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I Have No Idea
I was turning over the compost the other day, and it got me thinking. Specifically, it got me thinking about thinking.

One question that cartoonists can count on getting asked is that old chesnut “Where do you get your ideas?” This question may simply be a way for people to express their honest appreciation for your work. Still, the question is a perfectly good one, and it is entitled to more than a “thank you.” It deserves an answer.

Let’s be clear that the honest answer has to be “I don’t know,” but what fun is that? The questioners want an exposition on process, at least. At most, they want a full-bullshit theory of creativity itself.

Well, I have several varieties of bullshit to offer on that subject. Most of them involve how new, often remote, connections are made, because that is what creativity is. Those connections can be among ideas or emotions or facts or input from the senses. They can reach across disciplines of thought and across time. My theories dabble in psychology, but that’s just window dressing. Mostly, they come in the form of metaphors.

Deep sea fishing is my current favorite. In this metaphor, I’m relaxing in my little boat, and I’ve got several lines trailing behind it, all trolling for some kind of nibble. I might be thinking about anything at the time or just letting the boat wander. The work has already been done — maintaining the boat, buying bait, and researching where the fish are known to hang out. All that prep work is vital to the process of getting ideas; they‘re not going to just jump out of the water and onto your drawing board.

The prep work requires focus and concerted mental effort. That’s what the left hemisphere of my brain is for: accumulating data, applying logic, trying out different approaches. But that’s not where the ideas come from. They come from the ocean…once they are combined with the bait…sort of…and the hook is removed…and the idea is properly cleaned and gutted.

Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor. But I have a back-up. It’s based, not on the ocean, but on the sky. Lightning bolts, sunbursts of realization, ideas that come “out of the blue” — those metaphors all feel right, too. I do have a little trouble tying this metaphor down to the creative process, though. There’s no place in the metaphor for the left brain activity to fit in. I could be in a plane, I guess, taking in the long view. But would I just switch to automatic pilot when it was time to relax and let the right brain take the over? That seems unwise.

So I’m open to something new — like that compost heap. In particular, I like the idea of turning over the metaphorical compost of my thoughts and observations and introducing the little bits of garbage to other bits of garbage they’ve never met. Every time you add new stuff and turn it over, new combinations become possible. Then you sit and wait for the whole thing to, you know, mature in some way.

I guess. I’m not sure where the ideas come in, unless a plant just sprouts out of the humus. But in that case, where did the seed come from? This metaphor is promising, but it’s still going to need a lot of work. Maybe I should drop it off the back of the boat and see if it gets struck by lightning.

Or something like that. Hope that answers your question.

Please Note: Tim Eagan will read your comments but he is currently not publishing them.

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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon