I recently purchased a bright orange pair of low-profile athletic shoes. Yes, they're comfortable, and a little zany, but those aren't the reasons I bought them. I bought them because they remind me of the teacher I once had, a master producer of documentary film and video.
I don't like hanging onto lots of bric-a-brac. I'm not much for keepsakes and talismans. But the older I get, the more I realize how much I've structured my physical and intellectual worlds to capture echoes and shadows from my past.
This teacher of mine almost always wore kooky running shoes. I recall a particularly crazy pair of his: a split-toed set of bright yellow Nikes that I think he bought on trip to Japan. He's a little guy, not much more than five and a half feet, but rarely have I ever met someone with as much presence or passion or power. He lives in Los Angeles and travels the world making socially minded documentaries for NGOs and broadcast outlets, always supplementing his income with teaching stints to motivated students who want to learn how to tell their own stories.
As I look down at the orange New Balances on my feet today, I find myself wondering if I'm simply trying to emulate my heroes, to play dress-up. As I think about it, I'm more confident than ever about my answer. It's only by preserving the traces of those people in our lives who matter that any of us transcend our own boundaries and have the ability to reach others.
These traces come in all forms. Sometimes we adopt a matter of dress that gently reminds us of someone else. Sometimes we pick up an article of speech and integrate it into our own language without even thinking about it. The easiest examples are photographs or physical artifacts that we keep in our personal spaces. As I've been thinking about this lately, it occurs to me that this preservation of intangible connections to others is in itself a creative act. It remakes the world consciously or unconsciously, tethering us to other people who continue to reach across time and space and shape our actions. As each of us makes our own determinations about what these tethers are and how they function in our lives we remake the universe.
Primarily I spend my life with artists and other highly creative people. As the old saw goes, "artists steal". Read this aphorism as a good thing, a natural phenomena, not a crime of actual theft. For artists it's as natural as breathing to draw upon the traces of other people in service of craft; we steal from everything, especially those influences that affect us most.
But most people are not artists, per se. Creative? Sure. That's why this blog exists in the first place. My point is that a more conscious awareness of the creative influences we feel from people in our lives is one way that everyone can plug in to the power of interconnectedness.
And if you're wondering, "What does interconnectedness have to do with creativity?" it's simple: it's has everything to do with creativity. Without it, we would not remake the world with stories, paintings, music, or even clever ways to stack firewood. Without the need to preserve the traces of others and play new riffs on their old tunes, there would be no motivation to create anything new. Creativity rarely flourishes without at least a moment for it to communicate with someone else.
If you're wondering if I always wear zany sneakers, the answer is an unequivocal no. But when I bought these tangerine trainers recently, I bought them thinking of my teacher. Now on the odd day when I put them on, I think of him and find a tiny spark of shared values reinforced. On other days I think of other people, of other habits, of other values. I'm reminded that in an infinite lifetime, I'd never lose touch with any of the people who matter to me. But life is not infinite, and I must remake my own world everyday, often with the traces of those in my life who made an impression.
That's why I'm an artist.
PS — Yes, yes, it’s always the same old request here at the bottom of the blog. “Please share with your friends if you like it…yadda, yadda, yadda.” There are even the little buttons around here where you can post it to Facebook, Tweet it far and wide, distribute it all sorts of ways. But you know what? You COULD! And you know what that would do? That would make us SMILE.