Notes on Creativity

What, Exactly IS Creativity?

I’ll start with that most circular of definitions—creativity is the process of creating something new, whether wholly or partly. It is the external generation of an internal idea. Typically, creativity is applied to a subset of areas, nearly always in the arts. The painter, the filmmaker, the novelist, the singer, the actor—these are the creatives, at least in the common parlance of the average American. Frankly, that’s a very UN-creative way of defining the inventive among us. The engineer is said to be “clever”, the teacher uses “novel” pedagogical methods, the businesswoman introduces an “innovative” management system—all are outside the ordinary, but rarely described as “creative” by the masses. Sure, creativity (and creatives) are a sought-after “thing” in the tech field (along with meditation breaks and organic cafes), but the typical Hoosier or Iowan or Ohioan probably just calls them “smart”.

The Other Arts

Okay, painting a canvas, writing a poem, performing a monologue—these are clearly artistic pursuits (and creative acts). But so is developing a new ice cream flavor (culinary ARTS, anyone?). So is designing an apron for the cook with many gadgets (design is an art). And creating a life, one that not only diverges from but CELEBRATES nonconformity may be the ultimate art.

Life Can (and Should) Be a Creative Act

Many of us do creative acts every day, even if we don’t recognize them. Every time we invent a new game to play with our three-year old, we are creative. Every time we take a new route to work, we are creative. Every time we craft an intriguing stew from the dregs of the produce crisper, we are creative. Life can be a creative act. Indeed, life SHOULD be a creative act. For those of us who bypass the suburban ethos (even if we live there), eschewing the almost mandated displays of conformity is radical and creative—sometime Radical with a capital “R” and sometimes radical with a lower case “r”. Every time we forge ahead with life design that is outside of the nuclear family, every time we throw a dinner party for the fabulous misfits, every time we give a big “fuck you” to the notion that older women can’t have pink hair we are being creative.

So, What Is a Creative Life?

I posit that the creative life simply involves seeing the world through fresh eyes, different perspectives, with a liberal dose of convention-flouting. Maybe it includes sculpting and maybe it includes making marshmallows. Or both. It certainly includes a healthy disrespect for tired old norms that serve no society. And frankly, it includes a little dark chocolate.

A Suburban State of Mind: Part One

Whither, Suburbia

Let’s face it—most of the United States looks alike, at least with respect to residential zones. A stale and predictable sameness, in which one can tell the state only by the “Welcome To …” signs. Pennsylvania morphs into Ohio, which changes into Indiana, which becomes Illinois, its predictable blandness stretching for hundreds and hundreds of miles. A few regional quirks—adobe in New Mexico, saltbox in New England—but, as a general observation, you’ll find the same brick ramblers and overly roofed mini-mansions in Maryland as in Minnesota. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in America’s suburbs.

Not Dead Yet

For years, the media has been trumpeting the Death of the Suburbs. While suburbia is less attractive to more urban-focused (and mobile) millennials, the demise of the subdivision hasn’t happened yet. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he’s still building developments to sell to good little girls and boys. Our current low gas prices aren’t exactly sending suburbia’s denizens to the Big Bad City (and in the case of some cities, like Indianapolis, their morphologies and relatively low population densities are on the far side of what one typically associates with an urban environment). No, the suburb hasn’t died yet.

I Am One of Them

I am a suburbanite. I have a brick ranch house—classic American architecture—in a mature subdivision. I have a front yard (with one silver maple and one saucer magnolia) and a back yard (with two silver maples). I have a fence. I have a two-car garage and, unlike some of my neighbors, I can actually fit two cars in them, assuming I move the snowblower from its current at-the-ready position. I CHOSE to live here. And in many ways, I like it very much. There’s room for my herb garden. My patio holds a grill and a smoker, the former practically required in a development. I have a deck so I can sit outside when the weather permits, drinking my morning decaf or an evening cocktail. I can have people over for dinner without having to worry about parking. I can walk on the sidewalks or bike in the neighborhood streets for a quick burst of exercise. This. Is. Pleasant.

