On Creativity: Anticipation, Regret, and Remembering Grandpa Earl

Very early in 2011, shortly after hearing of my grandfather’s passing, I thought of something Sir Ken Robinson said in his GISA 2010 keynote. In talking about creativity he mentioned that even engaging in remembering is an act of creativity. In remembering we “imagine” past experiences because, obviously enough, they are no longer occurring in the present moment.

I just returned from a four-day reunion with my mom’s side of the family, the quadrennial Monroe Family Reunion.  At our last reunion in 2008, my grandfather Robert Earl Monroe encouraged us to go back to the roots that we left behind at the 1973 Grand Tetons National Park “Jenny Lake” reunion (I was -1 year old at that time);  he wanted us to go camping.  There was consternation.  The younger generations, with few exceptions, are not a camping sort.  Families with young children rightly assumed that camping would would be more inconvenient than hotel travel.  There was a good bit of grumbling about the shift in reunion ethos.  However, they loved “Uncle Earl.”  His four older brothers having been deceased for years, he was considered the pater familias.  So, he got 95% of the family to do what it didn’t want to do.  And 18 months before the reunion he died. If you knew him, you’d know that not only would he have found that hilarious, but his family quietly delighted in the irony as well.

In the end the family greatly enjoyed their time camping in beautiful Asheville, NC.  Their fears, it turned out, were unrealized.  Some folks imagined that it would be worse than it was, which is to say, they remembered an as yet unfulfilled but potentially likely version of the event.  In their mind they created a vision that was prognostic, but in the end wholly different from what actually was.  They used creativity to imagine a scenario that did not exist, and in fact would never exist since the reunion came to pass in a very enjoyable fashion.  I happen to remember that some of these family members, during the oft-maligned “talent show” at the 2000 reunion in Branson, MO, openly declared that they “weren’t creative people.”

So as I remember my grandfather I seem to be taking particular joy in imagining my visits and adventures with him and in recalling the many stories he’s told me of growing up in a world that I can scarcely imagine.  But I don’t need to imagine it; I merely need to share in his remembrance of it.

I don’t mourn Grandpa as much as I dread the notion that our adventures have come to an end. And that’s a form of creativity as well: imagining a world that will never again come to be.  Even regret is a form of creativity, says Kathryn Schulz in her TED Talk Don’t Regret Regret?  If I want to spend some time with the self-proclaimed “Earl of Curmudgeon,” I’ll have to do it by remembering him. I’ll have to imagine him.

How can those among us claim to “not have a creative bone in our body” when we spend every day remembering, regretting, and wondering?  It is true, perhaps that these people don’t have creative output to show for it.  But that’s a consequence of not sharing one’s creativity, not the wholesale lack of it.

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