A few weeks ago, as the semester’s final writing work loomed, as did some scary family health issues, I noticed the absence of creativity in my life. No artist dates, no evenings abandoned to paint, no spontaneous explorations of new places. Even my knitting production had fallen to an all-time low. Every ounce of creativity I had was going into my essays. A good thing, to be sure, but the rest of my life was beginning to feel a bit dry.
My son spends more hours than I can count building with Legos. I used to do Legos with him much more often, but in recent years I have left the building to my boy and his friends. One evening in the midst of the creative dryness, as he loudly rummaged through one of the bins of red, yellow and blue blocks, I plopped down on the floor to join him.
He was surprised and delighted that I was going to “work” with him, and immediately began his nonstop chatter. He adores Legos. He starts off by drooling over new sets (that cost hundreds of dollars), and reminding me which present-receiving holiday is coming up next. When he does get a set, he immediately works through the instruction book and builds the item without pausing once. Then everyone marvels at his skill and deft Lego-ing abilities. A few days will follow that include taking apart and rebuilding the set. After a few weeks of enjoying the completed item, the pieces will slowly begin to fall off or get used for another creation, or it will end up thrown into one of the massive Lego bins, where, piece by piece the item deteriorates until the original set has blended into the growing pile of color. By then, my son has moved on to some other creation, which he builds out of all the interesting pieces he has accumulated. It is in this new creation phasee where creativity is born.
He is an inventor, my son. In recent weeks he has made a snowball thrower, complete with mechanical throwing arm, his own version of the Ewok treehouse, without any of the parts from the official set, and a Christmas present materializer conveyor belt, for the elves at the North Pole. Perhaps I got my creativity from him, because when I sat down, and picked up a few Legos, I suddenly got lost within my own creative experience.
It wasn't “work,” it wasn't even building, it was creating. Pure and simple creation. Bright colors flashing, ideas swirling, and bit by bit piecing together something that was born from nowhere. I didn't have a plan ahead of time, I didn't know what to make, I just grabbed the pieces that looked pretty to me and started putting them together.
That first day it was some sort of windmill with an animal head, and a group of minifigures sitting around drinking coffee. The next day it was a companion set, with a minifigure on a horse, and a cow on a boat. By the third day, I was hooked, and my creating went suddenly and unexpectedly in another direction altogether; I made a tray of doo-dads. I sought out the tiniest, oddest, funnest pieces in a wide variety of colors, and pieced them into small, two to four piece doo-dads. The collection was a hit.
On the fourth day, however, came my masterpiece—a pizza and ice cream dispenser for positive alien-human communications. The being from each of the species can talk to each other as they look out over the field of wires, computers and gadgets that dispense pizza and ice cream (their different languages are of course translated by the computers). They each have walkie-talkies and phones, and can use this elaborate system to discuss important alien-human topics such as pizza, ice cream, and the ingenuity of the communicator’s creator.
It made no sense, and yet all the sense in the world; because it came from total creative abandon. My son has told me in the past that he sometimes loses all track of time and place when he gets deeply into building with Legos. I think he is describing getting into "the Zone;" That awesome place where the creative process takes over and reality falls away.
I experienced the Zone too as I built my alien-human communicator. The dry spell ended and I felt full of color and energy and smiles. And all it took was some floor time with my kid and his favorite toy.