The cats woke me this morning. Two pairs of paws thrust inwards under the door pulling it sharply against its frame. Two pairs of hind paws kicking relentlessly on its outerside. The effect was like a drumroll. Even the dog who is now deaf and sleeps at my feet picked it up and for effect, barked loudly in my ear. I awakened from dreams of spotted hyenas racing across the savanna, thankfully they were hyenas and not metamorphoses of myself having just devoured my husband in tandem with my lover. For those who have not read the Joyce Carol Oates story, “Spotted Hyenas: A Romance” take my advice, don’t read it before sleeping. Two months into the new job and I am beginning to get the hang of it, starting to know people and winning some real rather than polite smiles. The speed of work is cranking up and I am wondering how to keep some time for myself to to write, by which I mean free creative writing and not emails, reports, administrative documents lecture notes or research articles. I write every day of my life in the form of lists and bullet points but it is not creative. My plan is to write for a few minutes a day on whatever comes to mind and just let it flow. But the cats are demanding their breakfast, I have lectures to write and I tell myself that it is in those routine processes of everyday life that I can make a difference, I just need to remember that I am human, and keep the hyenas from the door. It’s tough in the food chain, wake up and make breakfast, it’s time to start the day.
The funny thing about daydreaming is that when you have time to do it, to really let go and lose yourself in some magical forest of discovery, somehow the paths into the forest lead to dead-ends. It is when daydreaming diverts from something that really must be done that the paths open to a mystical tour and you never know where you will end up. Those commas in the text you are trying so hard to edit become tadpoles swimming in the bucket that you once put them in after fishing them from a canal. The canal becomes a lake, there are boats on it. There are boats too off the Maltese islands where the sun is shining and you are lying on a deck, glass of champagne in your hand. Bubbles rise in the glass and you remember the Bermuda triangle where ships sink because of bubbles rising in the water and lots of tiny bubbles decrease buoyancy. But that doesn’t explain planes falling out of the sky or does it? So you just have to look up wiki and on the way you find an article on the universe and download some pictures from the Hubble because they are so beautiful and relaxing, and evocative of something but what? Hey this one reminds you of jellyfish, stained glass colours in indigo oceans and what was that tune about indigo skies, and suddenly it is lunchtime and where has the morning gone?
Daydreaming is about your inner stream of consciousness where your mind of its own accord wanders from thought to thought, memory to memory making connections and associations that allow us to see things in novel ways. Daydreaming underpins creativity but is not in itself productive. Creative people are those who are able to harness their daydreaming, and steer it towards a tangible outcome, or snatch ideas in passing like forest fruits from the meandering pathways of fertile imagination. Creative people follow roaming thoughts to see where they lead but creativity comes not so much by accident as by design. Invention results from creative and experimental thinking. If rising bubbles sink ships, what happens in the air that sinks planes? If I change the character in my story from a girl to a boy would he think differently? Will my house be warmer if I grow a garden on my roof? How will smoked fish taste if I eat it with my fruit salad (the canteen had run out of plates, and yes it was delicious). Was salty caramel a lucky accident, and did that blogger who enjoyed cheese sauce on his apple pie discover it by design or error?
The difference between daydreaming your way passively through life and being productively creative is knowing when to let your thoughts wander, and when to switch off the dreaming channel and focus on the task at hand. Creative people are dreamers, true, but creative people are also task oriented, motivated to get things done and see the results of their creativity. Creative people are able to balance their dreaming with focused activity, harness ideas from their dreams and make something of them. I wonder why these lessons are so hard to learn. There I go again, off at another tangent.
This month has not been very dreamy for me as you can probably see from the lack of new posts. This has been a month of focused, task oriented activity. Reporting, marking, processing, form-filling, and solving everyone else’s problems. Daydreaming does not pay the mortgage. Not Yet.
I have always been a dreamer. Mind like a butterfly my mother used to say. Flitting from one thing to another. Asking seemingly random questions – in the midst of arithmetic – why do tadpoles become frogs? Why did I ask at that precise point? Perhaps because the commas between the integers looked like tadpoles, and the next lesson, my favourite, would be about nature.
And so I have spent my life thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or things that connect with other things but not about this thing that I should be concentrating on at this moment in time. My teacher was not happy with the daydreaming. She is depressed, she wrote on my report one year. So everyone tried to make me focus, keep my mind on the task, keep eating until my dinner was finished, keep on with the homework. Eventually and thankfully they gave up. Daydreaming makes life so much more colourful, but I have always tried to switch it off when I find myself squandering away my time, or forget what it is I am supposed to be doing, or what our conversation is about.
It was during a guilty moment, when I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, that Scott Barry Kaufman’s (2011) article snared me and pulled me back into focus. His research found that daydreamers are more creative, and able to keep nightdreaming running while at the same time concentrating [of a fashion] on various tasks. People with this ability are less able to resist distraction, but are able to keep their internal stream of consciousness (dreaming state) running whilst doing relatively complex things. This enables them to make connections between objects, processes, thoughts and tasks that would not be possible if the dreaming state was completely switched off. Creativity therefore seems to rely on the brain’s internal dialogue making connections between normally unrelated things in novel and interesting ways. So the next time you catch me daydreaming, please don’t distract me, I am mentally composing my next masterpiece. If only it could find its way onto a page.
