Posted by: Harold Knight | 01/04/2010

It’s the 11th Day of Christmas: please color inside the lines!


Years ago, My Friend Jim, a theoretical physicist, told me that one knows an equation is correct if it is “pretty.” Mathematics as aesthetic truth?

A few days before Christmas Day, I suggested to a friend that, because Christmas, New Year’s, and My Birthday fall within a span of ten days, he and I should have a celebration (a date?). He said of course! One caveat, however; it would have to be after my birthday. He was booked solid before then. When I think of his answer even now, I am stunned. Whether or not it’s the “Christmas Season” (he’s Jewish), one can’t possibly have a social engagement every evening for two weeks, can one? Who lives that way? When I asked another friend that question, he said he found nothing unusual about it.

You're Inivited

They would find my situation during those two weeks unusual bizarre. My birthday party was the only Christmas party I attended this year. As I recall, I had no other social activity that was planned in advance. I was in bed five minutes after The Ball fell on Times Square (11:05 PM Dallas Time). Three times I went out to eat with friends. Two were regularly weekly rendezvous, and the other lunch with the organ tuner who prepared the Goodwin Opus 1 for my party. 

I was not isolating. My brother and sister-in-law spent two nights with me, and we had Christmas Day at my cousin’s home. I was at church the Last Sunday in Advent (lunched with church people), on Christmas Eve, and on the two Sundays in Christmastide. Some might say church occasions are work related, not social—but that’s not what The Church is for me. I also attended my usual 12-step meetings (except Christmas and New Year’s Eves). I spent an hour of joyful renewal with Anne in her hospital room on Christmas Day. 

But a social engagement every night for two weeks? What is wrong with you people? That’s not an equation, pretty or ugly. Anyone who fills her time up that way seems to me either terrified of being alone and/or totally out of whack spiritually.

Remember, this judgment is from an odd duck whose brain misfires regularly, and whose depression can be debilitating. From an isolationist, a loner. So take it for what it’s worth. 

On the other hand, the rest of my equation is that I played the Bach Prelude in B Minor fifty times last week (yes, I kept track) plus practicing intensely for many hours on difficult passages; I wrote for two hours every day; I read a couple of scholarly articles every day; I painted my bathroom floor and prepared my home for last night’s guests; and I kept minimal track of friends and family on Facebook (I don’t know how that factors into the equation). 

If one knows an equation is correct by it’s being “pretty,” whose equation is more correct, yours with a social engagement every night for two weeks, or mine with few social engagements outside a rather full regularly scheduled routine creativities? 

Interestingly. . . we found that those respondents who generally were more active in cultural, outdoor, and hobby activities, and less active in mass media, social, sports, and travel activities were more likely to experience or use their leisure for its spiritual functions. (1)

From that, I assume that I am a very spiritual person (dripping with irony).

More active in cultural, outdoor—there’s a stretch—and hobby activities and less active in mass media, social and sports—I knew that—activities. The equation for experiencing one’s own private time for its spiritual functions. 

Ruth Richards writes about shopping for art supplies for kids at a toy store. She found 

. . . multicolored and exciting-looking instruments one can draw and write with—crayons, big and little, magic markers in regular colors and hot phosphorescent variants. . . . But then I looked for paper. I could hardly believe my eyes. There was not a sheet of paper to be found. Not a blank sheet of paper, anyway. . . .All one could find in this store was row upon row of coloring books. (2)


Inside the lines, please


Does the dearth (the absence) of paper, of anything other than cookie-cutter possibilities for creativity—of parties and engagements created by other people—surprise anyone? 

exciting-looking instruments one can draw and write with” “creativity”

I have recent evidence that creativity is necessary for spiritual happiness. This seems such a commonplace that I’m embarrassed to write it. But hear me out. For my party last night, I asked my guests to bring neither birthday gifts nor food. I had my reasons. First, I’m trying to get rid of stuff, to simplify my life, so I don’t need gifts; it’s difficult for all of us to believe, but the gift of one’s presence and company is always the most cherished gift we can give.

And bringing food. I had my reasons. Practically speaking, my apartment has so little space for serving that coping with extras would have been a hassle. I didn’t want to be Martha, bustling in the kitchen while all the good stuff was happening among my friends. I hate that! So I arranged a meal that was mindlessly simple prepared 100% in advance with no hassle at party time.

But nearly everyone asked what he could bring. And I know why.

In order to feel as if we fully participate in such an event, we MUST create something to contribute. We believe that’s a social nicety. What we do not understand is the importance of our everyday creativity. It is an absolute—got that?—absolute part of being human. Ruth Richards explains further in her rather complicated study that

. . . .we were able to consider innovative accomplishments in persons as varied (and as nontraditional in creativity) as an auto mechanic who invented his own tools, a person who specialized in ingenious home repairs, an individual who specialized in unusual gourmet meals. . . . We view such creativity as a fundamental, and broad-based, survival capability, which allows for human inventiveness and adaptation to ever changing environments. . . . (3)

Our need to create, to make something that expresses ourselves (no matter how “everyday” it may seem) is not simply social convention. It is absolutely part of being human. We must contribute to festivities, not because it’s polite, but because it is part of our “human inventiveness and adaptation to ever changing environments.” I must take a loaf of bread because doing so allows me to adapt to the ever-changing environment around me. 

None of that changes or demeans the generosity or kindness of gifting each other on important occasions. We know the equation is correct because it’s “pretty.” We understand that giving to each other, that sharing our creativity keeps us connected and helps us adapt to new experiences. We bring a piece of ourselves into the equation giving ourselves and others the ultimate pleasure of sharing this immediate new experience—the evolution of community, our evolution as full human beings. 

Perhaps I will write one day about the importance for me of my friends’ willingness to forego their everyday creativity. It’s a great deal to ask of a friend. Suffice it to say it was a remarkable experience for which I have no adequate everyday creative way to say “thank you.”

"exciting-looking instruments one can draw and write with"

(1) Heintzman, Paul, and Roger C. Mannell. “Spiritual Functions of Leisure and
      Spiritual Well-Being: Coping with Time Pressure.” Leisure Sciences 25.2/3
      (2003): 207.
(2)  Richards, Ruth. “Everyday Creativity and the Arts.” World Futures: The
      Journal of General Evolution
63.7 (2007): 501.
(3)  Richards 504. 



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