I have a friend who is an artist and I was with him yesterday. He was showing me his newest piece that he is working on and we got to talking about the creative process. I compared my limited writing experience with his painting and reflected that after I finish one post, I am constantly on the look out for what’s next. “Ah”, he said: “the artist’s favorite question: What’s next?”
So today I was on a plane and the guy next to me (in the middle seat) was big. He was shoulder, arms and chest big, not fat big. But he overflowed his seat and he and I played a constant dance with the armrest until we figured out that we would just have to live with touching unless one of us retreated and gave up ground. (Thank God he was wearing long sleeves.)
It all was fine till he spilled his Bloody Mary all over himself and over one side of me. His blue plaid shorts turned purple and my khaki pants were a kind of magenta. “Club soda”, I said, “let me ask the flight attendant for paper towels and club soda”. He apologized profusely of course and I told him, it was ok – not to worry, and even though I really thought he didn’t need the coffee, the book, the glass of ice and the can of Bloody Mary mix on his tray, it was ok and I didn’t want him to feel any worse than he did.
This is what’s next I thought. We tend to think that the creative experience comes out of extremes – deep pain/depression/sadness or profound joy/ecstasy/beauty. And it is in one or both of these polar opposites where insight and meaning are often found. But we learn from every experience, even those in the middle. What’s next? How you react to the unexpected spill. How you make another person feel when they accidentally hurt you. The measure of the people we are is probably impossible to calibrate. But I would bet that a large segment of the metrics is in the ordinary ways we react when the unexpected happens.
Life is filled with lots of surprises especially when you are surrounded by people. Find a way to be gracious and kind; it could have been the other way around. Accept how flawed we all are; how blemished the universe we live in is; how we are not in control, not even remotely.
I like observing how I behave in the ordinary moments (not that I am satisfied with all my behavior) – they may not make great paintings that will hang in the Met, but they just might make good people who can change the world.