“There will always be something quite miraculous about the imagination,” writes Jonah Lehrer in his latest book Imagine: How Creativity Works. This is my second recommendation in a four-part series exploring unconventional books to read when coping with grief.
With Lehrer, we are moved to inspiration. Like in Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z. Scoblic, my last recommendation, Lehrer shows us that creating imaginative, artistic work cannot only help others who are inspired by its magnitude but also our own imaginative dreams. Art can lift us out of the darkness by its revelatory nature and help us find a passion to pursue and explore that can catapult us back to life.
Reading Jonah Lehrer’s book was like finding the very words I thought but could not articulate; it proves a theory I’ve long believed that our greatest work can come from our darkest moments.
For me, writing about my mother’s death always made me feel like a behemoth load had been slightly lifted off my chest. Lehrer provides examples of great artists, from the likes of Bob Dylan to the ordinary heroes we’ve never heard of, experiencing the same exact catharsis.
As the story goes, Bob Dylan was touring like a rock star in Europe. He was famous and adored but never had a moment alone. When he came down with the flu, the silence brought him to a fortuitous conclusion: he was done with music. He said he didn’t even like the music he played.
When he returned to the United States, he packed up his things and headed to Woodstock, New York to be a writer. Two days of quiet led to an outpouring of lyrics and a short time later he was recording ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ a breakout hit that changed the sound of music on his record, Highway 61 Revisited.
Reading stories about battling depression or ruts followed by intense insight and creation are a sign that there is real value in the lows, which accompany dealing with incredible loss. Everyone expects to see someone sad after the death of a loved one; however, experiencing it can be frustrating and seem hopeless at times.
But Lehrer glimmers a light of hope on the situation: out of a tragedy and reflection, there can be beauty to inspire anew. He gives us the once elusive combination to unlock the blueprint to successful creativity like a guide to out-of-the-box problem solving strategies.
Through his prose, you start to envision a happier ending that starts with accessing your own creativity. The brilliant twist is that every suggestion he gives is simple. You won’t have to leave the comfort of your reading chair to start the revelatory daydreaming he prescribes.
In his book, Lehrer dissects the creative process in a way that leaves us believing we could write our own Highway 61 Revisited, and that a “rut” may not be the dreaded misfortune we assume it to be. Rather, it may encourage us to freely daydream and lead us down a road that, though dark, creates something beautiful at the end.
Lehrer empowers us with the ammunition we need to truly believe we are capable of extraordinary creativity and boundless insight even if we’ve never considered ourselves imaginative in the past. He breaks down the creative formula we need to design our own way to deal with grief and maybe become an artist in the process.
Perhaps my favorite passage was in the acknowledgements where Lehrer points out how important collaboration and constructive criticism is in the creative process. It’s easy to see a correlation between a passion project and a trying time like bereavement. It’s also admirable to see how the successful author idolizes the connections he made during the book and the support of his family and friends just to remind us we can’t go it alone.
You can find Lehrer’s book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Imagine-Creativity-Works-Jonah-Lehrer/dp/0547386079
Lauren Muscarella 2012