George’s story: To be creative, start with what you have

creativity-and-new-ideasRecently I reviewed Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit.

Creative ideas come from all sorts of places, very often emerging from whatever we are familiar with. This isn’t rocket science. A dancer is going to express his own emotional experience in movement. A writer is going to draw on her own life experience to invent a scenario. As a songwriter, I frequently mine my own memories, at least as a starting point. I would suggest that a good song doesn’t remain in memory, but has something contemporary to say that draws the listener in, and then on, using the writer’s past to prompt reflection on life in a new way.

What have I experienced that is worthy of reflection, or sharing, or even action? That’s a good question to ask yourself.

In the next several paragraphs, I’d like to share the story of George’s creative journey.

George had three loves; comic books, engines and speed. His family lived on a plot of land big enough for George to drive on, long before he could legally drive on the road. Understanding an engine came easily to him; by his mid-teens he was a capable mechanic. George’s father, noting his son’s love for speed, bought him a two cylinder Fiat, which George described as having a motor “like a sewing machine”. George however, took this as a challenge and souped up the engine, as well as having a local workshop cut down the body, making it lower, lighter and more sleek. Driving a vehicle that was bright yellow, fast and unique, George was noticed about town.

School was not one of George’s loves. He was disinterested when present and had a habit of not submitting work at all. George was on course to fail almost every subject.

About the time school was drawing to an end, George, turning his lightweight Fiat into his driveway late one afternoon, was struck, side on, by another much heavier vehicle. His car rolled several times before smashing into a large tree, completely mangled.

Thankfully, George’s seat belt (installed by himself) snapped, allowing his body to be thrown through the driver’s window before the car hit the tree. Miraculously, although vomiting blood, George was in better shape than he looked, escaping with bruised lungs and some minor fractures. The little yellow Fiat was hauled away, passing along the town’s main street. A rumour started that George was dead; such was the wreckage, it was assumed George could not have survived if he had been inside. At school, hearing of his accident and assuming the worst, his teachers took pity on him. Instead of failing him, they allowed him a low-grade pass in each subject.

George’s convalescence left him in bed for the next four months, during which time he reflected on just how close to death he had come. He asked himself questions like, what am I? And, what’s going on here? He now ruled out racing driver as a career option, and deciding to go back to school, he chose to apply himself to Sociology, Psychology and Anthropology. When George returned to class, his friends noticed a change; he had become a serious-minded student.

Developing an interest in illustration and photography, George made enquiries about further study at art school. His father, however, refused to bank roll this, and so George, admitting defeat, enrolled at university, majoring in Anthropology. His father had not approved of this either, however, because tuition was free financial assistance was not required.

One of his friends then suggested George accompany him to sit the entrance exam to study cinematography at another university. While George was initially less than keen, he soon warmed to the idea because of his interest in photography. His father, while still considering the course a little too liberal for his liking, approved of the university’s reputation, and, seeing the possibility of a career growing out of it, now agreed to pay for tuition.

Engines. Speed. A near death experience. The meaning of life. And now cinematography; a means to bring George’s cherished comic book stories to life. When George Lucas dipped back into his own passions and experiences, the result, ultimately, was the Star Wars universe.

Creative ideas come from all sorts of places, but very often they emerge from whatever we are familiar with.

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