Clutter and Creativity

Before incarnating, I distinctly remember requesting the life of a “Beatnik,” but some distracted functionary at Divine Shipping and Receiving apparently heard “Neatnik,” thereby ruining my life before it had begun. I’m a Neatnik. I always try to wash my dishes before eating dinner. I can’t stand a full email in-box. My office needs serious decluttering at the moment. And. it. is. BUGGING! me.

To complicate things further, I have a Beatnik within who will not be denied. Not the cartoony beatnik that says, “Daddyo” and can’t string a coherent sentence together because he’s so stoned, but The Beatnik brilliantly characterized by Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes in words that still stir my soul:

“The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way – a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in The Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America – beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction.”

“…unlike the Lost Generation, which was occupied with the loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more occupied with the need for it. As such it is a disturbing illustration of Voltaire’s reliable old joke: ‘If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.’ Not content to bemoan his absence, they are busily and haphazardly inventing totems for him on all sides.”

If I had been a bred-in-the-bone Beatnik instead of being born to parents who were fresh out of the army, maybe I would have a better shot at attaining what Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of The Ingenuity Gap, describes as “a prospective mind” – a mind that is never surprised by surprise, a mind with the capacity to respond nimbly to possibilities, a mind that allows us to see the world, not as machines, but as a series of complex systems. According to Homer-Dixon, a person with a prospective mind is comfortable with mess, whereas a person who is focused on efficiency and getting rid of waste is anti-creative.

Penelope Green, author of “Saying Yes to Mess,” agrees with him, saying, “Studies are piling up that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds.”

That should be good news for me, given the state of my desk at the moment, but The Neatnik, who loves order, harmony, and beauty, is distressed by the unruly heaps of uncategorized papers, the unsorted in-basket, the notes I can’t find, the projects I won’t be getting to any time soon. Don’t order, harmony, and beauty have a place in The Creative Universe?

Yes! After a tortured lifetime of monkey in the middle between Inspired Beatnik and Nerdy Neatnik, I came across the following words by Eric Maisel in Coaching the Artist Within: “When a person opts for the fully creative life…one of the most important things she must do is refuse to take sides with dualities like process and product, simplicity and complexity, discipline and flexibility, and so on…Then she can become a holistic creator, someone who has learned not to arbitrarily and defensively exclude options.”

Eureka! The wisdom of embracing opposites and honoring their respective roles in the creative process applies equally to the duality, order and messiness. I don’t have to choose one over the other! This messy phase I’ve been in has contributed to a fruitful and exciting time of imagining new possibilities for the book I’m working on, for generating new ways I can serve my clients as a contract writer, and for developing my new business as a creativity coach. When I bring order to my workspace (tomorrow, I promise!), I will be better able to follow through on those ideas and make them a reality. I will have inadvertently followed the advice of Beat poet, Gregory Corso: “If you have a choice of two things and can’t decide, take both.”

The essential lesson that I’m discovering – especially now that I’m reflecting more deeply on the creative process as a fledgling creativity coach – is the need for mindfulness and fluidity in our creative pursuits. Rather than being slaves to a habitual approach or way of being, we can choose what will serve us best in the moment. Yesterday when I was hurrying home with my groceries, I got an idea for my book. The Neatnik urged me to get home and note it in its rightful place in the appropriate computer file, which never works because the idea will have evaporated (I’ve listened often enough to The Neatnik to know), but The Beatnik urged me to stop, find a place to sit, put down the groceries, borrow a napkin and a pencil from strangers and, in the words of Jack Kerouac, “Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.” I listened to The Beatnik, wrote down the idea, and then went home and heeded The Neatnik’s command to copy it into my computer file before the napkin gets lost in the laundry.

Maybe it wasn’t a mistake in shipping. Maybe the task of transcending this duality was Divinely inspired.

“Mercy imposes no conditions. And lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we rejected. For mercy and truth are met together. And righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.” (General Lorens Lowenhelm from the film, Babette’s Feast)

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