Yesterday I had the good fortune of being invited to a Nick Jr. offsite meeting to hear the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author Suzan-Lori Parks speak about creativity. It was amazing. Suzan touched upon something that I have been thinking about for years. I will try to describe it to you today as I think it’s very important.
During the Q & A, I asked Suzan about her experience writing 365 Days/365 Plays. This was a project in which she wrote a play a day for an entire year. That’s right, one play every day for a year. I asked Suzan how she was able to maintain her stamina for so many consecutive days of writing. As anyone who writes any kind of television knows, it’s very hard to stay fresh when you must produce work every day on a deadline. Her answer surprised me.
She said that as the year unfolded, she began finding plays everywhere she went. If she would overhear a mother talking to her kids on a subway, that would become a play. When she couldn’t think of anything to write, she wrote, Going Through The Motions and that would become a play. Life was full of plays and so, for her, the year did not actually require stamina at all. She simply wrote about whatever she saw or felt on that particular day.
This thought that life is actually overflowing with new ideas is one that I like very much. My friend Cathy Chilco talks about this philosophy in terms of viewing the world as a place of “abundance.” And my favorite poet, Walt Whitman, wrote about it this way in “Song of Myself:”
“I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and
each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face
in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one
is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that whereso’er
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.”
This all makes good sense to me. I don’t think we need to go digging about for our ideas (or God) the way that pigs dig in the dirt for truffles. But, rather, we must train ourselves to see that everything that is important (and unimportant) is actually right here for us every moment, wholly visible and available. We just need to shut up and stop checking our e-mails long enough to appreciate it.
There is a question that comes up very often when I speak to students and colleagues about creating preschool TV shows. They ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” as if there is a little hole in the back of my closet.
I always struggle to answer this question because the truth is I don’t know where my shows come from. But lately I am beginning to suspect that they come from the same place as Suzan-Lori Parks’ plays or Walt Whitman’s letters or anything else that human beings make. Preschool shows are everywhere. And if we sit still long enough, we will see them sprouting up all around us like colored mushrooms.
In fact, if you listen carefully to just one conversation between four-year-olds while they play with blocks or dance, I guarantee you will see such life, such imagination and such creativity, that you will never be at a loss for a new idea for a preschool TV series, or anything else, ever again.
There are stories everywhere you look. And there is beauty everywhere you look. And this is as true for someone who considers themselves a “creative person” as for one who does not. We are all equally endowed with the ability to appreciate the experience of being alive. And we are all equally endowed with the ability to create. This may take different forms for each of us but I promise it is there.
This morning Mary and I took our daily walk to Pan Latin for coffee and a stroll in Rockefeller Park in front of our building. There were yellow leaves sprinkled on the wet, grey stones. There were birds looking at us for something. There was the sound of the Hudson River moving its long weight east towards the sea as it does every single day.
And these things were as beautiful as anything else I have ever seen or ever heard. And they are everywhere. Look.