I used to think all the ideas that popped out of my head were the result of some gift of intellect or a special talent that I had developed, honed, and worked on to appear to do some things a smidgen better than others. Of course, if you spend all your time refining a specialty of sorts, the other parts of general life will tend to suffer. Somehow as we age, wisdom somehow creeps in if you allow and you see the world though almost a varying prescriptions or color lenses that seem to change about every 10 years.
Perhaps it is simply the curious part of my mind that has allowed me to meet such a wide swatch of mindsets with my time on the planet. From Nobel winners to street bums. Today i will talk about two of the more interesting people i learned from in the later group.
It wasn’t until I was 40 when the reality of self collapsed and I began to poke around are seem to see something different. While this post might not make sense to a lot of people, it is how it happened with understanding creativity in people and where the ideas come from.
The first man I will call “art man." What I remember is sitting inside the wonderbread world coffee shop of well to do folks laughing at him as he pushed his grocery cart down the street in a southern city. Inside the cart were his possessions and the art he created and painted. On this particular day, I just had enough of where I had recently moved to with it's rigid way of life and thinking, no one talking to each other unless they were sniffed and approved worthy, etc. I watched the smiling black man was pushing his cart down the street, heard the banter from a few people inside the comfort of the air-conditioned space. I just got up and bought the guy a coffee and walked across the street to talk to him.
It was one of the most interesting cups of coffee I ever had in my life. What an educational day.
A few years later I found myself scrambling to save the show in Nashville and I think I worked around the clock and got nowhere really fast. Late at night I would go get a cup of coffee at a Starbuck's and this peculiar gentleman on a bike would appear and go in and get a cup of hot water for his tea. He must have been a regular as all he got was a cup of hot water and he took out his own tea bags. One night the gentleman asked what I was working on in his accent that had me ask, “are you English? South African? Or Australian? I really can’t discern the dialect.”
He smiled and laughed, “actually I am all, and I was born in England, and worked in the Oil and Gas world in Australia and all over Africa.”
Not much was discussed that day, but each subsequent day, almost like clockwork the man would show up, get his cup of hot water, take out his tea bag and enjoy a cup of tea. Some days he would have a cake or other treat. One day he came with a full cake. It was a strawberry cake with whipped cream frosting. How do I remember? The man kindly gave me a piece to go with my coffee.
I will call this gentleman “bubble man,” He turned out to be a homeless chemist and petrochemical degree engineer that had something breaks inside his mind in his past who now wandered the planet. What he was fascinated with, and quite amazing for a skill was to make complicated geometric shapes with bubbles. He would reveal the shape by blowing smoke inside the area of the form he created. (If you never saw anyone do this, it is really a cool talent that has one wonder, “how long did it take him or her to be able to do this that well?)
One particular star filled summer evening; the man posed a question, “mark, where do your ideas come from?”
I think I rattled off several minutes of boring droll data sets about studying creativity and applying it to problems and the path from “inspired” moments to the “disciplined” track that produced better results. I might have thrown in the guinea pig testing on myself with sleep deprivation, time alone in a room and other things. There was the explanation of how I was trying to set up computer technology to over come the need for a sketchbook and how I was testing various ideas to work on different parts of my brain functions. I am pretty certain I was very impressed with how intelligent I sounded about myself. Today I am laughing at myself as I type what I just did. Why?
After I finished, I asked bubble man the same question, “where do you get your ideas?”
The man was polite and almost hid his impish smile at the humor and contrast of my answer with what he was about to say. He looked up at the beautiful star filled sky, took a sip from his teacup and pointed one finger into the air and said, “from him.”
The beauty of the world is you can just stay on one path, but odds are you will miss a whole lot of the meaning of life by staying on the highway and never getting off to explore the side roads.