CreativityCan you operate in the world using both incisive thinking and creativity? Can you do it simultaneously? Or must you do it serially? Are emotion and intellect trying to crowd each other out of our poor, overburdened brains? Is bi-hemispheric thinking possible?

Yes, I know, this is an over-simplification of the issue. However, allow me to present my situation.

For many years, I had long creative droughts during periods which were dominated by 60-100 hour weeks in business settings (my survival jobs.) In alternate years, when I was not earning any money at all in any straight job whatsoever, I found my most creative energy.

An Example

Before my second performance night for “Pinocchio and Carlo Collodi,” I got fired from a day gig at a trade show. Matter of fact, they even told me they wouldn’t pay me for the work I’d already done. Matter of double-fact, they told me they wouldn’t pay me back for supplies I had already bought for them, nor would they pay me back for my sub-contractors whom I had also already paid. What a wretched day in Silicon Valley.

I left the convention center and arrived at the theater worried out of my mind: that crappy, slimy, dung-heap of a trade show gig was our family’s only income for the month. Emotions pushed to the surface, everything raw, I tore up the stage.  The audience loved my work that night.

So, I ask my original question in a different way: does the state of being overwhelmed with emotion in our real lives allow us to explode creatively?

Or, perhaps, is it the breaking of behavior patterns that allows us to be our most creative?

Another Story

When I had a day job at IBM that consumed a glob of intellectual energy, required long hours and demanded a structured, professional demeanor, it was extremely difficult for me to be at my creative peak in the off hours after work. During that period, I felt that forcing myself into the professional demeanor for so many hours dulled my artistic instrument. After all, a businesswoman is supposed to be calm, cool and able to maneuver. She definitely should not be crying in meetings when someone rejects her proposals.

I was reining in my natural emotions and urges all day — I would have to stop myself from crying during meetings; I would stop myself from screaming at idiots. I controlled my behavior with an iron will. Yet, to be a good performer, one must NOT control one’s behavior. To perform, to interpret the emotions of our human existence, I must have my skin flayed off. I must be excruciatingly sensitive to every input. As the character, I must be able to scream at idiots; to cry at the slightest … well … slight. Discovering a tiny spider must send me over the edge into blithering insanity. As Medea, I must be able to murder my own children in cold blood just because I’m mad at my ex-husband.

So, is the breakdown between business and creativity, between social behavior and artistic behavior, between brain and heart, between control and openness, a question of emotional availability? Is it a behavioral issue? Or is it chemical?

Another Illustration

Recently, I have a hell of a time remembering anything. Those in the over-40 crowd like to joke about having contracted the middle-age disease called CRS (Can’t Remember Shit). Ha, ha, not funny. Memory failure affects my memorization of my lines; it affects my performance in job interviews.

“What was the name of the tool you used to edit these photos?”

“Um. Something. Can’t remember.”

So, I tried a nootropic drug called sulbutiamine that is supposed to be good for memory and object recognition. Soon, I could remember faces and facts a little better. But, I stopped writing. No screenplays; no blogs, no books, no poetry. I stopped designing jewelry. At auditions I stank up the room.

In further reading, I found that sulbutiamine, which inhibits the destruction of acetylcholine (a stimulating neurotransmitter) in the brain in order to increase concentration, memory, and alertness, also has been observed to negatively affect creativity and free-associative thoughts. Damn!

Seriously, a devil’s dilemma. Shall I allow myself to become so stupid that I can’t get hired in a straight job? Or shall I fix that problem and be useless as an interpretive or generative artist?

Long ago, I had a T-shirt that said, “I can’t decide if I should commit suicide or go bowling.” Is this the dilemma we working artists must contend with all our lives?

This article originally appeared on Reel Grok.


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