Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lego and the Well of Creativity

David Winkler LEGO Angel
"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."
~Michelangelo


Everything I have ever read, seen, or experienced - directly or vicariously - contributes to what I write. Every author I have read is my mentor (sometimes teaching me what not to do). Long ago, when I tried explaining that to one of my writing instructors, he told me that was derivative, unoriginal, uncreative. I wanted to throw my hands up in frustration.

Of course it's derivative - in the same way the gears are derived from the wheel. I was willing to accept unoriginal in the sense that all the best stories have their roots in universally held archetypes. (I was also being introduced to Joseph Campbell's work at the time.) Uncreative? Those were fighting words.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't excel in that class.

Stories often come to me at night, in my dreams, or in my attempts to unravel the cares of the day so I can sleep. That's when the bits and pieces of information, images, sounds, smells, emotions, jumble together and form new patterns. I liken it to dumping a bin of LEGO on the floor (an image my son inspired).

There are basic building blocks that vary only in colour and size, but not shape. Then there are the specialized pieces from sets. A few pieces from a Star Wars LEGO set, some Wild West and Batman pieces join the basic building block to create a new toy which - if I'm lucky - I'll be able to identify without too many clues. (A boy's ego is a fragile thing.)

In my case, I have surreal movies running in my head. The basic blocks come from who I am and what's on my mind at the time. The specialty pieces come from a favourite movie or book, last night's TV shows, childhood memories and random information I've picked up - like LEGO blocks underfoot. Most of the time the result leaves me thinking "cool but weird" (again, like my son's creations).

Sometimes I'll get a character or situation that becomes the seed of a story. Rarely, I get the shape of the story itself - like seeing an angel in a block of marble. Either way, the creative act is what you do with the materials, not the source of the materials themselves.


Self portrait with virtual LEGO