A Snooze Button For Creativity


Saturday morning, 8:48AM

I hear my son jump out of his bed and start to rustle his LEGOs around. Understand that when this house was built fourteen years ago I paid off the insulation guys to put a double-thick layer of Fiberglas(tm) in the wall between my bedroom and the bedroom that now belongs to my son. I now regret this because I cannot hear John breathe at night and I constantly think that he’s stopped breathing. Still, the way he’s banging around in there this morning it would take a hundred sheets of Dynamat to keep me from hearing the noise.

He’s up this morning later than usual because I let him stay up later than usual working on our newest project, 42025 Cargo Plane. Until recently, he would wake me up as soon as he woke up, but in a moment of unguarded candor I told him that sometimes Daddy needs his sleep. Now he’ll let me sleep ’till noon unless I go get him. Which, not without some guilt at having considered the matter from both sides, I do.

“Daddy,” he says, “I’m going to make some cargo for the cargo plane we’re building together. A cargo plane needs cargo.” For a split-second I envision myself writing a children’s book by that name, A Cargo Plane Needs Cargo, and becoming simultaneously rich, famous, and the universal target of educated ridicule.

“Okay,” I tell him, “I’m going to sleep for a bit longer, so come get me when you’re done.” And I trudge off.

Fifteen minutes later he’s poking me with one hand and unsteadily holding the “cargo” with the other. “Daddy, the cargo is done, but now I want to make a cool vehicle for good guys to fight with.”

“Okay, come back when you’re done.” Ten minutes later he wakes me up again.

“Daddy, here’s the vehicle.” It’s really good, it has flames shooting out of twin exhausts and “woody” sides from a “City” house-and-firefighters set that he got earlier this year.

“You should make a garage for it,” I tell him, and return to blessed sleep.

“Daddy,” ten minutes later, “here’s the garage.”

“You, um, should make an observation tower,” and I get ten more minutes that way. “What about bad guys for the good guys to fight?” gets me to 9:45 or so, and “Shouldn’t the bad guys have a garage and tower just like the good guys?” allows me to close my eyes until 10:17.

“We’re all done, Daddy, except for the playing. And I need you for that.” At 10:21 I roll out of bed and go to his room. I see that in his occasionally unsupervised romps through my basement he’s managed to find the “Moon baseplates” that were part of my Galaxy Explorer set. “This battle,” he informs me, “will take place on the Moon. The second battle will take place on Earth.”

Later on in the day, we resume our work on the 1,297-piece Cargo Plane and its rather fiendish assortment of interlocking gear mechanisms. But I continue to think about the little world he built while I was snooze-buttoning him. The aesthetics of the “good guys” and “bad guys” were very different, the battle we engaged in between the two had approximately a million rules that he made up and that I found impossible to remember. It makes me wonder if we shouldn’t be doing more of that stuff and less of the Technic assembly.

On the way home from school on Friday, he had told me that he had done something “cree-ay-a-tive”.

“Do you know what ‘cree-ay-a-tive’ means, Daddy?” Without pausing for me to answer he’d continued, “Maybe you don’t so I will tell you. It is when you build something really cool and you don’t need to use any directions.”

“I’ll have you know,” I responded, “that your father is considered to be an extremely creative individual.”

“Okay,” he said, meaning I don’t fucking believe that for a second, old man, and that was that.

In the next three weeks or so I have four major features to write for R&T. In the case of three of them, there’s an established formula for what they should read like (new car review, an interview, another new car review). The fourth one is something new and different and I’m very excited about it. The question is whether or not I can be cree-ay-a-tive in a way that really delivers something enjoyable to the reader, rather than cree-ay-a-tive in a manner than only gratifies me. But listening to my son reminded me that I can do something useful and unique with the other pieces as well. Cree-ay-a-tive doesn’t imply that no directions exist; rather, it implies that you don’t need to use them.

5 Replies to “A Snooze Button For Creativity”

  1. AvatarDon Curton

    I’ve often thought the more complicated the lego set (with instructions), the less creativity involved on the part of the child (and parent). But seems like you got that licked with your son.

    As for the adult work, I think you can only be successful in creative work after you’ve learned to be successful following the formula. The formula is there for a reason, it was derived through evolutionary learning, and it’s been passed on to you from those who’ve gone before. Too many young-uns are too quick to chunk the formula away without understanding it. For those, the term creativity is a crutch for not knowing the basics.

    Or maybe I’m just a curmudgeon in my old age.

  2. AvatarJoe

    Enjoyed the writing, been many decades since I played with a Lego set, also enjoyed the Article about privilege over at TTAC, lot to think about there!


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