When the mood struck, my art director Fabo would leave the office, take a jeepney to Luneta, and buy the boys a drink. He didn’t know them until he said hi to them. They were itinerant vendors, or homeless, or just hanging out in the park with nothing to do. He would then return to the office, just a little better, his soul saved by an afternoon of shared Ginebra, conversation, and humanity. I noticed (maybe he didn’t) that his work would get just a little better, too.
Not everyone gets to be Emily Brontë and write Wuthering Heights without stepping foot outside the village. Those of us with regular-strength imaginations need to spring from experience.
Creativity is unexpected connections. Think Lego. The magic of Lego is how you put the blocks together. Imagine each Lego block is an experience: something you read, tasted, smelled in fourth grade, snuck from your ex, woke up to, swatted away. This block is coffee, that one is asphalt, the blue ones are login screens, and of course those are sunsets. Some blocks have sharp edges. This is a bad scolding from your mom, this is when your puppy died, this is the thing you shouldn’t have seen, this is the beggar it hurts to ignore every morning.
The more blocks you have, the more experiences you collect, the more chances you have of putting them together in a way no one expects. Here, have some wasabi. A midnight walk along the Bintan shoreline. Jackhammers. Conductive ink. Copper wire. A teething baby. Ancient Chinese script. Here, this is your life so far.
You can put together Lego blocks the “right” way, the usual way. You wake up to a teething baby. In fourth grade, you smelled hot asphalt. You can also roll up your sleeves and throw away the manual. (The Lego Movie gets this part spectacularly right.) Can you knit a login screen from copper wire? Tell a story about your first puppy because you remember him whenever you forget your password? Make automated jackhammer dispensers for wasabi?
Much is made of the quantified life: data you unconsciously generate, interpreted by algorithms, returned to you in encouraging phrases: “You walked 5,200 steps today. Awesome!” For the creative life, knowingly generate experience. Wander with purpose. Buy someone you don’t know a drink. Go to museums. Read a book whose cover you dislike.
Set aside an experience notebook and put little checkboxes in it with random lists, like “The Worst Office Building Elevators in Manila” or “Cocktails That Need New Names” or “Streets I Need to Instagram Just Because.” Visit a graveyard where you have no relatives. Put chili flakes in your coffee. Ask uncomfortable questions. Replace the light on your ceiling with a light beside the bed. Take the wrong way home.
Make unexpected connections in your life, and they will show up in your mind. Experience is the only thing the world can give you that truly matters. Creativity is what you owe it in return.