“Creativity is the taking of old ideas, and remixing them in new ways that is individual to the creator. The raw materials are out there for anyone to use — look at the ideas all around you, in the online world and in the real world as you walk around each day. There are millions and billions of these ideas, and you can remix them in new ways.” – Leo Babauta, zenhabits
My stepson can’t help himself. He can’t not create. No matter the setting, this eight-and-a-half year old boy can take any assortment of materials–the cardboard core of wrapping paper, popsicle sticks, and tape and string–to create something, in this case a bow gun that shoots pencils across the living room. What his mom and I quickly divert to the recycling bin, he sees as valuable building components for his next “thing.”
My iPhoto library is filled with stuff this little architect has engineered: the Lego cabin he built a couple winters ago and begged me to photograph on our snow-covered lawn; the machines he draws in his sketchbooks that siphon oil and gas and turn out flames; the forts he builds in our living room with blankets and chairs and pillows and bean bags; the tugboat that chugs in the bathtub built from a cardboard orange juice container, some empty drink cans and candles.
I can’t think of a time when I’ve witnessed such a creative force. I doubt the gears that whir inside his head building and dismantling things ever pause. What well does this boy dip into to cultivate and refine his ideas? How does he never run out?
For the rest of us Leo Babauta, the essayist who founded the zen habits blog, says creativity takes conscious engagement with our environment. Ideas are all around us, he says, ripe for our particular re-molding. It is our re-mixing of the stuff going on around us that generates the new ideas that might lead someone else to their own re-mix. The good news is we each have some creative genius in us, just like my step-son.
One of the primary sources of fuel for our own creative minds is the solitude to contemplate all that we see. My wife laughed when I brought this up recently, noting that Babauta was preaching to the choir. “You love your solitude,” she said.
It’s true. I crave connecting with people in meaningful ways. I get a lot of energy from engaging conversations with others, particularly my wife. Just as much I love being alone. In the mornings after I drop her at work and the kids go to school, the house is quiet. It happens also when I run, for even if there are people and traffic along my route, I can tune out. Channel my thoughts inward. It is often just what I need and occasionally thrilling as my brain, stirring like my step-son’s, fires a new insight onto which I can grab. Then, while my legs and lungs collaborate, I can ruminate and turn the insight over and over until it becomes more solid.
Running and solitude are the kinds of catalysts for creativity for me that my step-son also has tapped. For him, perhaps his play with his buddies is the respite between creative sessions that are his fuel. Regardless of its source, my step-son’s non-stop creativity is enviable and a joy for his mom and I. We lay out his entire future as the designer of our modern home years from now, a glass bubble car, an awesome bridge, the coolest chair anyone has ever seen.
It might be unfair to pigeon-hole but we do it nonetheless. His creativity inspires our hopes for wondrous things from our boy.