One of my all-time favorite movies is Empire Records. The film depicts the efforts of several high school teens fighting to keep their beloved record store and jobs while the owner sells out to the “man.” Anyway, one of my favorite lines in this favorite movie comes from the character AJ when in trouble with the manager says, “Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.”
AJ’s comments describe a feeling often associated with the creative impulse and the difficulty in defining the creative process. Sometimes ideas just appear…or seem like they do.
Sometimes I am simply amazed at the human mind and its creative ability. So perhaps it is ironic that I am working on a conference paper on the source of the creative idea when this realization comes around again. Yesterday I was at an impasse on my paper. I was stuck and could not figure out how to order and transition between various pieces of the paper. By midday I had largely put the impasse out of mind with the intent of returning when I was mentally ready to tackle the issue. I went to bed like normal. But I awoke (was I asleep or someplace in between?) and knew how to make order the disparate pieces of the paper. How does that happen? This is not the first time this has happened either. There are nights when I have wrestled in a fitful sleep with words and ideas all night…over and over I turn the problem. I awake with little rest and no solutions. And yet, in seminary when working day and night on my thesis, it happened several times when I was stuck on a transition point that the words and sentences came. But where do these ideas and solutions come from? What is it about sleep or the relaxation of the brain into dreaming, that allows for the creative mind to keep working?
I’m not sure…but I am thankful when it does.