by A. J. Jacobs
Real Simple Magazine
I’m in the middle of a month long project to see if I can reignite my creative spark. I’m a writer, so creativity is part of my job description. But in the last few years I’ve started to worry that my middle-aged brain is ossifying. And as I’ve discovered, continued creativity may be crucial not just for my livelihood but for my longevity, too.
A 2006 George Washington University study of 300 senior citizens found that creative activities, such as art and writing, slow the aging process, resulting in fewer doctor visits and better mental health.
A couple of days later, I enroll in a creativity class. This seems like an oxymoron. Isn’t it like taking a class in how to be tall or have a smaller nose? But I guess creative people are open-minded, so I want to give it a shot. I arrive at The Creativity Workshop, in New York City, for my one-on-one training with the directors, a ponytailed artist named Alejandro Fogel and his partner, Shelley Berc, a novelist. Berc asks me to sit on the floor, as a kid would. She says I need to be more playful.
My problem is that I’m too logical, Berc tells me. I like to analyze and compartmentalize. “We’re going to try to make you think less,” she says in a soothing voice. “Logic is important. But if it comes in too early, it ruins things.” Neuroscience backs her up: According to Jung, creative people know how to mute the volume on the frontal lobes (the buttoned-up, analytical portion of the brain), freeing the rest of the brain to make unexpected connections.
Fogel and Berc lead me through a series of exercises to help unburden me from linear, sensible thinking. I draw doodles with my eyes closed. I make up a story about 10 random objects, including a penny and a plastic lobster. (It’s a love story in which the lobster is really a beautiful wizard.) I feel dorky, but that’s my analytical side talking.
I pledge to try the techniques at home. The next night, I tell my wife that I can’t watch Downton Abbey. I have a date. Fogel told me, “Make an appointment with your creativity.” We can’t wait for creativity to strike us like lightning, he says. We have to build it into our lives as a discipline. My goal is to brainstorm article ideas about fatherhood. As my gurus instructed, I sit on the floor. I look around the room, at the towering lamps, at the underside of the table. This is what the world looks like to my sons, I think- Hmm. What if I wrote an article from the point of view of kids? Or, better yet, an article of kids’ advice to dads? It’s a lightbulb. Not the brightest bulb, but not bad.