That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the construction scene in Good Will Hunting:
What can we learn?
Love people enough to upset them. Will is has a genius level intellect, a gift for mathematics and a rare eidetic memory. And yet, he insists on wasting his time working mindless manual labor jobs and drinking with his buddies. Chuckie refuses to accept this reality. He might be boisterous, but he’s not blind. Will’s failure to find a home for any of his talents is an insult to his friends, his community, his identity and his potential. And that’s the beauty of this moment. Because every artist needs someone in their life to initiate the shove, meaning, a delightfully disturbing moment that compels you make a massive change in your creative life. Will doesn’t realize it, but this conversation is his moment of conception. There may be a brief incubation period to follow, but it’s only a matter of time before he cashes in that winning lottery ticket and steps into the light. Do you have a figure in your creative life who’s willing to shake up your situation and keeps things in proportion?
Creativity exists at the intersection of belief and alienation. It’s the strangest thing. On one hand, you have to trust that there is a place for your gifts in the world. That you’ve been given your own plot of soil to cultivate, and there’s only so much available light to grow something meaningful. That’s belief. On the other hand, if someone feels fully at home in the world, they don’t need to make art. Life has to generate a certain amount discomfort and hunger and ache to get the pen moving. Without that thick layer of outofstepness, of feeling unhoused in a sense, what’s the point? That’s alienation. Andrea Barrett, the award winning historical fiction novelist, famously said that she writes about the world because it doesn’t make sense to her. That through writing, maybe she can penetrate it, elucidate it and somehow make it comprehensible. Will has the alienation part down pat, but he doesn’t realize there’s a missing piece of belief. He’s almost too smart. Too proud to realize the opportunity right in front of him. Chuckie simply holds up the mirror. What will you channel your contradictory feelings into?
Let the city crumble, but come home together. Creative personalities are hypersensitive to geography. Consider the lyrics of Angeles, the song playing the background of this scene. “I could make you satisfied in everything you do, all your secret wishes could right now be coming true, and be forever with my poison arms around you.” Elliot Smith wasn’t singing about a beautiful woman making love to him, he was singing about a big city making promises to him. That’s a different kind of relationship. One in which the physical landscape influences the mental landscape. I remember when wife and I first moved to a big city. Our friend who grew up here said, this city will feed you things that make you feel bigger than you are. She was right. Over the next few years, we saw firsthand how easy it was to fall into those kinds of identity traps. It could happen to anybody. Geography is seductive in that way. But the secret, I suppose, is setting boundaries. Deciding which parts of the culture are worth participating in, and which parts aren’t. What expectations are you precariously surrounded by?
What can we learn?