Sometimes there’s a churning mewl of voices, or a waving field of hands, or both. Sometimes it’s a conversation at supper, leaning in close over the din of a surrounding restaurant crowd in an effort to soak it up, remember the nuances as well as the specifics so they can find their way into my notebook as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s simply a random fragment of a conversation overheard in the grocery store, totally out of context. Most powerfully, however, it’s in direct conversation with other thoughtful, impassioned people. The more creative, and more impassioned those other people, usually the better my own ideas. When I listen, I catch nuances. When I get a chance to be in direct conversation it’s as if a strange chemical reaction happens. Ideas emerge, seemingly from nowhere. I struggle like mad to hang onto them until I can somehow capture them.
But that’s just me. Everyone has their own ways of moving an idea forward.
I know some terrific artists who want nothing more than to sit in front of their various tools – – computer, paint and canvas, piano keyboard – – and work out whatever it is that's in their head, not another soul in sight. I know others who like to be surrounded by a stack of books and a high-speed Internet line, and after suitable amounts of time reading and clicking and watching, can emerge from their garrets with elegant strategies and compelling creations. There’s the computer scientist I know who does his best work when surrounded by colleagues at a chatty table, strategizing goals, and there’s the computer scientist I know who needs to be out in the woods, hiking hard trails with a notebook his backpack like a parachute, ready to pop open and catch his ideas as they fall out of his head.
Ideas have no easy boundaries in the process of their own genesis. There’s no “right way”. For me, a guy who spends a lot of time creating things in the isolated spaces of his own thoughts, I find that my best work gets its most potent fuel in direct exchanges with others. I appreciate conversations that are free to go wherever they need to go, but disciplined enough to stay on the subject. I don’t even necessarily need to know the people with whom I’m speaking. A brief introduction can set off a cascade of invention, and I’m not always in control of when and why.
What fascinates me, and sometimes torments me, is the recognition of all the many different ways I see people create things, ways that sometimes elude me and make me envy their facility. Some people are seemingly able to make atoms out of nothingness, worlds invented as if spun from void, built of image and word and sound and movement. Intellectually I know that’s not true, that every idea springs from a more complex process that’s unique to it’s creator, but the metaphor gets my blood moving.
That brings a smile to my face, always. It’s an idea worth talking about.
Hmmm….what a good idea!