Creativity: It’s a Silence Thing

So, yes, it’s true.

I (and 10 other people) had dinner with humorist, actor and writer John Cleese this week. He was lecturing at Trinity University, where my husband works. President John Brazil and his super cool wife Janice invited David and me to be part of the special pre-lecture dinner in their lovely home on campus.

Some people get nervous about what they’ll say at a dinner like this. I’m more worried about getting through the meal without misidentifying the floral-shaped butter pats as cookies. At the Brazils’ annual holiday open house I am infamous for derailing the choo-choo train that chugs around the dessert-festooned table. Crushed bull’s-eye peanut butter balls, spilled coffee, well, I don’t want to talk about it.

Let’s get to the important stuff: Here are some juicy John Cleese tidbits : he’s really tall, talks with an English accent, and does *not* do silly walks at dinner parties. He loved the grilled beef tenderloin with tomatillo sauce and the triple sorbet with fresh berries. He is working on a musical of the “Fish Called Wanda,” in which he would likely be the narrator. He loves Steve Martin. And I think he said he had a mad crush on Darryl Hannah, but I was sitting on his side of the table maybe it was Martin who had the crush. At any rate, Cleese’s current favorite work is Operation Lemur with John Cleese.

Though many suspected he’d have us all rolling on the floor, the truth is: he was soft-spoken, thoughtful, engaging, introspective. Like many comic geniuses, he is a man of great intellect who has a very serious side — and good manners. *He* asked us a lot of questions and pretended we were interesting.

The highlight at dinner, for me, was Cleese talking about creativity, the whole reason for his visit to Trinity.

True creativity, Cleese says, comes from the unconscious portion of the mind. For example, Cleese once wrote down a problem. He left it for a couple of days, and the answer arrived in his head quite naturally when he *wasn’t* tumbling the issue over and over in his brain. He lost a script and rewrote it from memory. When he found the original script and compared the two, the second was almost word-for-word — except, well, better. Cleese believes his brain edited that work while it simmered in his unconscious, safe from real-world, task-driven edit mode.

The only way to get those naturally creative juices flowing, Cleese says, is to carve out uninterrupted quiet space and time. No computer. No TV. No Twitter. No newspaper. No cell phone. “After the lists stop running in your head, things will quiet. You can train yourself to be creative,” Cleese says.

This reminds me of an interview I did a few weeks ago with Dr. Tyler Curiel, executive director of the Cancer Therapy and Research Center in San Antonio. This guy’s a genius and an ultra-distance marathon runner. I asked him what was playing on his iPod during those 4 – 7 hours runs. “I don’t use one,” he said. “That running time is when I work out all my lab problems. Any big breakthrough I’ve had in the research lab, has happened on those runs.”

I suspect you have had moments like this, as have I (the unconscious thinking part; not the genius part). And it is a wonderful reminder to give ourselves and our children space and time to just *be*. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of cracking the ice on the birch trees after a snowstorm, feeling the smooth petal of a ladyslipper flower or watching the polliwogs swim in a muddy puddle. When we are quiet and still, our senses do their magic.

Give yourself the gift of creativity today. Me? I’ve got to go scrub the salad dressing stain I got on my skirt from dinner.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt, used under a Flickr Common Creative License

~ by Donna J. Tuttle on April 16, 2009.

3 Responses to “Creativity: It’s a Silence Thing”

  1. What a simple yet powerful thing to remember. Lost deep somewhere in the recesses of my uber-busy, work-from-home-mom, online-24-7 life I’ve actually forgotten to be silent. And yet it’s such an important and necessary thing to do! Your post (and John’s comments) was exactly what I needed to jerk me off of the hamster’s wheel on which I’ve been exhaustively running. The only time I’m silent is during the (maybe) 4-5 hours of sleep I get at night and even then I never feel truly rested because my brain continues tweeting or blogging or Googling without me.

    I’m taking your post as my personal challenge to set aside time every day (OK, who am I kidding? Maybe once or twice each week is more realistic!) to be silent and to let my brain disengage from the multitude of tasks I continually thrust upon it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like a lovely way to spend an evening. And, I find that dishwashing soap takes salad dressing oil out like gangbusters! 🙂

  2. Great summary of last night’s presentation and your dinner with him. I wish I could have been at the dinner myself, the amazing amount of knowledge that he shared last night was impressive. I’m sure I would have sat there wide eyed while he spoke over the surely delicious tenderloin. And, of course, it was nice to see you and the family yesterday evening! A great bunch of Tuttles, indeed.

  3. Exellent article! I get it!

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