Where Ideas Go to Die

10 months ago | posted: 05-28-2023 12:00 AM

It woke me up at 2am this morning. It was the thought that a creator's biggest fear was being the place where ideas go to die. It was ironic that it ripped me out of peaceful slumber. Heart was racing with the idea and the mind struggled with what to do with it. Going back to sleep was not an option. These moments can be a blessing and a curse. Was it a dream or something speaking to me?


Yea. It sounds kind of strange because it is. Trying to figure out where it comes from is a challenge but the bigger challenge is what to do with it. This pestering idea that animated me is similar to thousands of other experiences over my life time. It comes with insomnia, restlessness, and compulsion of thought. It isn't just literary ideas or ideas about art. It can be about a programming idea or an idea about how to arrange the garden.


At first, I thought of it as obsessive-compulsive disorder but it didn't come with the need to create order out of it. Maybe the unconscious mind was trying to make order of it but my conscious mind was wanting to explore it. Could that be the same thing? Maybe. But in summary it was a realization of what creative people experience.


The American Psychological Association defines creativity as:


"Creative thinking refers to the mental processes leading to a new invention or solution to a problem. Products of creative thinking include new machines, social ideas, scientific theories, artistic works, and more."


Okay. Psychoanalysis aside - this makes sense but damn can it be a curse. Can it just go offline between 9pm and 4am? This brings the question of where does it come from. As of late my go to for questions is ChatGPT. Oh boy. If you are a creative person and have not gone down the ChatGPT rabbit hole, you are robbing yourself of hours of knowledge thirst creating curiosity. As a side note, trust but verify. So, I asked it, "Where does creativity come from?" It responded with a short dissertation. Here are the bullet points:


·      Imagination and Cognitive Processes: Creativity often emerges from the ability to imagine, think abstractly, and generate novel ideas. It involves making connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, perceiving patterns, and engaging in flexible thinking.


·      Knowledge and Expertise: Creative ideas are often built upon a foundation of existing knowledge and expertise in a particular domain. Deep understanding and mastery of a subject provide a basis for innovative thinking and problem-solving.


·      Openness and Curiosity: Being open to new experiences, having a curious mindset, and embracing diverse perspectives can stimulate creativity. It involves a willingness to explore uncharted territory, question assumptions, and challenge established norms.


·      Environmental Factors: The environment can play a crucial role in fostering creativity. Supportive and encouraging surroundings, exposure to diverse stimuli, collaboration with others, and access to resources and inspiration can all contribute to creative thinking.


·      Emotional and Psychological State: Creativity can be influenced by an individual's emotional and psychological state. For some people, creativity may be enhanced during periods of relaxation, positive emotions, or even times of introspection and solitude. Conversely, for others, challenging or emotional experiences may trigger creative insights.


·      Neural Processes: Neuroscience research suggests that creativity involves complex neural processes. Different areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and temporal lobes, are involved in generating ideas, making connections, and retrieving relevant information.


What stuck out most to me was in point number five. It was this, "For some people, creativity may be enhanced during periods of relaxation, positive emotions, or even times of introspection and solitude."


Being someone that struggles with a bit of anxiety – not the pill popping type – it makes sense. I've always thought of my anxieties as a motivator. Having social anxieties pushes me towards pursuing moments of introspective solitude to sort through thoughts and ideas. Similarly, anxieties experienced during solitude push me to spend time with others. If there is any OCD in this it is trying to keep the thoughts and ideas to myself. If you have ever had a discussion with me, you will know what I am talking about – HA.


So off to ChapGPT I went again. The next question to ask was, "what are the 4 things that motivate people?" It came back with another interesting response.


·      Achievement: Many individuals are motivated by the desire for achievement and success. They are driven by setting and reaching goals, gaining recognition for their accomplishments, and experiencing a sense of personal fulfillment. This motivator can be seen in various aspects of life, such as career advancement, personal development, or academic pursuits.


·      Recognition and Reward: People often seek recognition and rewards for their efforts. This can include receiving praise, accolades, promotions, or financial incentives. The desire for external validation and acknowledgement can be a powerful motivator for individuals, spurring them to perform at their best.


·      Autonomy and Independence: Some individuals are motivated by a desire for autonomy and the freedom to make their own decisions. They thrive in situations where they have control over their work, can express their creativity, and have the flexibility to set their own schedule or approach tasks in their own way.


·      Purpose and Meaning: Many people are motivated by a sense of purpose and meaning in what they do. They seek work or activities that align with their values, beliefs, and passions. The opportunity to make a positive impact, contribute to a greater cause, or help others can be a powerful motivator for individuals who prioritize meaning and fulfillment in their lives.


All of these makes sense to me but does all these things apply when my head is pounding out questions and exploring at 2am? Maybe it is the "chicken and the egg" thing. Is it the anxiety that creates the creativity or the creativity that creates the anxiety?


Often, I think that it is an overactive desire for point number four - Purpose and Meaning. To bring this all around full circle, it could be the piecing together of all these thoughts to create purpose and meaning. There is a great pleasure in experiencing something with great meaning and a target to focus on. Expressing the meaning experienced in something creative is just that – expressing meaning. It's the moments of trying to make meaning of a thought or idea that create the anxiety. Or a greater anxiety is having something that could offer meaning slip through your hands without any effort to hold on to it and explore.


One of my favorite writers is Edgar Allen Poe. His poem "A Dream within a Dream" seems to encapsulate the quiet desperation of the creator perfectly:


  1. Take this kiss upon the brow!
  2. And, in parting from you now,
  3. Thus much let me avow —
  4. You are not wrong, who deem
  5. That my days have been a dream;
  6. Yet if hope has flown away
  7. In a night, or in a day,
  8. In a vision, or in none,
  9. Is it therefore the less gone?
  10. All that we see or seem
  11. Is but a dream within a dream.
  13. I stand amid the roar
  14. Of a surf-tormented shore,
  15. And I hold within my hand
  16. Grains of the golden sand —
  17. How few! yet how they creep
  18. Through my fingers to the deep,
  19. While I weep — while I weep!
  20. O God! Can I not grasp
  21. Them with a tighter clasp?
  22. O God! can I not save
  23. One from the pitiless wave?
  24. Is all that we see or seem
  25. But a dream within a dream?



Poe wrote this poem two years after the death of his beloved wife Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe. Some believe that he wrote this about the sands of time with her slipping through his hands as she suffered from tuberculosis. It also poses as an expression of how it feels for something that is important to you slip through your hands. It could be something important like an idea that when expressed provides valuable meaning in life.


We all yearn for meaning in our lives. Our family provides meaning. Our friends provide meaning. Our children provide meaning. It is this desire to be with family, friends, and our children that motivates us to experience the meaning in life. It would seem that experiencing this meaning is what gives us purpose.


As a creator, I'd say that ideas are just as important in providing meaning. Expressing the meaning is rewarding and provides purpose. What is created by artists, musicians, filmmakers etc., speaks to us and provides us meaning. We work hard in life to experience things that have been created. If you are struggling with this, think about home much time and treasure has been spent experiencing art. It is this experience and the desire to create these experiences that wake me at 2am. It is trying the keep a meaningful experience from dying.  

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