Scott Adams, he of Dilbert fame, writes about his terrible memory and it sounds oh so hauntingly familiar:
In school, I could force myself to remember topics for tests, but it only lasted as long as the test. At home, we have a lot of conversations about what I might have heard or said at some specified time in the past and it almost never sounds vaguely familiar. Sometimes it feels as if someone else lived my life until this very moment and now I'm taking over.
The way I perceive the act of creativity while it happens in me is as a process of forgetting, not a process of creating. The mind is not capable of having zero thoughts, so when you flush whatever is in your head at the moment it creates a sort of vacuum that sucks in a new thought. In my case, that process of forgetting and then sucking in a new thought happens continuously. My memory isn't "sticky," so what comes in slides right back out in a nanosecond. Sometimes a new thought is worth writing down, which I either do right away or lose it forever. Usually the new idea is random garbage and it passes quickly, making room for the next idea. My mind feels like a slot machine that I can't stop pulling. Sometimes the diamonds line up, but not often.
Just about every Tuesday evening I play tennis with a group of guys for a couple of hours before we head to a local bar for a couple of beers. After reading this item on Freakonomics I'm thinking we should reverse that order:
The key finding of the new research is that the intoxicated participants solved more items on the Remote Associates Test compared with the control participants (they solved 58 per cent of 15 items on average vs. 42 per cent average success achieved by controls), and they tended to solve the items more quickly (11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds). Moreover, the intoxicated participants tended to rate their experience of problem solving as more insightful, like an Aha! moment, and less analytic. They also performed worse on a working memory test, as you might expect.
In the past I've found that if I happened to have a drink before playing – say on a Saturday after mowing the lawn I had a cold beer and then headed out to play a couple of sets of tennis – I'm generally much more relaxed and play much better. As a good friend once told me, my brain is my worst enemy on the tennis court, so maybe there's something to this concept. I'll run a little experiment and let you know how it goes.
I enjoyed this short film about creative people and their desks. I especially like the quote (I'm paraphrasing), "If a cluttered desk is evidence of a cluttered mind, then what is an empty desk?" Above is a picture of my own cluttered mind.
Desk – Music and Sound Design from Aaron Trinder Film:Motion:Music on Vimeo.