Albert Einstein once said, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
Okay, fine… I suppose he was a tiny bit right, at least to an extent, and I’m sure he said it with a chuckle or at least a wry smile. We’re a derivative species, finding ourselves inspired by things and then putting our own spin on them to make them feel more customized, and before we know it we’re taking credit for ideas that were never really ours to begin with. Even the most creative among us found the seeds for our stuff somewhere. Hell, if we’re being honest, I’m pretty sure I owe every word I type to Judy Blume.*
And look at this! Here I am, leading off my own writing with somebody else’s words in quotations. Whenever I think about all the stories in my brain that I want to get down on paper, it occurs to me that every plot has already been written. Person faces hardship and triumphs/fails/perseveres. Person meets person, person breaks person’s heart. Person goes on adventure. Person lives/dies. Hilarity/tragedy ensues. It’s all been told, really… so I suppose what it comes down to is the ability to recount an already-told tale in a fresh and interesting way. That’s my big challenge in the enormous sea of words out there to which I’m trying to contribute.
I’m scared to death that the things I offer will not only already have been created a thousand times, but that they’ll also have been executed about 10,000 times better than anything I ever could have done. That’s a paralyzing thought. Nobody wants to get up on a tightrope in front of the whole wide world with no net underneath them, claiming to be a highwire veteran, do a bunch of fancy flips and then splat. Splat is only sexy if you’re a celebrity and you show up on a red carpet the next day looking wounded but glamorous. Splat is only cute if you’re a kid. I’m neither celebrity nor child, so where my splat is concerned… well, I’d prefer for it not to happen at all. But even if it does, I have a few places I can look for answers. Thankfully for me, I’m fortunate enough to know some phenomenal folks with serious talent, to whom and to which I’ve been paying lots of attention.
And here, today, I’m giving away my sources.
First up, there’s Liz Sprayberry. Oh, she’s married now and has a completely different name… her business is Elizabeth Davis Photography, for goodness’ sake… but when I met her years ago, she was just Liz Sprayberry, who wore flip flops in the dead of winter and had coffee and optimism running through her veins. She still does. Even though we don’t catch up as often as we’d like, she’s one of my favorite people in the world. We used to work together in a grey and oppressive state government office, and in the evenings we’d sometimes go to the only genuinely crunchy coffeehouse in the tiny town in which we lived. It bumped up against the railroad tracks and played horrible music and always smelled like feet.** I loved that place, and I loved hanging out there with her and journaling and talking about boys and life and complaining about work. These days, before I take a photo of anything — my dog, a skyline, a meal I’m about to eat and want to broadcast to a foodie friend — I think, “How would Liz shoot this?” She’s a tremendous spirit and beautiful person who sees everything in a fascinating and unique way… and if you want to look through her lens, you can.
Then there’s Jessie Preza. This little phenom was by all accounts my first friend, ever. We went to preschool together, and my mom was later her kindergarten teacher; we ran in similar circles throughout high school and college and have kept occasional tabs on each other ever since. I haven’t seen her face in person in probably 15 years, but every once in a while we’ll reconnect with a quick message and marvel at how similar we turned out to be in terms of tastes and pop culture leanings. She runs a host of wildly successful companies offering her creative services — Poppy Blossom (photography), Nesting Shoppe (custom paper goods) and Nest Design Group (design, of course, and marketing). The girl apparently doesn’t sleep… which is amazing, since she has two kids, runs three businesses and looks like a million bucks. Garçon? I’ll have what she’s having.
I could go on for days about the people who inspire me and inform the way I work, and in future posts I probably will, but for now I’ll leave it at these two. To use one of Jessie’s favorite words, they both left the nest of traditional work life and made it on their own doing gorgeous and creative things without stepping on anyone’s toes, and I’m keeping an eye on how they do it. Maybe we all should, because damn do they ever glow.
Speaking of leaving the nest, here’s another quote that kind of hits home: “Nothing encourages creativity like the chance to fall flat on one’s face.” James D. Finlay said that. In truth, I have no clue who James D. Finlay is or was (sorry, sir… I’m sure you are/were a nice person and all, and I hope you’re living/lived a good long life), but I’m fairly certain he must have been a freelancer. And I sure as hell hope he had amazing and talented friends.
*and Chuck Klosterman, if footnotes or curse words are involved.
**the coffeehouse, not the town.