The Nature of Creativity - Part Four

by Heidi Kneller
Mechanical Engineer at The Payloads Concept Center, The Boeing Company

As in real life, a personal creative journey is fraught with hiccups. Even the best laid plans to become a fanatical journal-keeper will, at some point, be derailed by reality. In Part Four acceptance, and even expectation, of life’s disruptions and upheavals become more than traumatic – they become a tool.

Admit Fear

If you are not scared, you aren’t living. Fear does not have to become a weakness. Both admitting you experience fear and becoming confident letting it into your life, are not easy things to do. It certainly is easy to be so afraid of yourself that you unconsciously make choices that take you to where you most fear. Fear is the animal in us. It is being human that allows us to choose how to use it: harness it to survive, to be creative, or give in and let it take our choices away. Animals are not capable of being their own worst enemy.

I have done some very stupid things. When I think back on my single day, solo climb of Mt. Adams I really wonder what I was thinking. The weather was set to be great, I had a little bit of mountaineering experience, the route I was taking was non-technical, and I had been up the mountain previously. I set out after a full day of work and drove the five hours to the trail head where I took a little nap. In the wee hours of the morning I set off up the mountain. I enjoyed the climb and dawdled, chatting with folks, and basking happily in the sun. It was not until I had reached the top and the euphoria of the moment started to wear off that I realized just how late and tired I was – and how far from a safe night’s sleep. I did make it down, but just before dark and dangerously exhausted. I had not been equipped to spend a night on the mountain alone. Fear is what got me back to the car before dark. I proceeded to drive the five hours home which was probably more dangerous in my tired state than spending a night on the mountain alone.

Immerse yourself in foreign environments where your instincts are tested, your skills are challenged, and you feel deeply uncomfortable. Run amok over your own boundaries. Risk abject, debilitating fear and use it to store up soul food for a winter, and creative juices for a drought. Part of my fascination with diving has to do with fear. Some driving force propels all divers into an environment where the primary ingredient for life is blatantly missing. Aside from the majesty and mystery of The Deep, I am a bit afraid every time I enter the water. I take that figment of fear and pop it into my pocket but, like a hundred dollar bill, I do not ever forget it is there. The day it is not there is the day I should stop diving.

Diving around a grounded iceberg, Antarctica
Diving around a grounded iceberg, Antarctica.
Photo credit: Cameron Etezadi

When you admit fear, you take away its ability to sneak up on you and you outwit panic. When you share your fears with others, you allow them to do the same. Together you shine a flashlight in fear’s face and cry “Boo!” Most of the time fear retreats and you share a laugh.


Surround yourself with people who get it, and be patient with those who do not. Embrace Crazy and her entourage. Judge less. Some people just reek of fire and light – they naturally sparkle. Gravitate to these kindred spirits like the proverbial moth to the flame. Others are like glows sticks: the ingredients are all there, you just need to shake them up before they shine. Give willingly and often of those things, like compliments and smiles, that cost you nothing. In mathematical terms, a generosity that cost you nothing provides infinite returns. Ask questions. Listen, and be listened to. Let a sunset loose your usually tight lips, and spill your guts to a winsome stranger. Do that more often and prepare yourself to be the winsome stranger for someone else. Those who create easily owe it to others to be their awe factory. Be a comet. Leave a trail of light!

Let Go

Practice letting go. If it does not matter, do not make it. Forgive yourself when you misstep or you need to be ordinary: a temporary state of ordinary is not the enemy. Ordinary or extraordinary, be confident enough to be comfortable with either label. Be as forgiving with yourself as you are with others. You are not Atlas and the weight of the world is not your burden, so shrug it off carelessly. Do not carry a lifetime of baggage with you everywhere when all you really need is a toothbrush, sunscreen, and three ounces of liquid self respect in a clear Ziploc bag. (Oh, and a notebook).

