Archive for the ‘creativity coaching’ Category

Get up, word up (stand up from the night)

It’s always nice to lay down your head at night in the belief that you’ve learnt at least one thing in the day.

So here we are at 10am and I’ve bagged today’s thing – just learnt this cracking new word courtesy of A.Word.A.Day from wordsmith.org.

“hypnopompic (hip-no-POM-pik) adjective

Pertaining to the semi-conscious state before waking.”

Being still to some degree hypnopompic myself (my most lively and creative time is around midnight), I’ll have to give it a few hours before I start trying to weave my new word seamlessly into conversations today.

Unusually, for me at least, in my horizontal hypnopompic state earlier this morning I’d composed a whole four-line poem Shelley-like in the pit. Like England FC playing away, I pretty much knew I’d lose it by morning. And I did. That’s the problem with hypnopomposity – it’s great for creativity but a bit of a bugger to bring to the light.

The C Word

twin towers

Walking into work the other day I was delighted to be confronted by a proper demo. Not just a common or garden demo but a demo by a full-on, fully paid up Cult. The Moonies were outraged by Channel 4′s indelicate portrayal of their romantic mass wedding in My Big Fat Moonie Wedding. I stopped for a minute to talk to a boy who said he was 16 but looked less and asked him why he wasn’t in school – apparently he was on study leave. Yeah, chin Jimmy Hill chin – some people will believe anything …and others won’t. So I trotted up stairs and my colleagues in the immediate vicinity of the pile of papers formerly known as my desk were talking about the demo. Michael Palmer, business affairs man and fellow wearer of Adidas Chile 62s (fast becoming the unofficial uniform of the department), came up with a fabulous definition of religion: Religions are just cults that got lucky.

A couple of days earlier I’d gotten back from New York where I was speaking at the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, presenting the Big Art Project to an international audience of telly-makers. I didn’t get down to Ground Zero (which I’ve never seen, haven’t been in NYC since before 9/11) but I was thinking about it and the absence on the skyline.

Just before I left for Noo Yoik, my very old friend Judyth Greenburgh was back in her native London for a few days sorting out her old pad in Camden Town. She now lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, California where we enjoyed a fabulous holiday stop-over the year before last on our way down Route 101. When Judyth worked at Saatchi & Saatchi, long, long ago before she headed West, her boss was a certain Paul Arden.

Yesterday morning I was at an engaging, lively facilitated discussion session on Blogging. It was chaired by James Cherkoff who I first encountered a couple of years ago at a New Media Knowledge conference at the Royal Society of Arts. Here is his Twitter picked up within moments of the finish by the organisation who’d employed him:

“I’ve just moderated a 4 hour session where I said four things and had to fight to get those in.”

Imagine there’s a salutory blogging lesson there somewhere.

So I’m walking out of said sesh at the Old Laundry in Marylebone and wander past the very cosy Daunt Books, can’t resist a quick pop-in and come across Paul Arden’s latest by-the-counter tome (the bookshop equivalent of supermarket check-out chocs). Since leaving Saatchi’s he’s been writing rather minimalist bookettes on Creative Thinking such as Whatever You Think Think the Opposite and It’s Not How Good You Are It’s How Good You Want to Be. When I was approached by some bizarre nascent outfit at ITV called Imagine about 18 months ago I read a couple of these to get me back into that zone (creative thinking theory) with which I hadn’t actively engaged that much since writing MindGym (with Tim Wright and Ben Miller). Arden’s latest is all about the Creator rather than creativity – God Explained in a Taxi Ride – and I was quite taken with the first page I opened it at – he suggested the best thing to put on Ground Zero was a big mosque. And I’m inclined to agree. And it really makes you think how thin on the ground Creativity is in political circles. I’ve no idea what Arden’s politics are and whether he’s of the ‘Labour isn’t Working’ era at Saatchi but you can’t help wondering how the world could be with a bit more left-field (whether left wing or not) thinking applied to the pressing problems (and opportunities) of our age…

Songlines

patti smith

It’s been a Big Music Week for me. After all the excitement of Madcap’s Last Laugh last Thursday this Thursday was marked by a fabulous performance by Patti Smith at the Roundhouse. I’m nearly on overload now – someone get me a wet flannel to lay across my fevered brow.

