To define is to limit

I suppose, like most of us who have grown up with Western norms and expectations, I have always had a rather unexamined view of creativity. I haven’t thought particularly deeply about what it entails, except to assume it is a quality that is not probably widely distributed, albeit widely sought. After all, who would not relish being described as a genius… or is that really a necessary requirement?

Actually, I don’t think so -although it likely helps. Sometimes, simply understanding something allows you to see that a small modification may help it function more efficiently, may help it adapt to another as yet untapped use. Creativity, after all, is often simply about breaking a pattern -or in the case of imagination (or age) just ignoring it. I’m not sure what ‘genius’ is, though. Surely not every person who comes up with something new is a genius -that would weaken the concept, much like suggesting that each and every soldier fighting in a battle is a hero. Brave, yes; but heroic…?

No, it seems to me that we should reserve some terms to describe truly unique and useful accomplishments. And the other things -like making stuff up- would probably be wasted on geniuses. It’s fodder for creativists, though -and writers…

But just who is being creative when we write -okay, when I write? I never know what is going to appear on the screen, so who’s to blame? I mean, does it count if the conscious me– the one I can control- is just watching? Reading it, as it were? Is the creative stuff really mine, or am I simply taking dictation like an obedient secretary? Is that what creation is?

Still, it’s nice to think that there’s at least a part of me that’s creative, even if we haven’t been formally introduced. And anyway, it’s not always whispering stuff to me -sometimes I’m on my own. Or, at least think I am. At times like that, I often visit my friend Brien -he understands. He is the person who basically lives on his porch drinking beer and watching his pet cedar tree, Sheda, as it waves its branches in the wind like arms to communicate with him. Brien thinks Sheda is the creative one…

His yard is strewn with tangled weeds and fragments of disintegrating cement from a sidewalk that no longer leads anywhere, so it’s not easy to reach the porch without tripping over a semi-buried slab or slogging through a puddle of mud from a recent rain. But Brien likes it that way. “Discourages burglars,” he usually explains whenever I complain.

But Brien is not suffering from mental illness as far as I can tell -he does not hallucinate, or stare off into inner space; he does not think Sheda is an alien. He is just… eccentric -and anyway, he always seems to have an extra beer for me whenever I visit.

“You look troubled today, G,” he said, handing me a beer as soon as I sat down beside him on the chair he keeps on the porch for visitors.

I always find myself drawn to the gesticulating Sheda, and didn’t reply right away. There is a pattern in her movements, sometimes, that is hard to explain by the wind alone.

“She calms me down as well,” he added, reading my mind. “But, is Sheda the only reason you came by to see me…?”

I stared at the weeds on the lawn, and then the broken wooden planks of the porch before I answered. “Where do you think stories come from -I mean the ones I write?”

He glued his eyes to my cheeks for a moment, as a grin slowly transformed his face. “You mean assuming they’re really yours…?”

My face hardened briefly, and he sat back in his chair, smiling as he finished off the beer he’d been holding.

“That’s not fair, Brien!” I muttered and tried to look insulted, but he knew me better than that.

“G, there’s no idea that either of us has ever read, or even thought of, that hasn’t already been processed through a million other minds. Only geniuses are really unique, and maybe even they have only tinkered with a pattern…”


“So perhaps the muse, or whatever you choose to call it, is just remembering things you once read and personalizing them for you -mixing them together until they have a unique taste… Your taste.” He picked up another beer and opened it. “Sort of like playing with the ingredients of a recipe, maybe…” He glanced at Sheda and then at me. “Not every variation works, of course -or at least works for enough people for it to become popular.”

Brien has a special way of seeing the world, I think.

“Take Sheda, for example,” he mused, as he watched the cedar twigs still trembling after a sudden drop in the wind as the sun came out from behind a cloud. “There’s a message coming from her, although it’s uninteresting -or maybe unreadable- for most of us. You make of it what you will… it’s enough for a story if you can translate it well enough, I imagine; mix it thoroughly with sufficient words and it becomes your story…”

It was an intriguing thought I have to admit: that there is probably a story in everything, if we can only extract the proper ingredients and blend them the right way -or at least in a different way from the last time it was cooked.

“I suspect we notice far more things than we’re consciously aware of,” he  continued. “And they get stored somewhere inside. Then what our minds do, especially if they’re clever -or unusual- is tinker with them until they make sense. Or…” -he glanced at me- “…until we decide they contain the ingredients for a story…”

I tasted the beer I’d been holding and stared at Sheda. Brien had awakened a question I’d often wanted to ask him. “You’ve noticed a lot about Sheda over the years, Brien,” I started, unsure of how to word my question. “You’re creative; you have a soaring imagination… So why haven’t you written her into a story?”

He chuckled and turned his attention to Sheda again as her branches came alive in a puff of wind. “I’m quite content to read the story she writes for me…” He had another swig of his beer and turned to me. He had a twinkle in his eye that told me he had seen something on my face that I hadn’t noticed yet. “And besides, there’s already a ‘Sheda story’ in the works…”

My eyebrows inched up. “What do you mean?”

A little smile appeared beneath his laughing eyes. “What are you doing right now, G…?”


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