On Roller-Coasters

I love roller-coasters. They are awesome, plain and simple. Hop on one and you get to safely come close to death; to cheat him, as it were, and still walk away without having to give him your soul at some later date. Sure it costs a few bucks, but that’s cheap compared to being dead or losing your soul.

But here is the real reason why you should love roller-coasters: They are the perfect metaphor for your creative process.

What? you say. What are you talking about? What metaphor? What creative process?

Well I’ll tell you. You know that feeling you get when you’re going down the track, and you can see it drop away in front of you? You know, when your breath catches in your throat, and your arms grip the cushions (or your boyfriend’s arm) really hard? Its that part where your body is saying, “oh crap. I’m about to be launched into space,” but your face is smiling because your brain knows it’s only going to last for a moment. It is that duel reality part, where your body is saying one thing (Holy Shit!), while your brain is saying another (Weee!) that makes the ride so wonderful.

You see most of the time we listen to our bodies, and do what they say. So when your eyes see a car coming at you while you are crossing the street, you jump when it tells you “Watch out!” Or when you see a cute girl (or guy) walking down the sidewalk, your body says, “hey, check that out,” and your head follows. Most of the time this is a good thing. Its good that we don’t get run over, and its good (or at least pleasurable) that we notice attractive people. However, the problem is that sometimes the messages the body sends are not so good for us.

You see, your body will respond with the exact same fervor when it senses the danger of a car trying to run you over, as it does when it senses the danger of a new idea of yours being criticized by your best friend. On the one hand, the body’s response is helpful and appropriate, but on the other had, not so much. Mind you, your friends criticism might be hurtful (although probably not as hurtful as a car accident), but then again it might not. In fact, it might be helpful. And therein lies the rub. Unlike the black and white response to a speeding car, there are levels of grey involved with the creative process. But the body doesn’t know this, and so you get the same “Oh shit, we’re about to fall” feeling when you’re on a roller-coaster going over the edge, as you do when you are creating something interesting.

So here’s why a roller-coaster is so helpful to the creative person. Because it teaches us to listen to the “oh shit, we’re falling” response from the body, and yet do nothing about it. With the creative process, that “oh shit, we’re falling” message the body sends is crucial. Not because you are about to die, but because you are on the right track. It is your body’s way of telling you that you are getting to the good stuff. That you have struck a rich vein, and it’s time to dig hard.

You see, creativity requires risk. Sometimes big risk. I will even go so far as to say without the risk there is no reward. But your body doesn’t know this. When your are hurdling down the roller-coaster track, and fly over the edge, your body can only see the track drop away, and then quickly calculate the likely result. In other words, the risk. This is all our bodies can understand. It is what they are trained to do. This is why you hold your breath, and grip the cushions hard. Now it is your brain, on the other hand, that knows perfectly well your body will be safe (far safer then the automobile drive to the amusement park) so it allows you to smile even while your knuckles turn white. The brian knows the reward will come at the end of the ride, and doesn’t panic even while your body is trying to.

The problem is, when you start to do a creative process, your body senses the risk, and responds like it is supposed to do. “Danger, Will Robertson. Danger.” It senses the risk, and responds in the appropriate manner. If you are not used to this, you will sense this risk, and stop being creative immediately. The danger signal will overcome your creative impulse, and shut your brain down, just exactly like it will take over your thoughts to get your body out of the way of a speeding car. Alas, this is the exact opposite of what you need to do when you sense this risk, because the thing the body is of afraid of is usually the good stuff, the rich vein of ID, the mother-load of creative ideas. In effect, it is exactly as if your body is working against yourself, trying to keep you from being creative.

But this is true only if you are not expecting it; if you don’t know how to react to the “danger” signal your body sends. Once you know that the “oh shit, we’re falling” signal can be a positive thing (at least in terms of creativity) you can turn it around, and use it as a tool. It is a signal that you are on the right track. That you are digging down the correct mind shaft (yes, I spelled it that way on purpose). That you are going in the right direction. Yet to do this trick, you have to learn to separate what your brain is saying about your creative process, from what your body is saying. And that is not such an easy task. Which is why a roller-coaster is so darn handy. In a blink it does what no amount of thinking or talking can do; it separates the brain/body signal quite cleanly, and for very little cost. Certainly much cheaper than a session with your therapist.

So the next time you find yourself at an amusement park, ride the coasters, and dream great big dreams.

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