To be absolutely frank, 2014 is a year that I will be glad to put behind me. It was not without its good points, some of which were wonderful. There were two weddings in the family, and it was truly lovely to be able to share the beautiful and happy photographs of those family events as they unfolded over the days before and after the ceremonies, for that, social media plays an enormous role in bringing family together when miles or circumstances otherwise keep us apart. My cousins, the brides, were radiant, their grooms handsome and the photographs so lovely that it almost felt as though we were there together. The joy of those occasions though was sadly overshadowed by the unexpected death of my dear auntie (grannie, mum, great-auntie, wife, sister and friend) to all of us who crowded into the flower-filled crematorium early in the summer. We promised to her that our goodbyes would be a celebration of her life and celebrate we did, for she lived life to the full and enjoyed every minute. It brought us all together but reminded us too of how fragile life is, and how unexpectedly it can come to an end. We will miss her. This year for other reasons was one in which I decided to step off the treadmill or at least slow it down a bit. Apart from a lovely family holiday in beautiful Kefalonia in May, a quick business trip to Bratislava in June, and a visit to our daughter in London, I travelled only between home and work and stopped trying to deal with the 20-30 e-mails that arrive in my inbox every hour. When I can find a way to throw out the feeling of guilt with the junk mail, things will really be on the up. A highlight of the year was a school reunion. After 40 years one of our group of friends arranged for us to get together and surprisingly we did recognise each other after the first smiles broke through the wrinkles and the years fell away. Why did we not do it sooner? The work year was busy of course in an uninspiring, repetitive, mindless kind of way but lightened by a liberal sprinkling of social occasions, food, drink, music and excellent craic with family, friends and colleagues. My daughter’s thoughtful Christmas present of last year triggered an attempted self-reconstruction as a new kind of writer. Tired of hearing me say that I had always wanted to write fiction, she bought me a write-your-first-novel template from Nanowrimo. Inspired, I created several characters between Christmas and the start of 2014 , wrote a number of short scenes but realised that writing a novel in my “spare” time would need more than cutting down on my foreign travel. So I signed up for a creative writing class focussing on the short story instead, deleted the half dozen cringingly bad posts I’d put on this blog since 2011 and started again with some fiction. To all of my friends and family out there who have had my creative writing efforts pushed in-your-face over the last 3 months, I apologise. I hope you may have enjoyed some of it and I promise I will be more subtle in future. I may also experiment with material that is less safe, less pc, and more ballsy, gritty or dark. Raunchy might come later. The writing class is great fun, I’ve met lots of super-creative and talented people and am looking forward to next term. My husband has also been following a course of self-reconstruction, took his motor-bike test and arrived home with a brand-new, clean and shiny set of wheels. Mid-life crisis? No, he is trying to avoid parking charges by losing two wheels, or that’s his creative story! Well 2015 has arrived, let it bring what it will. Happy New Year everyone, let’s hope that the world will become a more peaceful and happier place.
A colleague remarked that a student’s PhD abstract read like theory soup. I thought immediately of minestrone, thick and hearty, bright and colourful, tasty and wholesome. I know exactly what he meant though, and see it often in articles I am asked to review for journals. Usually the authors claim to draw on one or two key theories that underpin their conceptual approach, then throw in a handful of this, that and the other for effect, hoping perhaps to enhance the culinary delight of the concoction. As most chefs will tell you, Minestrone has a tomato base to which complementary ingredients add piquancy, spiciness and aroma, then cooked gently to allow flavours to infuse. In the best minestrone the texture and flavour of each ingredient is preserved within a wonderfully blended flavour that is the broth. Its taste and aroma will live in your memory forever. Get it wrong, it is just soup, and potentially unpleasant like the version in a local, since gone out of business, restaurant in which the most memorable flavour in their minestrone was turnip. It should come as no surprise then that “theory blending” is the name of the game. A few months later my student submitted his PhD. I am happy to report that the final version was blended to perfection, the theories infused throughout, but each retaining its own piquancy. On the day of the defence the critics did their best, but his courses were impeccably presented. It ended with the sweet; anticipated with excitement, as this was where it could all come to a sticky end. But he handled it with a flourish as the maître d’ handles a flambé for the top table, with quiet confidence and understatement, delivering the crêpe with a burst of flame and quick flick of the wrist.
Congratulations Dr Warner.
Paula, you did a grand job.
It was the pile of banknotes lying unattended on the bar that drew my attention. We were in a café bar in the centre of Copenhagen in deep conversation about the exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Leaving the gallery we had taken a brisk detour through the normally quaint and picturesque Nyhavn with its pastel coloured town-houses and pretty boats, on the waterways around which the old town was built. Today though it was miserably wet, and cold for August, so we hurried back to the city centre where we were glad to find a café with an empty table. We sat perched on two high stools, just inside the door with a good vantage point to view the bustling city street outside, as well the goings-on within. I had spotted a number of small galleries that we were enthusiastically planning to visit the next day when I stopped mid-sentence, as the strangeness of the situation dawned on me.
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