I’ve just spent a week in Los Angeles working with Greg North, (Zerkle) the director of my play, The Glory Road. I’m back home with a notebook filled with changes. Gramma K, an expert tailor, used to say “It’s easier to make a new one than to alter the original.” But for many reasons, altering is often the chosen route to completion of a creative project.
The computer isn’t the best thinking place for me anymore. I think elsewhere and come back to the keyboard to type. The real work happens while I’m walking around the village or on the ferry going into the city, or cooking or folding laundry. But when inspiration continues to avoid me, I have another plan.
I go in search of genius, hoping that the trip will start ideas flowing again. In the same way that reading biographies of overcomers opens a new window, so do these field trips. It’s uplifting to walk where genius walked and talked and worked. There’s always the possibility that if I stand where they stood, something might rub off.
I visit the workplaces of two undeniably brilliant individuals, at the Charles Schulz Museum, an homage to everything Peanuts, and the Luther Burbank Cottage, Mecca for garden lovers. Both are in Santa Rosa, California, about an hour north of where I live. Tours are a good way to begin, but guides by necessity deal mostly with the overview. They speak of awards won, of the subject’s ties to other famous people, of the place where he was born.
I’m looking for more. I want to see how they endured the days that were spectacularly nonproductive. After the tour groups disperse, I look for the minutiae that tethered each of these famous men to earth. Was he an early riser? How many hours a day did he work? What did he eat? Did he have hobbies? Who did he love? Who loved him?
I want to know, did the realization of his goals offer even a small degree of immunity from strife? Or did he bump into his own saboteurs; the insecurities and loneliness and even the near-crippling fears many of us encounter on the path to making something.
When we look at a creative icon who’s now departed, we’re always looking backward. We see a whole lifetime of output, an entire body of work. I want to know how he handled the chunks of time when things didn’t go right. So I ask about the dry spells.
Charles Schulz used ice skating and long walks to cheer himself. He built a rink near his studio and his visits there were a vital part of his routine. Every day he sat at the same table in the snack bar, ate the same food, and watched the skaters. Merchants at the nearby mall report that Schulz was a frequent visitor, not so much a shopper as an ambler. They grew accustomed to the lone figure walking around, deep in thought.
Luther Burbank grew himself an escape route. He took leave of his greenhouse in Santa Rosa and traveled the bumpy road to his experimental farm in Sebastopol to work and sleep in the modest cabin at the site. He walked and thought and wrote in his notebooks and on his way to developing the Shasta daisy and the Burbank potato, he also documented some of the days when nothing bloomed the way he had planned.
Charles Schulz said he was driven to make cartoons because it was all he was good at. It was his primary form of self-expression. Charlie Brown, he said, was the manifestation of his own vulnerability. At the museum, my favorite spot is the replica of his office. The renowned storyteller’s drawing board shows the physical effects of his labor and I am more heartened by its worn wood than by the rooms filled with acclaim.
Luther Burbank didn’t consider himself a visionary, but rather a hard-working scientist who kept experimenting until something good came of it. The museum in the carriage house adjacent to Burbank’s cottage is suitably informative, but I return to the tiny room at the rear of the greenhouse and to the desk where he kept his notes.
Both Schulz and Burbank fit my definition of genius. I can feel it when I’m in the places they once were. It’s comforting, on my own tedious workdays, to know that in the midst of lives filled with so many accomplishments, each of these men put great store by the one trait they prized above all others – discipline. They kept showing up. I can do that.
Ó By Anita Garner