d do well to remember, is that creative pursuits are not matters of life or death. The water is slow and shallow, there’s a net below the trapeze and the logs aren’t alligators. (Okay, that last one is a lesson from Frogger.)
More to the point, babies don’t know what they’re learning until they’ve learned it. Babies can’t google DIY videos on “how to babble incoherently.” My daughter saw a cat before she knew she could crawl. And let me tell you, it wasn’t a one-hand-in-front-of-the-gently-sliding-knee move either. It was a lunge of death meant to grab/maul/destroy her feline target. Only after she channeled every fiber of her 14lb being did she realize what she was doing. “Oh, shit!” (we’ve talked to her about that kind of language) “I can move!”
Learning to crawl, then, is less about “how do I do this?” and more about “how do I get there — to that thing?” Don’t set out to make gradual progress toward what you want. Go for what you want. Make what you want. The “how” will present itself based on what resources you have. And you’ll be surprised by how much you have once you try.
Use Your Words
Again, these barely crawling, slimey Petri dishes aren’t any good at small talk, but they know how to express themselves. And until they know sign language or how to form the noises we’ve collectively agreed to define as ‘words’, it’s our job to figure out what, exactly, it is they are trying to express.
Well, guess what, you big baby — there are people around you who would love to know what it is that you want as well. Where do you see yourself? What do you want to be doing? I was languishing in secluded creativity before I figured out what I wanted and asked a friend. And when I told my friend “I picture myself in a room full of creative people, making things to entertain all the people,” he said “Oh, I know exactly what you should be doing.” And now that’s exactly what I’m doing.
There’s something prideful about wishing that other people would know what you are thinking. You know what pride cometh before, right? It’s hard enough to get someone to understand what you are saying. What makes you think telepathy is any easier?
Babies have no shame, no pride. They ask for things and they get them. They’re hungry, they get fed. They ask to be understood and, after patterns are detected, they(more-or-less) are understood. When it comes to your creative desires, you have to let us know what you want and that you want it right now. Otherwise, you’ll never get the boobie juice.
Nap and Stroll
If you’re already interesed in sources of creativity, these are not revelations. You may already know that Dickens would walk for three hours each afternoon, and Tchaikovsky would for two. Whereas Edison, Dali and Churchill made naps one of their day’s highest priorities.
When you walk, the defensive part of your lizard brain is distracted. Instead of that voice protecting you from making a fool of yourself in your creative endeavors, it’s focused on you not tripping over a curb. It’s the same part of your brain that keeps you from falling on your face literally that tells you that you might fall on your face figuratively. So take advantage of it being distracted and do a little think-and-walk. You’ll be able to get around some of the early, self-imposed obstructions to the creative process.
Any day you have the opportunity to walk until you are “lost in thought” is a day to be celebrated. To see my daughters, though now still stroller-bound, captivated by the world around them and yet simultaneously lost in their own worlds is a joyful sight. I like to think they’re always day-dreaming. Science has yet to prove otherwise.
As for napping, there are many studies that show the most creative times for your brain are just before you fall asleep and just after you wake up. But what do we care about science-y talk of hypnagogia or hypnopompia when we have Edgar Allen Poe to tell us of the “fancies” he experienced “only when I am on the brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so.” It was in this state that Paul McCartney wrote the tune for “Yesterday” and had the idea for “Yellow Submarine.”
As things presently are for most of us, we only get to fall asleep once a day and wake up once a day. Taking one nap in a day doubles the frequency of opportunities for inspiration. Doze off in the daytime and, next thing you know, you’ll be sleeping your way to becoming the next Sir Macca or Master of the Macabre.
Teach Your Parents Well
Babies are blissfully unaware of what it’s like to feel judged by society. In this innocent state, they experience a miraculous growth rate. If we could harness half of the reckless abandon with which they approach new lessons, we would be superheroes.
So go for it! Create like a baby! Fall without fearing. I, for one, will be happy to bend down and pick you up when you need a lift.