Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Repurposing and creativity

Yesterday morning at about 7 a.m., I was standing in the open garage trying to look helpful as the sprinkler repairman worked his magic on the sprinkler head I had previously duct-taped together. On a previous visit, he'd tried to explain to me the various types of heads and why it was important to get the right kind, but even in dutiful apprentice mode, I had obviously failed to repair the head, so the least I could do was to stand and watch as he worked on it again. To add to the confusion, the neighbor's new kitten, who looks like a mini-me for one of my cats, had gotten into the garage and was tearing around.

As I stood there, I saw the ancient rope hammock that had recently been replaced with a new one, one that wouldn't dump random knees and elbows onto the ground when someone sat in it. It was trash day, so I thought I would put the old one in the trash.

To back up for a minute: I've been trying to be a little more green and careful this summer: growing vegetables, setting up a compost bin, going to the farmers' market, not eating out, putting appliances on power strips and turning them off when they're not used, and, of course, basking in the alien-like green glow of CF bulbs. As a lot of people do, I also save paper and print on the back sides of drafts, although that has come back to haunt me a few times when I've had stuff copied for class and the unwanted text in the drafts, with a big X through it, gets copied by mistake.

As I'm carrying the hammock across the garage and out to the trash barrels, it hits me: this isn't a hammock to discard. It's a whole lot of cotton rope connected to two wooden poles. With a little effort, it can go from useless to useful. I was having a repurposing epiphany.

As the repairman worked on the head, I set to work on the hammock, cutting the knots (Alexander the Great and his sword have nothing on me when it comes to that), untangling the weave, and coiling up the pieces of rope for later use. I'm not going to rely on those ropes if I get the urge to rappel down a cliff, but they're fine for tying up tomato plants.

The thing that struck me about this experience was that the hammock had, in my mind, turned into something else: a worthless thing had become something of worth just by revealing itself as a collection of parts rather than a whole. What would you call this? Reverse synergy?

And what made this idea happen? Trying to focus on something that I'd already failed at (becoming a sprinkler head technician)? Being distracted by the kitten? Having to stand in place while watching someone else work? Being mindful about being more green this summer? The fact that I was holding rope and wood in my hands instead of holding words in my head? A combination?

As you've probably gathered, I've been thinking a lot about creativity lately, especially how to coax it from its elusive lair. Maybe looking at the components, the small parts, rather than the bigger picture is part of that.


Anonymous said...

I don't know about creativity but the going green impulse is to be applauded. (((Applause))) I've been having similar epiphanies lately as I look at my old habits of consumption and waste with new eyes. It's amazing how quickly certain practices become no longer excuseable -- like buying bottled water, for example. My partner's been laughing at me because I've been collecting cooking water (like water used to steam veggies) for watering the plants outside. But, hey, every little bit helps right?
BTW, I'd love to hear more about your vegetable garden -- that's a mountain I haven't yet had the nerve to climb.

Mel said...

kudos! for me this kind of creative reimagining is a lot easier when the constitutive elements are visible / simple -- rope is pretty obviously part of the hammock. So many objects and ideas appear to be more completely themselves and are harder to disentangle...

undine said...

Well, my rope/hammock moment is kind of a stretch as a creative moment, but it did feel like one at the time. Maybe it's more like what you're talking about--the new eyes seeing waste and consumption.

I'll try to post something about my garden, which is pretty pathetic this year. If there were a Sorry Excuse for a Garden Club, I'd be the president, but I'm trying.

Mel, I keep going back to making ideas visible. Someone mentioned programs like OneNote or whatever as a way to move ideas around in a tangible way, but they're still not as disentangle-able (not a word, I know) as rope and wood.