Coffee & Creativity . . .
What, you may well ask, does coffee have to do with creativity? Well, aside from powering me through many a late-night struggle with this blog, or trying for the umpteenth time to resolve an especially intransigent jewelry making problem, not a great deal. In fact, the title of this post refers not to the rich, dark caffeine-laden liquid, but to a device that was, for many generations, the primary kitchen implement responsible for its creation. Those of my readers who have attained “a certain age” will, of course, realize I am referring to the percolator. Before the advent of Mr. Coffee and the now ubiquitous Keurig coffeemaker, the percolator was the essential kitchen appliance (second only to that most venerable of tools, the cast-iron skillet). Percolators came in a seemingly endless variety of shapes, sizes and materials; from the mundane to the “futuristic” (this particular model was created in 1937), and from the commonplace (As I recall, it seemed everyone had a Corelle coffeemaker (made by Dow-Corning glassware) to the, shall we call this iteration of the coffeepot, “sublime”? . Percolators were everywhere. And so was the language of percolators. To serve one’s guests anything less than “fresh-perked” coffee after dinner was seen as a culinary “faux pas”. There was even a “top 40″ record entitled, “Percolator”, composed around the sound of percolating coffee. (Thanks to the folks at Maxwell House for creating the commercial that inspired the record.) Even women’s styles were “coffee-oriented” with then-current dress-and-hairstyles giving one a “perky” appearance. Anyway, you get my point. And that brings us, in a roundabout way, to the subject of today’s post.
I was reading an excerpt from Graham Wallas’ 4 Stages of Writing when the memory of a conversation I had with my brother, Mike, re-surfaced. We were discussing writing and I mentioned how often I found myself “blocked”. “Don’t force it”, Mike replied. “Just let it “percolate” for awhile. It’ll come to you.” After reading Wallas, I was struck by the similarities to be found in Wallas’ 4 stages and the process of brewing coffee. Wallas’ stages are, Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification. When you brew coffee, you select the grounds (or beans, if you prefer fresh-ground), add water, add the grounds to the basket (preparation), place the percolator on the stove, apply heat, watch as the liquid erupts into the glass knob on top of the percolator, paying at least passing attention to the liquid as it changes from clear to a steadily darkening, rich brown, (incubation), determine the coffee has arrived at the desired degree of doneness for your taste, (illumination), remove from heat, pour a cup and carefully sip the steaming, dark, rich liquid, brewed to your personal state of perfection (verification).
I was struck nearly dumb by the parallels. Without realizing it, I had been following the advice of one of the great thinkers in the area of creativity. But instead of using the stages in a cerebral, conscious-un- subconscious way, I was actually, physically following the 4 stages. It’s a near-perfect example of what Einstein termed, “combinatorial creativity”; finding unconscious connections in disparate activities. And here, gentle reader(s), is the result. I hope you enjoy it. I’m off to brew another pot of “creativity”.