Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Scream -- An Incubation Exercise

I don't want you to think I'm the sort of girl who just sits around waiting for the muse to appear. I'm pretty disciplined. I have to be: I'm self-employed. But yesterday afternoon, after two nights of inexplicable insomnia, I quit. We had leftovers for supper, plugged in a DVD, and took an intermission for ice cream. Last night I slept well. Today I can think straight again.

I wish I could recommend a cure for insomnia -- or whatever is the culprit when you get the stalls. Sadly, that stuff happens and I'm afraid there's no way to prevent it. But I am working on building some habits to help me through the haze when it does.

One of them is a form of doodling. You've seen several of the creativity warm-up exercises I use that involve doodling. This one isn't a warm-up intended to boost productivity. It's more of an incubation exercise. I'll be writing more about these soon. But you can do the exercise even if you don't know the backstory.
  1. Gather your materials. For this exercise you need a half-gallon brick of ice cream in a solid color like vanilla or mint. Bill said he showed Annette at the grocery store the shopping list with "solid-color ice cream" and I think there might have been discussion about "what's she up to now?" You also need an ice cream topping, preferably Hershey's Dark Chocolate syrup.
  2. Prepare your canvas. Use a cleaver or a bread knife to cut a serving slab from the ice cream. Don't be stingy. Put the slab on a nice, solid-color plate. It doesn't have to be white.
  3. Doodle. Doodle on the ice cream with the topping. Dots, flowing lines, zigzags -- whatever. 
  4. Ask the question. After doodling, give yourself an incubation prompt. For me, last night it was this: "What's the one thing I want to feel more clear about in the morning?"
  5. Savor. Enjoy the moment, and the ice cream. Like a computer that's got stuff working in the background, your brain can be working on that question while you spend time with your family, watch a movie, read a book, enjoy the sunset, sleep.
By the way, the movie we watched last night was The World's Fastest Indian with Anthony Hopkins. It's based on a New Zealander who will inspire you with his creativity, resourcefulness and tenacity. Be sure to watch the bonus feature, a 1971 documentary about the real Burt Munro called Offerings To The God Of Speed.

A good reading companion for this movie would be Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. Crawford, a philosopher as well as a motorcycle repair shop owner, makes some very good points about the relationship between creativity and the willingness to try and fail and try again.

Now I'm wondering why I never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and if I should add that to my reading  list. What do you think?


Eileen said...

Just found your blog and am having fun reading. Always found your lectures at convention very interesting.

Donna Kallner... said...

Thanks, Eileen. It's always a pleasure to have your smiling face in the audience :)