“The male libido is like being handcuffed to a lunatic.”

One of my first Creative Directors, the advertising legend Siimon Reynolds, had a theory that creative ideas are out in the ether and our job is to attune ourselves to the right frequency to pick them up. He cited the phenomenon of many films with similar themes coming out around the same time; for example, in the late 80s there was a run of baby movies including Raising Arizona, 3 Men And A Baby and Look Who’s Talking. Siimon felt that the idea of comedy baby movies was somehow out there and multiple people people had picked up on it. It’s a similar theory to Trevor Beattie’s thought that “A great idea is like a £50 note on the floor in a pub. Anyone can see it and pick it up but only one person does.”

I bring this up because I was reminded of the theory of being attuned to ideas by a fascinating interview I read this week with Peter Mehlman, one of the writers on Seinfeld. Mehlman was talking about the writing process and how he came up with ideas for the show. Reflecting on the show’s focus on the minutiae of everyday life and the creative approach of its co-creator, Larry David, he said: “I’d look at Larry and the way that he was so in tune with his tiniest thoughts. Most of us have these thoughts that could be pure gold, but we’re not aware of them. We don’t think in those terms. I was trying to be aware of my own thoughts, and it went overboard. After one season, I went to a health spa for a few days because I was just fried. I had met this girl there, and eventually we started making out. As we’re making out, I’m thinking, Oh, it’s funny how every girl has got her own little kissing system. Hands here. Lips there. And then all of a sudden I was like, Oh my God, I’m observing my own thoughts in the middle of making out! That’s when I realized that this was going a little bit too far. I think by my fifth season, I hit a happy medium of trying to be aware of my own thoughts but actually living.”

To some, Mehlman’s Seinfeld-days perspective may seem strange and obsessive but I think it’s a great example of the way creative people need to be to produce ideas day in-day out. Our brains need to be operating on a specific frequency, constantly pan-handling our thoughts and experiences for gold dust. Anyone can have an idea and perhaps anyone can have a great idea. But when your JOB is to have ideas, you can’t rely on an idea popping up at the right time. Just as salesman are taught to Always Be Closing, when you need five ideas for a review at three o’ clock today and five more for a meeting tomorrow morning, you need to have your cerebral threshing machine set to constant.

For me, the crux of it is Mehlman’s observation that he managed to “hit a happy medium of trying to be aware of my own thoughts but actually living.” This is the happy medium many creative people are trying to achieve, especially if you have a family. Should you switch off? If so, how? How do you sit through dinner with your kids without hearing your 7-year old say something and thinking, “Hmm, that’d make a good ad”? In my experience, the best approach is to go hard on the brief during the day and then switch it to the back-burner after hours. Your brain’s still working on the brief, but like a render farm, in the background, almost without you knowing it. This enables you to live a normal live and to be ‘present’ for the important stuff, but also for the subconscious mind to be beavering away and to serve you up ideas in the bath/shower/bed/at the bus stop. It’s a strange way of living and makes me think that, in a way, creativity is as much a benevolent curse as a blessing. And the thought that creative people can never set themselves free from the search for new ideas and inspirations reminds me of Plato’s famous reflection on male sexuality, that “The male libido is like being handcuffed to a lunatic.”

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About antmelder
Creative Partner at DDB Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

2 Responses to “The male libido is like being handcuffed to a lunatic.”

  1. Love this blog Ant – I thought I was going round the twist – like in Fight Club –

  2. antmelder says:

    Cheers Annie, I know the feeling. I was reminded again of this when I read this bit in a Werner Herzog interview recently: “The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence. I have, over the years, developed methods to deal with the invaders as quickly and efficiently as possible, though the burglars never stop coming. You invite a handful of friends for dinner, but the door bursts open and a hundred people are pushing in. You might manage to get rid of them, but from around the corner another fifty appear almost immediately… Finishing a film is like having a great weight lifted from my shoulders. It’s relief, not necessarily happiness. But you relish dealing with these “burglars.” I am glad to be rid of them after making a film or writing a book. The ideas are uninvited guests, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t welcome.”

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