Trifecta of creativity

How do you measure creativity? Is it liquid so you can measure it in a cup or a bucket and carry it? Maybe it’s wind since I often say someone’s creativity blew me away. Or is creativity something solid that smacks you upside the head?

Three things that carried, blew, smacked me this week.

First, is the novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. I’d never heard of it, but evidently it was a big hit and all the talk when it first came out in 2014. Not her first book, Claire North made a name for herself after this one came on the scene and I understand why.

Harry August is born in 1919 and lives a life, then dies one way or another, and is born again on the same day in the same place in 1919. Crazy! Who thinks of this stuff? Evidently, Claire North does.

And it’s not just an interesting premise. The characters are vivid and remarkable, the conflict takes a while to unfold, but when it does it’s shattering and completely engrossing. North creates a world in which lots of people are reborn this way, living hundreds of years over and over again, many of them having a different outcome, but others having a predictability that gave the characters surety. They knew they might live to a particular age, die of a particular disease, survive a particular disaster … or not. I found myself thinking about this story throughout the day, wondering about fate and destiny and multidimensional worlds.

Reading time has been rare for me lately so I’ve been doing a lot of audiobook listening. On the way to and from work, anytime I was cooking or cleaning I looked forward to more of this story. Peter Kenney’s reading makes this one of the best audio books I’ve ever heard, with every character taking on unique voices. Harry August travels the world and I was dazzled by Kenney’s ability to take on so many accents. The American CIA agent is a particularly good one.

The second creative thing is actually an accumulation of creativity. On May 14 (tomorrow), I’m joining Ron Capps in a reading for the Creative Forces, National Capital Region Summit. Ron and I will be reading from a selection of works by veteran writers. The best part is, I was allowed to choose what I’m reading.

Of course it was ridiculously hard to select 60 to 90 seconds of stuff to read from various authors. It’s nearly impossible to narrow millions of amazing words down to just over a hundred or so each. I kept pulling books off my shelves and flipping through them. They were scattered all over the living room by the time I was done, and I had to pick my way out of the sea of books that were, each one of them, fantastic.

In addition to one of Ron’s poems called Ranger’s Rest, I’m reading words by Matt Hefti, Jerri Bell, Tracy Crow and Kayla Williams. All people I’ve met in the last few years and every last one of them remarkable writers.

As I was re-reading these works, shuffling through stacks of books and flipping through my favorite parts and fighting to stay focused instead of getting sucked into all of these great stories, I realized, after ten years of being serious about writing, if I had to read 60 to 90 seconds of words from every creative writer I now know, I could be reading for hours. They would be wonderful hours. I hope some of their magic will rub off.

The third creative thing is a music video. I’d been seeing all the buzz about Childish Gambino’s new video, This is America, on social media but hadn’t found the time to watch it. When I finally did, I felt gut punched. I walked away knowing I didn’t fully understand what I had just seen.

The next day, I watched it again and felt like I still didn’t fully understand it, and wondered if I ever would. I’d realized I don’t have all the references needed to get it, not 100 percent, but that’s part of what makes it so fascinating. It’s not just that there’s so much in it, it’s that there’s so much in it you don’t understand it drives you to reach out to learn what it’s trying to tell you.

These two images, the minstrel posture and the grotesque facial expression, happen in just the first 50 seconds of this four-minute video.  Put them alongside their references and you see there’s a lot to unpack. There are already millions of hits on videos and a handful of articles that are attempts to explain everything going on in this thing. They’re only scratching the surface –massacres, cell phones as weapons, apartheid, police violence, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. Like I said, I don’t have all the references, but I’m going to work on that.

We already knew Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover has vision. If his aim was to get people talking, it worked.

That said, after watching Glover’s interview with Jimmy Kimmel, and after reading the interview with Hiro Murai, the video’s director, I am horribly disappointed. It was clear Kimmel didn’t understand the song or the video at all and Glover didn’t do anything to help him or me. Glover seemed to say, it is what it is and it didn’t deserve further discussion. Mauri at least expressed surprise at the level of interest and that it had been so well received. Aside from that, their combined reactions are blase’, as if this was a project they simply whipped up one day and now they’re both surprised by the reaction. After hearing from the creators, who KNOWS what their aim was?

Creativity. It’s not something that can be bought or learned, and it’s not always celar what it means, but I’m awfully damn glad people have it, because the world would be colorless without it.

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