I’m a big believer in the importance of connections in creativity, as per the very first post on this blog inspired by Andre Breton on surprising connections. I had this fantastic text book at school in Mr Fitch’s English class – Paradise Lost, Books I-II (edited by John Broadbent for Cambridge University Press) – which was a real inspiration for me at a crucial age. I found a second-hand copy years later. As it says on the back: “The editors’ aim is not simply to inform on points of fact, but by indicating lines of investigation, to stimulate the student’s interest and to encourage him [this must be the boys school version] to find out for himself. Links with subjects not traditionally regarded as concerning ‘English’ are emphasised.” So the footnotes in the book, which make up about a third of the text, range from notes on flies/Golding/Sartre via 16th century polar exploration to Freud. Being taught about Milton also gave me a real love of language and its roots. One of the aspects of Patti’s performance last night which was most enrapturing was her obvious delight in using and playing with language. Her take on Smells Like Teen Spirit – one of those uncoverable songs, covered masterfully – reveled in the simple lyrics: A mulatto. An albino. A mosquito. My libido. She inserted stretches of poetry into the songs by others which make up her new record Twelve bringing an energetic new dimension to great songs – like White Rabbit and Are You Experienced?

Which brings me back to the connections, the whole place was radiating with them last night. She opened with Gloria which I’d seen Van perform just six days before on the very same stage. And perhaps Jim Morrison sang in the same round hall when he famously played the Roundhouse with The Doors in 1968, legend has it doing the longest encore of all time. Patti went on to perform Soul Kitchen.

She did a cracking version of Are You Experienced? with her trusty stalwart Lenny Kaye on guitar while she accompanied with her mad clarinet playing, which was perfect for the song, properly steeped in psychedelia, a direct link to Jimi Hendrix who played the Roundhouse in February 1967, and who Patti also name-checked during a climactic version of Rock’n’Roll Nigger.

Then there are the links to CBGBs via Debbie Harry /Blondie. To Kenneth Tynan via liberal use of “fuck”. To American beat poetry via The Living Theatre of New York. Connections radiating around that resonant space, 360 degrees of power (it was once a railway engine turning shed) and intoxication (an old gin warehouse) and performance for the people (home of Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42).

Last weekend my younger son had Symmetry as the subject for his homework. I was really taken by how he could see Infinity in the Circle without knowing the word or exactly how to express it – his words were more than up to capturing the amazing concept. I never got round to reading that book Songlines (every one seemed to enjoy it at the time) but I’ve no doubt that last night’s performance was the hub of a rich radiance of music, words and beyond.

Fear of Climate

Pink Floyd

What comes between fear and sex?
Funf
Geddit? Vier Funf Sechs. More of a verbal than a written gag i guess and one that probably appeals to the Modern Linguist in me (French and German with subsidiary Norwegian – but that’s another story). I’ve been thinking quite a lot on and off about Fear over the last few years and have a sense it’s a massively important subject.

Nick Baylis of the Well-being Institute at Cambridge spoke about it the day before yesterday at the Channel 4 Education spring conference entitled In the Wild, exploring informal learning from the starting point of the current state of well-being of children in the UK.

The conference got off to a cracking start with Richard Reeves, author of Happy Mondays, who writes and presents on making work more fun. Smoothly and entertainingly he presented a couple of graphs indicating that beyond a certain relatively modest point money doesn’t make you any happier (apparently the modest point being about the average wealth in Portugal) and showing the comparative duration of happiness prompted by different life events (marriage, etc.).

Then things really took off with a fabulously disheveled, natural, impassioned semi-rant from Nick Baylis. He spoke with great conviction about the way just keeping your head above water is the default state for most of us these days; how the pursuit of happiness (as per the constitution of the good ol’ US of A) is a misleading goal – it’s a question of living life well; how emotions are neither intrinsically positive or negative – it’s how we ride them that counts, pain and anger being rocket fuel for creative expression, by way of simple example; how loneliness (stemming from rampant individualism) and exhaustion underly so much of our being; and how at the core of all this is Fear.

One of the principal antidotes to this fear and isolation he identified as “Beautiful Partnerships”.

His study of Positive Psychology focuses on lives that go well and he encourages us to get better at living life.

“Beautiful Partnerships”. The distance between people within which they can touch, embrace, kiss – really connect. A phrase and space that were the inspiration and focus of the day for me.

A few hours later I found myself only slightly further away – about 12 to 15 feet – from John Paul Jones of Led Zep, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Captain Sensible of The Damned and the great producer of Nick Drake et al, Joe Boyd. A few inches to my right was my best friend from school (from the days when you had a few less than 864 ‘friends’). [The photo above was taken on a phone with no zoom - we're talking close.]

Before I get sucked into psychedelia let me swing by a man who loathed rock’n’roll – Frank Sinatra. He had this to say on fear: “Fear is the enemy of logic. There is no more debilitating, crushing, self-defeating, sickening thing in the world – to an individual or to a nation.” Ol’ Blue Eyes had some real insight (Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters is a recommended read).

