“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry”
– William Butler Yeats
I write this in the middle of a Writer’s Block. It’s a weird place to be in, or is it time to be in? Whatever it is, fact remains that I was galloping along at a fairly good clip writing my blog posts pretty much regularly when suddenly wham… it hit me. At first I was fascinated that I was actually experiencing the infamous Writer’s Block. Fascinated because I became aware that my mind was experiencing the absolute bliss of no thought no feelings no nothing, a state that many a spiritual soul spends a lifetime pursuing. Just plain old true nothing. Picture my mind staring with unseeing eyes at the white of a freshly opened Word document, fingers poised to hammer out a blog post. In vain. Once, just once, a thought entered my empty mind, and it was the electronic white that reminded me of the white of the paper that Robert Frost had stared at and when a teeny-weeny speck had scurried across the paper’s expanse only to pause and cower in fear when the poet had ‘idly poised his pen in air’.
This experience had ignited a spark of creativity that led him to write the poem ‘A Considerable Speck’. Very inspiring indeed. And so I had waited, a finger idly poised in air, for something similar to happen to me hoping that the white Word document would mimic Frost’s white sheet and attract a curious insect. It came to a stage where I was even ready for a cockroach to surface from the innards of my keyboard and stimulate some creative force in me with a wave of one of its extra long antennae. Again, in vain.
It’s a moot point, this impulse that ignites a creative spark. Now take the example of Place and Time, which I happened to mention in my opening statements. Or, as a particularly stuffy physicist would correct me immediately, Space and Time. Once, a friend, Milind, was a bit late arriving for a rendezvous. So I waited for him to turn up at the decided place. Waiting doesn’t worry me much since I tend to either bury my head in a book or look with academic curiosity at a world that can look quite quaint from a detached perspective.
This one time when I hopped in into Milind’s car and he changed gears to pull away from the kerb, he remarked, “It’s so funny that someone actually arrives late at a decided spot.” I didn’t think it was funny at all but kept my mouth shut, anticipating something more from Milind who exhibited a rather thoughtful demeanor.
“I mean, look at it. Two persons decide to meet at a specific Spot at a particular Time. Normally, nobody misses the Spot. What makes Time so special that it gets missed so often? These are after all just two parameters, right?”
I had laughed out at the sheer beauty of the thought. Two parameters, space-time!! It was amazing to see Milind’s mind make the leap from the topic of tardiness to the sphere of physics! To me, this was Creativity.
When the subject of Creativity comes up I am always reminded of an experience where I had to undertake a laborious process of dredging up my creativity. It happened inside a box of a toilet at Zurich airport where I was ‘transiting’ for six hours on my way to the U.S. of A. (low air fares have their own little pleasures…). I was going to one of the western countries for the first Time, oops, time in my life, and so was unfamiliar with many features that define that world. I had just finished my big job in the toilet. Now mark this. I was yet to get exposed to the systems that are installed in what the Americans coyly call a ‘washroom’. When I looked around to see where the handle to activate the flush was I couldn’t spot any! There was no flush tank mounted behind the pot. Picture my chagrin as I wildly looked round at the walls to spot a lever, a panel, anything that signaled ‘turn me or press me’ to a pooper but the walls were unmarked in their clinical whiteness. I even looked up with the hope of spotting a chain that turned a lever on an overhead tank, like the clunky metallic ones that I had grown up with in India. Nothing. The walls and the ceiling continued to be pristinely white, yes, White, without a blemish. Now, impressed as I am with the poet’s ability to be creative when faced with the white of a sheet, I told myself to be creative and think out of the box. Bingo! The flush must be outside this box! But then doubts assailed me. Will the makers of the legendary Swiss Army Knife place a toilet flush handle outside the toilet? By then I had started imagining a line of would-be poopers outside the toilet and my hyper-imaginative mind leaped ahead to visualise I exiting and trying to locate a flush handle somewhere outside on the toilet box and the first person in the queue hopping in only to be confronted by the gold deposited by ‘that Indian’.
Back to trying to be calm and creative. Would there be invisible electromagnetic beams that need to be disturbed in order to activate a flush? So I spent some time doing a slow-mo dance waving my arms and legs around. With only one result – a feeling of utter foolishness that suffused me. What have I not done? Where have I not looked? At the floor! And then I spotted a small black disc flush (English language!) against the wall behind the pot, trying to hide behind the elegant curve of the ‘S Trap’ waste pipe. I slammed the toe of my big hiking boot on it with a vengeance and whoosh! The relief I felt was way more than when I had finished doing the big job.
Speaking of relief, on that same trip, I was in Salt Lake City to catch my return flight. For a reason that we need not go into here I had decided to walk from my hotel which was outside the city to the centre of the city. I found that I was the only person walking, and I had five miles to cover one way. It was very strange, not to say disconcerting. I wondered what people in vehicles thought of me as I trudged along in my sloppy clothes and hiking boots, a lone walker. Closer to the city the traffic increased and soon I came at an intersection. I had been cautioned by folks about not crossing intersections in the U.S.A. until one has the green signal for pedestrians. So I waited. And waited. And WAITED. The traffic from each of the four directions had multiple turns and never once did I see a pedestrian signal turn green in any of the directions. I imagined with dread going through slow-mo dance movements or tapping various cobblestones on the footpath to activate the pedestrian signal. No, not that! In my desperation I finally began contemplating the perilous decision of stepping down from the footpath to seek enlightenment from a person waiting in a car for their turn at the signal when I spotted a man walk to the intersection. He was diagonally opposite to me. I watched him like a hawk as he walked up to the signal light post in his corner, bend down and press something in a tiny box mounted about three feet from the ground on the post. I saw the signal turn green for him after which he crossed the road. I spotted a similar box on my post and fairly ran towards it and saw a button there and pressed it and hey presto the signal turned green for me to walk across!
When I was getting ready to go on my first trip abroad, there had been no end to the tips, suggestions and advices I had received from all and sundry. But no one had told me about the little button in a box on the signal light post at an intersection or the flush-disc that lies flush against the wall at a spot located bizarrely behind the toilet pot. Maybe no one I knew had done the laughable thing of walking in an American city. Or no one had pooped in a toilet in an international airport. Or maybe they did and had not found the flush-disc and had decided to keep mum about it.
But that Considerable Speck of Frost is always on my mind. Insect Inspired Creativity. My strongest memories from countless encounters with insects in the great outdoors involve me jerking my arm spasmodically after sensing an insect on it or breaking into a wildly uncoordinated version of a Bollywood dance after feeling something crawl up inside my shirt or a pant leg. Not for me the serenity of a Wodehouse character who goes for a swim in the emerald lake of Blandings Castle and meditatively detaches a beetle from his hair after surfacing for a breath. But then there is an exception to all this, like there is to virtually everything in life. Creativity finally ‘came to me’ once as I was taking a break on a mountain slope sweating enough to attract salt-hungry creepy crawlies:
An insect on my skin
Gives me the creeps
Till I turn my head
To see a butterfly’s wings