I was preparing to embark on a long trip into the Big Cypress Preserver in south Florida. My gear was in the back of my Jeep and I was cruising to check in at the trail head. As my last piece of music before going off into the wilderness for a few days I chose Gordon Lightfoot's Greatest Hits and was listening to the song Bittergreen.
Bittergreen is a touching song and profoundly visible. It's a song about a woman whose lover has gone on a journey and not returned. But she waits for him, though she was told he was lost at sea.
At the end of the song we see a lonely man crying into the dust that surrounds Bittergreen's grave. Her lover had returned.
This imagery stayed with me throughout my trek into the swamp. Without benefit of radio or any other modern distraction this one song played in my head, over and over. What kept this man from this beautiful and loyal woman? Where was he? Why couldn't he get back to her?
Other ideas coalesced around this central thought. What if? What if he left her for a reason? What if leaving her was the only way he could secure an ultimatel life with her? What if something went wrong? She didn't get his letters? She had no way to reach him? What if he was waiting for her in a distant land...America. What if he was an Italian who emigrated to America hoping to become rich, return to his home and win his love.
A novel was born...What if?
And this idea held me until, over 430 pages later, we understand why an American soldier, wounded during the first World War was kneeling before a grave in a remote Italian village. What if.
In analyzing the genesis of this, and in fact all of my ideas, what if is the seminal moment of creativity. What if a man living his whole life terrified of going outside is suddenly thrust outside? What if a boy in school is inspired by a teacher to defy the very school of which they are both a part? What if God told a man he was the next Messiah and then embarked on a journey of ultimate truth with that man? These are just some of the ideas that are manifesting themselves into creative expression. And there are others. Many others.
What if! What if we recognize that every creative act is the result of an individual thinking, or saying, what if? What if I could ride a beam of light, Einstein thought, and reshaped the way we perceive the universe. Every work of art, every invention, every word of prose and verse, every relationship, everything creative begins with the thought, what if. What if I talk to that girl...
...what if we lived in a peaceful world...
What if our schools not only allowed, but encouraged our children to ask this mystical questions and then run with the flood of ideas that flows through their fertile minds? What if we cultivated this power of creativity in all of our citizens, whether they are artists, inventors or mechanics, bureaucrats or school teachers...or politicians?
I'm sure that Gordan Lightfoot began his song with a what if. And then I heard the song and my own what ifs burst into my mind. Will someone read Stone is not Forever and what if themselves into a creative frenzy? If there is any kind of justice in the world, they will.
The strength of what if, the beauty of creativity is that it is dynamic, and universal and timeless. A never ending parade of ideas and actions that moves the minds of humanity. When one expands on his own what if he opens the door for another to ask the same question, and build on what has already come to pass. And she inspires others to do the same. The rationality of the postmodern world offers nothing to proxy the power of creativity...the power of what if.