A Death March Toward Conformity

For many people, the word “suburban” connotes a certain blandness and conformity. The houses are designed by builders, not architects. Interiors full of too much stuff, poorly assembled trinkets made in China or perhaps old cans or boxes that “might come in handy someday”. Two-and three-car garages so full of junk that fitting in a bicycle is problematic, let alone a car. Indoors, the same wall décor or family pictures in frames probably purchased at the same Walmarts or Targets. The lives lived are the same as well—the same sports teams (formerly football, now likely soccer) or, increasingly, the same electronics and video games played indoors. Dining at the same Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesdays or Chinese buffets that inhabit strip malls differing in appearance not at all from those three states away.

And Yet I am Not One of Them

Is that characterization correct? After all, I live in suburbia and I am decidedly noncomformist (single, unapologetically childfree, intellectually driven, and agnostic for starters). Many, perhaps most, of my friends (as offbeat as me1) live in suburbs. Am I unwittingly buying into a stereotype, despite intellectual gifts? Or do I just have a knack for finding the outliers? Granted, my own neighborhood is a bit of a university ghetto, with faculty and staff comprising a substantial proportion of my neighbors. The academic milieu is known for attracting “unusual” types (although that, too, may be a bit of a stereotype, as I know plenty of colleagues living white-picket-fence sort of lives2).

In Search of, If Not an Answer, Observations

I think. I like to think. I like to question. I’m curious. And I’ll be looking. And posting about suburbia again in the future. Observing not only my own low-density, single-family-home neighborhood, but others as well. Ciao, until I write again.

1 Life is too short to spend time with intellectual dullards and shallow thinkers.

2The Academic Stereotype—that’s the subject of another post!

On Dry March

Or the Extension of Dry February

Dry February ended a week ago and I decided to extend the “nos” (no alcohol, no sweeteners, no rice, no white flour, potatoes, no Facebook) into March. What had been a personal challenge (i.e. can I do it?) became a veritable creed, especially the “no sweeteners” part. Granted, I feel wonderful physically (and as noted by a fellow gym denizen, apparently look “really healthy”—thank you, Dennis!) But at the end of February, I watched Dr. Robert Lustig’s “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” on YouTube and have become a somewhat reluctant yet enthusiastic convert to a life lived with minimal sugar.

My New Celebrity Crush

Okay, I admit it. I’ve got a small crush on the guy, a renowned and well published pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. He’s brilliant (an MIT man!), passionate, admits to struggling with his own weight, and most importantly, he’s right about sugar. The video, despite being 90 minutes long, was both compelling and entertaining (and he delivers the biochemistry part in a way that most lay people can comprehend). I read articles and interviews about and with him online. I ordered his book “Fat Chance” and devoured it over the course of three days. BTW, that pun was not intended, but in retrospect, it should have been.

Some of you may have watched the documentary “Fed Up” or the award-winning Canadian documentary “Sugarcoated” and thus find his name familiar. Dr. Lustig has worked with obese, often morbidly so, children and teenagers and knows their struggles. And if you know me, you know of my own struggles—I once weighed 100 pounds more than I do today. Anyway, Lustig’s research squarely points the blame on sugar, especially fructose. Now you might interject and say “hey, that’s found in fruit and aren’t fruits good for you?” You would be correct. But in eating a piece of fruit, you are also getting the fiber, which helps the liver from receiving an onslaught of fructose (where, apparently, is the only place it is metabolized). And in Sugarcoated, the filmmakers show how the sugar industry and their various PR “associations” knew this, but still misled (and continue to mislead) the public about sugar’s addictive qualities and its toxicity.

Sugar Tastes Good!

