Turn It On Again

Time to be creative again.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I didn’t want to be creative anymore. The whole thing with chasing the creative process seemed useless and futile to me. I got so annoyed with having ideas popping into my head that I didn’t have time to do anything about that I seriously considered going to my doctor and asking for Prozac or the adult equivalent of Ritalin. Not that I was depressed or any more ADD than what I’m wired for, but because I have seen firsthand the creativity-numbing effects of both of these on other people. There was this switch in my head and I couldn’t reach it to turn it off, and for a while, that’s all I wanted to do.

Well, maybe not completely turn it off. Maybe it was more like a potentiometer, and I wanted to dial it down from 11, enough to take the clutter out of my head, leaving just enough so I could earn my daily bread at the agency. Say, down to 3 or 4.

And then my mother became ill and my ever-patient wife and I moved her into our home, and what little time I felt I had left for creative things became ether, and I really wanted to get that annoying buzz out of my head.

Well, before I had the chance to go to the doctor, something else came along. About the time Mom came to stay, I bought one of the first iPod Shuffles. I’d wanted an iPod since the first ones came out, but always managed to spend my money on other more important things, but the price point of the Shuffle was a good thing. It came in the mail, I loaded it up with songs, got into my car, plugged it into one of those FM transmitter thingies, and turned it on. “The Core” by Eric Clapton came rolling out of the speakers, and I never looked back. Not until later.

Later is when I noticed two important things. First, after I got the Shuffle, I noticed that my 25 – 45 minute commute, depending on traffic, no longer seemed interminable. It seemed to fly by with all of my favorite songs in tow.

The second thing I didn’t notice until much, much, much later. That was this: music in the car turned my creativity off.

That was a fascinating discovery. But there it was. And once I made it, it made perfect sense. After all, when were the two places I said that most of my ideas came to me? In the shower and on my commute. What do these two things have in common? Well, I’m performing a mundane task and am alone. For almost all the productive showers, and fifty percent of the commute, it’s in the morning. I’m a night person, and my standard dodge is that my brain doesn’t start working until 10 am, so during shower and commute time, it’s struggling to make sense of the world (on thinking about this as I write, the evening commutes don’t seem to be nearly as creatively productive as the morning ones). So faced with all of that, my mind just wanders off into that strange and wonderful land that gives me the idea to write a musical based on the O.J. Simpson murder trial (you think I’m kidding).

But when you bring music into the picture, everything changes. I’m doing a mundane task, but apparently the part of my brain that does creative wheel spinning is not skylarking in the rigging. Instead it becomes occupied with what is coming through the speakers. It’s either making me sing along, or analyzing lyrics, or following the bass line, or making envious note of how the song is constructed. I didn’t realize it until a few days ago, but I had inadvertently found what I was looking for – a form of Prozac to turn down the potentiometer – although it probably went down to 2 or 3, because the prolific songwriting I’d been doing in place of writing novels or whatever slowed to almost nothing.

This means the last couple of years I’ve been at peace, and I didn’t even know it. I hadn’t even thought about going to the doctor and asking for pharmaceuticals because the noise had been turned down and I didn’t even notice it. And with the noise down, that whole Prozac/Ritalin idea vanished.

Well, now some time has passed. I graduated from the Shuffle to a 30gb iPod. My son moved to the great frozen north. My daughter graduated from high school, went to and returned from Russia, and started college. The Lord called Mom home, making my wife and I true empty nesters. And the time at home that I’d been filling with TV (we didn’t have cable until Mom came to stay because it was a staple of her day, and I bought into watching it because if I got called to do something during a rerun of Third Rock From The Sun it was no big shakes, but if I was in the middle of writing a chase scene, that was something altogether different)… is still being filled with TV – and I’m just now realizing it.

There have been signs of the impending return of the urge to create. Back in September I started my webcomic, The Home World – but it’s important to note that the spark for it hit about two months after we could no longer take care of Mom and moved her to a nursing home. Then there was that Zombie game I came up with in November and December. Where did that come from?

It seems that when unfettered leisure time started to trickle back, my brain knew what to do with it even before I realized I had it.

It’s like I’ve gotten a whiff of the forbidden fruit again. The urge to read is coming back – but I’m trying to put it off until I get a Kindle. Some of the time I need to use for projects around the house that need done, but… still…

This morning on my commute I went to turn on my iPod and it seemed… like noise. Clutter. Only there wasn’t a potentiometer. I just wanted it off.

So I turned it off.

Then I started singing songs.

Ones that I had written.

And before I got to work, I had worked out a creative solution to one of my problem songs, A Free Man In London Town. It has been finished for a long time, but I couldn’t quite figure out how it should be performed. But while I was singing, I slipped into a reggae beat… and… it… worked. Bringing a nice, odd, almost ironic counterpoint to what the song is about.

The really odd thing? That creative noise didin’t seem like noise anymore. It was welcome back, old friend.

So I’m thinking it’s time to turn it on again. Maybe I’ll still listen on the commute home since that is the one that always seems the longest, and is less productive creatively anyway. We’ll see.

Meantime, I’m anxious to see what direction the return of insanity brings.


One response to “Turn It On Again

  1. ’bout freaking time! ;-)

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