10 Paradoxes of the Creative Mind

On my morning Internet surf, I was led to this page.

I almost felt like raising a victorious fist after reading it… finally, evidence that my “fruit-looped-ness” as my best friend calls it, is in fact normal (in the sense that I’m not losing my mind) and something I am learning to be more and more proud of.

The book referenced is by professor of psychology and management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee), whose TED talk I watched in another class. He talked about creativity and this idea of flow. When people find flow, we lose track of time, and hunger, thirst and sleep seem to fade from existence. I love it when I work on a script or a story or a project or an assignment or a blogpost and I get into that zone, that headspace. I’ve never tried drugs, but I’m convinced that flow is a rush and a high unlike any other. And you can potentially turn it into your living!

After writing a narrative essay on hybridity, this is all too timely! I’ll let you read the article, but here are what I think of each of the paradoxes:

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.

Just last night, I was up ’til 3 am typing up a 3000 word blogpost. I started at 11 pm. Every time I took a glance at the clock, An hour had passed, but to me it might as well have been 5 minutes. Even after I made myself go to bed, I continued ruminating and made edits and added thoughts through the handy dandy WordPress app.

I spewed 3000 words in 4 hours and felt refreshed by it rather than exhausted. Contrast this to the 3000 word research paper I had to do last semester. Yes, it’s two completely different styles of writing, but to a writer, writing is writing. They were both fun to do, but with the paper, every time I checked the time, only 30 seconds had passed.

Creativity takes hard work, but it’s work that enriches rather than exhausts. Creatives “work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm.”

Even now, I told myself I’d go get lunch an hour ago, but I must finish this blogpost before the words escape me. How can this flow be powerful enough to command something as primal as hunger? Before reading the article I was famished, and all of a sudden, I’m not. I can even smell my roommate’s lunch wafting from across the hall, and it has no effect when I know otherwise it should.

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.

I’m not the best at generating “a great quantity of ideas.” When asked to come up with 50 uses for a laptop charger, it was difficult to get there. But I do try to think of new stories, new narratives, drawing from whatever environment I’m in, physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

I am wary of a stagnant or bored mind. Maybe that’s from my first 10 years of being a unique child, where boredom was a problem only I could fix. What do I read when I look at a person, what do I see when I listen to a score, what if this object or this situation wasn’t really what it seemed? What world has no one seen before, what would be an unlikely partnership that I want to explore?

3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

“But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, and perspective.”

Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.

Well, I’ve explained that about me already.

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

“Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present.”

That about says it all, as well as speaks to my ASCI duality. Another way to put it is that I experience an imagined world through the real one. I don’t have to close my eyes to go to my imaginary place, it’s all out here, it’s all real in an almost hyperreal way.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.

According to the Myers-Briggs test, I am the most extroverted of the introverts. I think our extroversion comes from the fact that our creativity can’t be bottled up. It must be shared, it is an overflow, an outpouring. We are energized by feedback on what we create, how could we not be? And yet it takes a love for inwardness to create that content, and if we were not energized by being alone and focused, we could never sustain ourselves.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

I still have trouble with compliments. How do I respond? What do I say? My gratitude and appreciation is beyond words, yet social protocol dictates I must produce them. I can self-deprecate when receiving a compliment because how can I deserve that? And shyness, well of course I’m shy… I’m proud of what I’ve done and grateful for the recognition, but I don’t want to emanate a false humility. As cheesy as it is true, the reward is the creation not the recognition… although recognition is always welcome.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid role stereotyping.

True of me. I wouldn’t say I’m more dominant or tough than other girls, but I’m most definitely not like some other girls in terms of image, style, fashion, etc.

8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.

With me, I would say that I am rebellious in my conservativeness. Especially with my faith that is so counter-cultural nowadays. I’m not saying let’s regress, but I think there are ways to set up safe boundaries if we’re creative and innovative enough. On the other hand, let’s compromise in moderation, eh?

