I listened to a podcast last week that I’ve been thinking about ever since. It was an episode of Magic Lessons (Season 1, Episode 10) in which Elizabeth Gilbert talks to the humorist John Hodgman about creativity and trying new things.
Hodgman explains that at a friend’s prompting, he scheduled a series of weekly shows at a small theater in Brooklyn. Every show morning, he would wake up to the realization that he had no material for that evening’s performance. So he’d sit down and write everything that had happened to him in the previous week, and by the end of the day he had enough material for a show and possibly also stories that he could use elsewhere. Having a deadline forced him to recall the previous week and essentially pull out all the good (or bad, or funny) stuff.
This is the quote that really stood out to me (this section of the conversation begins around minute 15:00):
Knowing what you’re interested in, knowing what you care about, knowing what you like–these are not easy things to know. You think they’re easy to know, but it takes a while to say, “Why am I still thinking about this day? What was it about this day? What was it about this encounter with this person?” That’s what a deadline does for you.
I think that even without the deadline, we all have that experience of a person, conversation, situation, or image sticking with us long past the moment, something our mind keeps circling back on. An idea that struck us in just such a way and took hold, even if we aren’t quite sure how or why. There have been times that I’ve spent weeks ruminating on something I’d never thought of before, a thought that follows me while I cook and shop and go for walks and talk to other friends.
Do you ever have that? Have you ever been surprised that your mind keeps circling back on something that you encountered only by chance, or was mentioned but briefly? After listening to this conversation with John Hodgman, I keep thinking about his statement, wondering if and how it relates to my post about passion and curiosity. I’ve also been thinking back on years of wonderful conversations with strangers and friends, those particular conversations that grab you by the shoulders and force you to look at something you’ve never seen before or that you’re just now seeing in a new way.
I’m so curious to know what you think about Hodgman’s statement. When was the last time something struck you in the way he’s talking about?
Photo by Bethany Newman.