When I read Claire Burge’s book on creativity, I stream music from my 60s station. Sometimes the 70s. I was born into a middle place of sorts, on the landing strip separating the Baby Boomers from Generation X, and to which I belong depends on what government agency is defining the terms. This is the music of my childhood, though I listen to it now through the markedly older, wiser, more jaded ears of an adult who actually knows the meaning of (most of) the words.
If I’m honest, and I should be, I don’t just listen to the 60s and 70s when I read Claire’s book. I listen to them all the time. But most especially now when I read Spin because she calls me back to a time when those songs weren’t the Oldies. Harry Chapin’s boy hadn’t yet quite grown up to be just like him and Cat Stevens was first finding out it was a wild world. My babysitter Mrs. Illig sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with John Denver while she washed dishes at the sink. I poked at the mac and cheese on my plate at the table nursing childlike hopes that she would really go. And I didn’t care when she be back again.
When I read Spin, I make a practice of doodling in the white spaces, of coloring in the illustrations, and pondering these stories. Claire tells of her family’s Friday night ritual, a visit to her grandmother’s for hot cocoa.
She always taps the tin of cocoa. I can hear it, and that means warm cocoa is a few short minutes away from being inside my tummy. I hear the little pot touching the side of the ceramic cup she pours it into; I hear the tin being opened and the quiet means the cocoa is being measured out in her always-present precision. The slight beating sound: spoon whirring against ceramic side means that she will be appearing through the doorway any minute now. …
This is Friday night.
I recalled not Friday but Saturday nights, and pulled out details in my mind as I colored.
My dad worked in broadcasting when I was small, and I thought we owned every record ever made. If we didn’t have the song on a vinyl LP to play on the the console stereo, he still knew it and could whistle it like nobody’s business. Radio and record players took a back seat to the television on Saturday nights though, when my family gathered in the living room with popcorn and Pepsi (always Pepsi at the Willingham’s) for the Jackie Gleason Show. After Jackie was cancelled by the network, it was Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett.
I passed a chronological milestone a few days ago, one that gives me the authority to reflect officially on the good old days. I can now say with impunity that modern television can’t do better than these. That today’s bands have a lot of work to do to catch up with Don McLean and Eric Clapton. Hell, they can’t even keep up with The Association. I can say that now. I’m also going to say that I my best stories started back then, those that happened when this black and white world of the Oldies was just beginning to fade into early color.
Was the Saturday night family ritual orchestrated in the hopes that it would form an anchor in the the development of my childhood creativity? I’m guessing it wasn’t quite like that. Not like the way I color pages as I read them as intentional ritual. Not like the way I listen to a particular genre of music as ritual when I write. Not the way I spent a couple of hours recapturing these stories on paper every Sunday morning for a couple of months earlier this year, its own kind of intentional ritual.
While I don’t think I’d fully made the connection before I started reading Spin, I think these informal rituals of childhood did in some way form the basis of my creativity now. I think that’s the heart of the question when Claire asks “What family traditions have you carried over from childhood into your adult life? What traditions have you forgotten about that meant something to you?”
And some others of us, I think, lived in such a way that our childhood memories are marked by something other than formal traditions. But did we then have our own private rituals that helped us navigate those years even so, traditions that helped make the space for us to develop in the way we have?
Discuss Your Creativity Process with Us
We’re reading Claire Burge’s new release Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree together this month. Are you reading along? Claire shares delightful, tender stories about her childhood, followed with questions activities about the sorts of people we find most interesting (or that live in small black boxes), about the sensory experience of fear, about fascination and curiosity.
What activities did you explore? Did you find roots of your own creativity in your childhood experience?
Review the “9 Disciplines that Make the Process of Creation Happen Instantly” (Chapter 18). Tell us about one or two that have worked for you, or a new discipline you think you might try, and why.
What did you do on the pages of Spin to make the book your own? Perhaps you’ll share your thoughts with us in the comments, or link to a post you’ve written at your own site.
Join us for the full discussion of Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree
November 6: Where Do You Hide? (ch. 1-10)
November 13: Creativity Needs Ritual (ch. 11-20)
November 20: Chapters 21-30
November 27: Chapters 31-39
Buy Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree now and join us for our book club discussion