The Creative Mind Part II

A good friend of mine gave a presentation this week on the value of the fine arts in public education. She pointed out a creative mind is an active mind where the brain is firing on all cylinders. She also drew from a number of studies showing that people who work in the arts are more empathetic than people who don’t. Many companies encourage the arts because they’ve discovered that employees who have a fine arts background work well with their colleagues. I believe it. Those who paint, sing, play an instrument, sculpt, and write are aware of their feelings, which in turn makes them sensitive to the feelings of others.

Allow me to shift gears a moment. Last night I read an online article concerning the mercury level in fish. The number of different types of fish affected and the rise of toxicity are alarming. Air born pollutants are the culprits. They go up in the atmosphere, get blown out to sea, and are consumed by the creatures that live there. It’s fixable. After all it was Nixon’s EPA that took the lead out of gas before we all ended up as crazy as Roman emperors. Surely if we can do that we can take pollutants out of our air and excessive mercury out of fish.

So why talk about poisoning the world in a blog titled The Creative Mind? First because I believe it’ll take creative minds to clean up our mess. I don’t know if the politicians get it, but most sane people realize we can’t keep treating our world like a rental car. Besides, politicians don’t lead; they follow. Frank Herbert said, “Bureaucracy destroys initiative.” Innovation and the will to make a difference traditionally emerge from the private sector.

The common misconception that people have is that they can’t make a difference. This is understandable, given for instance that recent political discussion in the U.S. appears to be dictated by a couple of billionaire brothers. On the other hand, as the Dalai Lama says, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” I prefer to think of myself as a lone voice in the wilderness, but I’m okay with mosquito if I can raise awareness.

Maybe I like doom and gloom. After all, I wrote a dystopian novel. Yet I truly believe we should be the never-ending story—the longest running drama in history where only the characters change but the setting holds steady. When I say setting I’m not talking landscape. Landscapes such as towns and cities and countries do change. The setting is this big crazy beautiful world. I am a part of her story as she is a part of mine. The world is my muse, and I love learning from her and about her. To paraphrase Eric Hoffer, it’s the learners who shall inherit the world while the learned find themselves fit for a world that no longer exists. The creative mind craves learning so it can refashion knowledge and truths in a way that touch people down to their souls.

A Little Background

Recently a colleague asked me what The Wastelanders is about. I gave my usual short dystopian blurb to which she replied, “Of course.” Now I have a thick hide. Years of teaching middle school will do that to you. However, her response ticked me off, though the moment passed before I could explain why.

I began The Wastelanders before the term Cli-Fi had been coined, before I’d heard of Suzanne Collins or Paolo Bacigalupi (looking forward to The Water Knife!). My colleague thought I was jumping on The Hunger Games bandwagon, of course. What I should have explained was that two very different people influenced the writing of this novel: Stephen King and George W. Bush.

Like me, Mr. Bush is a runner. In fact, one of my goals is to beat his marathon time of 3:44:52. I also respect that he overcame his drinking problem. Now I don’t agree with his politics at all, but he did understand that “action is a unifier.” The quote is Eric Hoffer’s from The True Believer. Hoffer also wrote “there can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.” In the years following 9/11 I read a lot of Mr. Hoffer, and in a way I have Mr. Bush to thank for that.

The influence of the Stephen King is probably more obvious. I had reread The Stand when I got the idea for The Wastelanders. Actually, my first title had been The Water Cartel, but my agent changed the name. At first I balked because it sounded too close to The Waste Lands, book three in King’s Dark Tower series, but I was overruled. I had also read King’s book On Writing in which he gives this gem of advice for aspiring writers: write the book you want to read. And that’s what I should have told my young friend. I thought it might be interesting to read a book about power, the nature of mass movements, the dangers of climate change, and through it all, love. Consider it my response to George W and my homage to the old master, Stephen King.