Night diving is an exercise in letting go; it has to be one of the most surreal experiences on earth. Suspended weightless in a salty womb, I am aware that every sense and synapse has been tinkered with. To then deliberately turn off my dive light and disable what is my primary sense, my safety net, takes courage, but this is the essence of letting go. It is a willful release of what you hold most dear, with forethought and foreknowledge of the consequences. Letting go is the antithesis of instinct and yet, without being willing to do it, I so often hobble myself. Unless you let go, turn off the light, you miss the secrets of the sea. You miss how she phosphoresces when you stroke her. You miss hearing the pistol shrimp death knell as they cavitate their supper to stew with a genius of mechanics. You miss feeling the vertigo of space, an astronaut in Eden instead of the barrenness of space. When I am ready, I flip on my light and become a star in the constellation of the coral. I become part of a creation.

Not wanting to get out of the water following the final Clipperton diveLeft: Not wanting to get out of the water following the final Clipperton dive.
Photo credit: Randi Eisen

Celebrate every iota of progress. Honor mistakes, for they are only truly a waste when you refuse to learn from them. Play music that sets your duodenum dancing and abandon humbleness to unleash your inner hubris, just for a spell. Compel your cohorts to join you and acquiesce when reciprocally required.

Take Care of your Physical Self

A neglected body breeds a weak mind and a vaccinated soul. The most creative mind with the most creative spirit will fail to blossom if the health of the body is disregarded. Eat well and with forethought, rest deliberately, and sweat copiously. There is truth in the saying “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” It is impossible to enjoy the things I love to their fullest when I have neglected my body. As I age, I am reminded of this more often. Some sneaky extra pounds deflated my love of a good hill and affected my diving. They multiplied and chortled along with me over several years until I realized how active a roll I was playing in my own mugging. I am a better diver, climber, napper, kisser, musician, runner, giver, worker, and thanker when I am healthy in spirit and body. When I am physically healthy, I am a better creator.


Franck again leaves us with a challenge:

I know artists whose medium is life itself, and who express the inexpressible without brush, pencil, chisel, or guitar. They neither paint nor dance. Their medium is Being. Whatever their hand touches has increased life. They SEE and do not have to draw. They are artists of being alive.” (Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation)

They are creative.

Lest you conclude otherwise, I have nothing really figured out. I regularly and grudgingly shoulder burdens better buried, am brusque with folks, and tend to judge harshly. I am afraid. However, I am also learning to be at peace, that the puzzle in my life does not have numbers on the back. If I put a piece in wrong, the worst that can happen is that the image appears surreal for a few moments while faces are reversed in the American Gothic reproduction before me. I laugh, decide if I like it that way or not, and then move on. Learn to do the same. A puzzle may come with a box and a picture, but there is no legend for life.


Special thanks to shipmates and crews of the Nautilus Explorer, Professor Molchanov, and to fellow La Cusinga Biomimicers, as well as to my treasured kindred spirits who helped make this somewhat coherent. Thanks to Zach for the impetus and opportunity.

Chasing Capuchin Monkeys at 5AM in Costa Rica

Above: Chasing Capuchin Monkeys at 5AM in Costa Rica
Photo Credits: Heidi Kneller

Leopard Seal, Antarctica Above: Leopard Seal, Antarctica
Photo Credits: Heidi Kneller

Additional Reading

The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds by Jeanette Winterson
Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person by Hugh Prather
View with a Grain of Sand by Wisława Szymborska
I Want to Be by Thylias Moss
Gitanjali: Offerings of Song and Art by Rabindranath Tagore
The Prohet by Kahlil Gibran
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul by Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett
Mathematical Basis of the Arts by Joseph Schillinger
Fire in the Mind by George Johnson

Baby Booby, Clipperton Island

Baby Booby, Clipperton Island
Photo Credits: Heidi Kneller


Anonymous said…
Good evening

Looking forward to your next post

Popular posts from this blog

3D carving 101: Understanding Bits

Learn about Milling: The "Inside Corner" Problem

Shapeoko Upgrade - Quiet Cut Spindle with gShield and Relay