9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

This is perhaps the most frustrating one. One day I’ll have a brilliant idea and the next I’ll re-read it and reaffirm that I’ve lost my mind. Everything I can come up with is futile rubbish at first. I’ve got to put it work, rediscover what it is that drew me to it in the first place and hold on to that for the dear life of the project. I am my worst and greatest critic.

10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

Having only 48 hours between now and when I saw The Giver, this reminded me very clearly of the scene when Jonas, the protagonist, discovers and understands the notion of pain and war, but also love and joy, all for the first time.

I remember when I first had my pilot script read by a professional writer who didn’t know me personally. Being more or less my first completed script, I knew that it could end in disaster and I knew my hopes and dreams of a screenwriting future could be shattered in a single meeting. Of course, my future does not rest on the opinion of one person just yet, but I knew what it would do to me psychologically if I “failed.” It would be grade 11 physics all over again, when I failed my first test and thought my future had evaporated.

Going in, I thought, at worst, I’ll go back to the drawing board and take several months to recuperate. At best, this will be my green light to keep going, to keep persevering toward this goal. (Why people like me willingly desire to enter a cut-throat industry is still kind of a mystery to me, but here I am.)

As I walked into the office, I sat down, bracing myself for the worst. I should have been nervous, but I figured… this is something I better get used to regardless of the outcome.

Anyway, if my best case scenario was a green light, the response I got was a bright green flashing left-turn arrow my mom always gets too excited about. Of course, rather this arrow was more “full speed ahead to the screenwriter’s world.” So here I am pursuing it, preparing myself for the painful rejection that is sure to come, but also for the anticipation of experiencing the joy and the high that I felt that day. Madeleine Thien, thank you for giving me the keys that would ignite my Ferrari’s engine. Going to make that left turn now.

The last sentence of the article wraps it all together in a wonderfully sparkly bow: “…more than anything else, what it takes to be creative is resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.”

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4 thoughts on “10 Paradoxes of the Creative Mind

  1. Now that I’ve known you for a few years, Melissa, it feels like your ability of creativity is just so powerful… I came to a sort of conclusion that I may be creative in a different way, but it’s a struggle to manifest, because of my self-confidence and initiative issues…

    …Now I do wonder, what do you really think of me, and what do you think or feel when I comment? Since I’m doing so for so often now… Does it irritate you?

    Yes, because of my issues, that is one of my anxieties/fears that I wrestle with sometimes…

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  2. No! It doesn’t irritate me. At all. Whatsoever. I’m posting to figure out life for myself, but there are universalities that can encourage people. That God can use to speak to people. If I didn’t want people to read or comment or engage in this along with me, I’d do it privately in a journal… which I do. So by all means, if this is an outlet for you to grow and be encouraged… please keep going!

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  3. Well, alright… Thank you! 🙂

    I’ve been feeling more and more like I shouldn’t keep so much bottled inside anymore, but the risk is that I might let out too much or let something out that people would have a problem with… That is why I sometimes want to tell my deepest things to people that I probably shouldn’t, and not just write it down, because I still feel uneasy when I pour out my heart, yet no one knows…

    So yes, there are so many things that I cry out to God in prayer, and I’m still struggling with whether some of those are things I should wait on Him for, or things that I can do myself…

    Hmm… I started watching Once Upon A Time at the beginning of its fourth season, due to Frozen, of course. 🙂 Douglas caught himself up on the rest while I haven’t, and now its mid-season premiere is one of those I’m waiting for.

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  4. I encourage you to journal or start your own blog… it’s still a voice. If no one reads it, you got to process something out of it by writing, if people do, maybe they’ll learn something. If they like it, great, if they don’t… well they can have their opinions. Take heart, be encouraged.

    As for OUAT… I’m not too fond of how S4 started and what they did with Frozen… but go back and watch the other seasons, they’re great!

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