Yes, Virginia, yes it does. And this is part of the reason why I’m a RELUCTANT convert to the no-crap eating style. I love making sweet treats, even if I don’t partake of them very often (after reading Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories a number of years ago, I cut back on my sugars and refined carbohydrates). I am known for making fabulous homemade ice cream. Crème brulee, rhubarb cake, rich challah—all a delight to make and, of course, a delight to eat. Will I miss this? Certainly, although I will bake again (my, that sounds so inspirational—I Will Bake Again!) When I host a dinner party, I’m not going to throw apples on the table and tell my guests to enjoy their desserts. Naturally, I’ll finish the meal with a decadent sweet. If I’m invited to someone’s home for a meal, I will eat what I am served (not going to be THAT guest!) But I will be making desserts less often (only when I’ll be sharing them with friends). Yes, sugar does taste good. But in the quantities Americans eat the stuff, it’s practically a societal poison. And I don’t want to be poisoned.

The Scariest Thing

For me, the relationship between sugar consumption and Alzheimer’s disease frightens me the most. The too-many-pounds thing bothers me on an aesthetic level, but the thought of literally losing my mind to tangles really makes me wonder whether that sugary Frappuccino is worth it. I never realized that the two were linked (and yes, I believe it is correlation, not causation, but why take the chance?) I thank Dr. Lustig for bringing this to my attention. My grandmother, who did live into her mid-90s, suffered from Type 2 diabetes and dementia at the end (okay, she was very old, but still, should I live that long, I’d want my mental faculties in as much tact as possible).

More to Come

Oh, I have more to write about, more to talk about this. And yesterday I made, of all things, homemade marshmallows, which are almost entirely sugar (4 ingredients—sugar (granulated and powdered), corn syrup (a sugar), gelatin, and water). I did it for the challenge, but honestly, I won’t eat them (I did eat one and they just taste like marshmallows). But still—I have a long way to go.

In the meantime, I’ll be sticking to Dry March. And continuing to improve my health. Expect another likeminded blog post or two sometime soon.

On Spring

Day 3 of Meteorological Spring

Meteorological spring begins March 1, with the season encompassing the months of March, April, and May. Winter—both meteorological and astronomical—has been on vacation here in the Midwest. We’ve had scant numbers of cold days, the really bitter ones that have you imagining your furnace as a cash register, racking up dollars for your local gas company. I think there’s only been a single day with a below-zero (°F) reading. On the other hand, we’ve had a string of May-like days with highs in the 50s and 60s. My silver maples are starting to leaf out. Daffodils and crocuses have been blooming for days now. And the forsythias are beginning to bloom. Spring has come early here in Indiana.

And Yet I am Ready for Spring

Mind you, I do enjoy all seasons, including winter. To me, it’s the cooking season, when I break out the enameled cast iron to turn out soups and stews. ‘Tis the season for braised lamb shanks or beans simmered for a couple of hours. It’s when I look forward to using the oven to bake a loaf of bread, both the residual heat and the marvelous smell infusing my kitchen. I sit down with tea and cookbooks, envisioning dinner parties with delightful and delicious menus. But this year, I’m really ready for spring, despite having had so little of winter.

Typically, I’ll be tired of cloudiness and snow and cold by now. But, while there’s been plenty of clouds, for the past couple of weeks we’ve actually seen plentiful sunshine here. And snow has been a rarity, with my snowblower only turned on to see if it worked. What has happened to me has been my embrace of cycling. And with that, I’m ready to bike outdoors regularly again. I did a 30+ miler the other week, largely on the Cardinal Greenway. Then a week of 60s, followed by storms and a day of snow showers, shifting my cycling workout indoors (28.5 miles on the recumbent at the gym—not too shabby, but not outside).

But Not Ready for Daylight Savings Time

I do not like long summer days. There, I’ve said it. While I appreciate—nay, LOVE—sunlight in the early mornings, by 7:30 or 8:00, I want it to be dark outdoors. Ideally, it would be light by 5:30-ish and dark by 7:30 (and for those of you who love long days, you’ll note that’s still a 14-hour day). Darkness is magical and sinister and oddly comforting. While I love to see the sun come up in the morning, I’m also glad to see it set in the evening. So, I will be welcoming spring but merely tolerating (begrudgingly) its little sister Daylight Savings Time.