Back on Planet Syd, Madcap’s Last Laugh was a tribute to Syd Barrett who died last year. Joe Boyd (whose Whitebicycles is also recommended reading) helped pull the gig together with added enthusiasm from Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders fame.

The connection, beside the circle of 12 feet and the Cambridge base of both Syd and Nick, is several references during the course of the evening to Syd as “fearless”. He was the experimenter and catalyser of creativity. Roger Waters appeared solo and said without the inspiration of Syd’s fearlessness he would probably have ended up as a property developer.

Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright also pitched up to sing Syd’s Arnold Layne. I remember being introduced to the Relics LP by same said friend on my right in our school daze.

Damon Albarn provided one of the highlights of an evening that still has me high after three days with a rendition of Words from Syd’s Opal record. At the end of the song he handed me the lyrics he had been using – which was nice! The Enfants Terribles were well impressed the next morning – they love Blur.

Among the gals, Chrissie Hynde was her usual charming, laid-back self; Vashti Bunyan had a delightful delicateness as she re-emerges into music (I only came across her a year or so ago at an IDEASFACTORY Northern Ireland workshop on music & film, thanks to Kieran Evans); Kate St John (who I first came across thanks to Van) provided spot-on oboe accompaniment on Words and one or two other songs; Martha Wainwright and her mom (Kate McGarrigle) did a fine See Emily Play, all the more impressive as the former had been on the raz since her gig the night before and the latter only learnt it a couple of hours before coming on stage.

John Paul Jones played mandolin (cue flashbacks to Led Zep 4) – I’m now in awe thanks to having had my eyes opened to the sophistication of Led Zeppelin by Chris Cawte, the Jimmy Page of the impassioned Letz Zep tribute band and the composer of the music on all my films and productions from 1993 on – I never fully realised how talented he is as a musician until I first saw him as Jimmy.

Captain Sensible clearly found Syd a huge inspiration and paid tribute with gusto and joy. Since my sid is more Sid (Vicious) than Syd (Barrett) his contribution was a thrill.

During the In The Wild conference I chaired a session including Pat Kane of Hue & Cry, who in talking about play and its importance in learning invoked the spirit of Punk. At its heart Punk had a wild fearlessness which has provided me and Pat and the Captain with inspiration and Simple Pleasure for 30 years (1977 was the Big Year for me thanks to The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and The Clash). Next time I hear See Emily Play I’m going to think Syd and Sid – a beautiful partnership free of fear.

Begin It

An interesting quote from Goethe which crossed my path today with regard to innovation:

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, a chance to draw back… There is one elementary truth – the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and many splendid plans. This is, that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one, that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it, begin it now.”

The Spark

Creativity is in my view an essential ingredient of Happiness so it will be a common theme in this blog – be it music or art, film-making or interactive media, it is rich in Simple Pleasures.

The other day I was at a talk by Matthew Bannister, formerly of Radio 1 and golden age GLR, on Creativity at the Rich Mix centre in Bethnal Green Road courtesy of Jez Nelson and Somethin’ Else.

A lot of the focus was on experimenting, taking risks and making mistakes – all critical to innovation and covered in The Blue Movie and The Green Movie which I made in 1994 and 1996 repectively. Matthew spoke a lot about Chris Morris and his uncompromising risk taking, using clips from Blue Jam. He also quoted a resonant piece from ee cummings about how difficult it is to be individual in a world constantly pushing us to be like everyone else. It makes me think of that Mordillo comic strip: “We’re all different!” “I’m not?!”

I think I’ve taken a few creative risks in my time – most appropiately with MindGym. My current commission, the mobile blogging bit of the Big Art Project, is fairly against the grain, I’ve had to fight hard for it so far – can’t wait to get motoring on it with Alfie Dennen and co.

OK, so here’s my Big Theory on Creativity, inspired by Andre Breton and the Surrealist Manifesto – one of the few useful things to come out of a Modern Languages degree. Creative energy comes from bringing disparate things together and trying to get a spark (etincelle) to jump (jaillir) between these two poles, things that don’t ordinarily belong together. Bread rolls and feet in Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. Narcissus and an egg in Dali’s painting. A mouldy spillage and fighting bacteria in the case of Alexander Flemming. Hollywood movies and implementing ideas in that lost gem The Green Movie – a connection inspired by Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty.

It’s all about making the Spark fly.

 

The value of the image depends upon the beauty of the spark obtained; it is, consequently, a function of the difference of potential between the two conductors. Manifesto of Surrealism , Andre Breton 1924

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