Recently I gave a workshop in Paris on the theme of creativity. Ten people working together, eight nationalities, thirteen languages, quite a festival. (The photos above are from similar workshops in Glasgow, Paris, Porto, and Montevideo.)
Partly because of the subject matter itself, and partly because of my temperament and my pedagogical convictions, most of the workshop consisted in our playing all sorts of games: word games, grid games, singing, dancing, talking, joking, laughing, willingly making fools of ourselves, and generally having a good time.
Behind all the fun, however, there were important principles, existential questions, “meaning-of-life” situations, “who-am-I” and “where-am-I-going” episodes.
The better to integrate the existential questions, the creativity, and the good times, I had structured the workshop along four segments, each with its own exercises. One of the segments was called “Hyperlinking,” another “Theme & Variations.”
I had taught these segments in the past, and I had prepared the workshop’s materials ahead of time. But here’s the rub. Late in the workshop, someone asked me an eager and urgent question: “What are these exercises about? What are you trying to tell us with Hyperlinking and Theme & Variations?”
I was stumped. Suddenly I was like Wile E. Coyote when he realizes the ground under his feet isn’t there anymore, and he’s doomed to fall to his death.
My ideas, exercises, and games all start from an intuitive source, the workings of which are difficult to explain intellectually. An inkling, sometimes vague and sometimes delineated, enters my awareness . . . sometimes uninvited, sometimes beckoned by my needs or those of a student I’m working with. The inkling might include words, or might be a shape or form; the inkling might be a punchy little phrase that encapsulates a problem and proposes a solution; the inkling might be a fully structured original exercise, or a starting point for something that will unfold over days, weeks, months, or years. Often, the inkling triggers a “ha-ha!” in me, a pleasure tinged with gratitude as if I’ve just received a gift from heaven.
Yay! . . . except that the task remains of “embodying” the inkling, transforming it into a practical and useful tool that other people can employ to make a change, overcome an obstacle, or heal a pain. It isn’t enough to create the tool; people with whom you're sharing your tool need a sort of instruction manual so that they understand it all—the problem and the solution, the tool and the technique, the meaning and the importance of what they’re undertaking.
have an insight >> create a tool >> communicate clearly
When the workshop participant asked me her pointed question, I didn’t know what to say, as my inkling hadn't finished coalescing into an unequivocal form. Falling to the ground in front of ten students, ten paying customers with needs, wants, and expectations, I underwent multiple emotions in a matter of seconds. “But I thought it was all perfectly clear!” “But I thought we were having a good time!” “Don’t you love me anymore?” “Wait, you’re right—good question!” “I don’t know the answer!” “Someone, help me!”
And, seconds into my descent, I received help, and I started talking, or someone in the inner stratosphere started talking through me. There was some babbling to begin with, then I—-he, she, ze, Zeus!—spoke. “Theme & Variations symbolically means to get your mind to stay where it is. Hyperlinking symbolically means to let your mind go somewhere.”
I hadn’t thought of this formulation before. All of a sudden I crystallized information that I knew and didn’t know, that I understood and didn’t understand, that I embodied and didn’t embody. Thanks to the whole situation, thanks to the question and the tone of voice in which it was asked, thanks to timing and circumstance I arrived at a moment of clarity. And my student “got it” in a flash.
You can only do so much preparation; you can only control your life so much; you can only think so much before something other than thinking clicks in. Yes, it can be very uncomfortable to not know, and to not control a process or its outcome! . . . particularly in a public and professional setting. But, ultimately, what would you prefer: barren certainty or fertile uncertainty? It's worth falling (or, better still, jumping!) to the bottom of Monument Valley to find out.
©Pedro de Alcantara, 2018