"how do you get to be so creative anyway?"
At a dinner party the other week, I was telling someone the story of how I made jam for S. The mere fact that I made jam was incomprehensible to this person, and I was explaining how it really wasn’t such a big deal.
See, there’s this open-air terrace on the 3rd floor of my Oakland spot. I often go down there to walk a few cycles for some fresh air. Last fall, I noticed some tantalizing yellow and red berries growing on the trees by the entrance.
I have a bad habit of sampling things in nature that look edible out of curiosity, but I resisted this time out of abundant caution and instead, admired how beautiful the trees stood against the blue sky, with their red and yellow children swinging in wind. Every time I went down for my walk, I continued to notice them and greet them.
A month later, I looked them up using NatureID, an app to help you identify plants (thank you K), and I found out that they were strawberry trees! A quick Google search assured me that they were edible, so I took a few ripe ones back, rinsed them, and took a timid bite. Yum! It had a mild sweetness and a satisfying crunch with the prickly skin.
The next day I tried them on toast with almond butter after enjoying them as an accompaniment for the half-crescent moon during the day.
After a few more weeks, I noticed that most of the berries were starting to fall and rot. I wondered what I could do with all these berries to make use of them before they all went to waste. I had already used them effectively as a crude sort of jam on the toast before, so I thought what if I just collect a bunch and make jam? A few Google searches and a slow-burning pot later, and I had some nicely mashed berries in jam form (I did have to do some creative climbing to retrieve berries from the taller branches in order to have enough for jam).
look at trees the way you would look at a face, approach the world the way you came into it
Back at the party the reaction was wow, you actually look at trees - I just see a tree. You look at it and think about it creatively. And he was right in perceiving how I looked at the tree, but I didn’t do anything particularly special to make the jam. The idea and corresponding action emerged naturally from my way of looking at my surroundings. I didn’t do anything special; it was a natural consequence of my way of existing in relation with the world. In fact, it would’ve felt incongruous with my worldview if I did not make jam, so you could even say that I did it out of a selfish reason.
Try as I might, I couldn’t pinpoint a specific trigger moment that lead to this change in perspective. I wonder about how to cultivate this sort of mindset because it’s the kind of thing I really wished for when I was just yearning to be creative. And it’s the same sort of question I find myself without a satisfying answer to when friends who are refocusing energies on starting a creative practice ask me how are you creative?
The only answer that sits with me is that being creative stems from training a creative way of seeing.
So how do you train or experience this kind of seeing?
I have a suspicion that this sort of seeing emerges from approaching the world with a natural curiosity and gratitude for the resonance of each moment. If look for beauty in what is given, rather than wishing for something else, then it’s natural for ideas of new forms (creation) to spring forth from everyday encounters with the world.
You also have to develop a taste. Creation is the act of bringing something nonexistent into reality. You have to have strong opinions about how the world should work. You have to think that things should be a certain way, that you prefer this color over that, this form of walking over another, this sense of beauty over theirs, this way of approaching the world over some other. Taste gives you the capability and the urgency to imagine.
So in short,
approach the world with a natural curiosity
be grateful for found resonances in each moment
know what you prefer, have strong emotional reactions and opinions
listen to your instinct
By being curious and grateful, you can be present for the world. Some of the infinite detail and beauty of reality reveals itself to you, and you’re able to distinguish the ones that differ moment to moment. These details serve as constant opportunities to test your taste. These emotional reactions lead to a place of generation, where you mold the current state of world into one that is according to your taste, and if not exactly your taste, at least more palatable than the status quo.
Follow your curiosity about the world. Apply your preference. Listen to how your body reacts. And repeat it again and again. Creation is an act of thinking that something new deserves to be in the world. It’s a radical act of feeling that something nonexistent needs to be manifested into reality, so what will you bring into existence?