Creativity and goofing off

Scientific stud­ies re­veal that not think­ing gives cre­ativ­ity a big boost.

That means do­ing some­thing that doesn’t re­quire much con­cen­tra­tion, such as go­ing for a walk or wash­ing the dishes, is more likely to res­ult in an ima­gin­at­ive idea or the solu­tion to a prob­lem than sit­ting at your desk strain­ing your brain into an acute case of constipation.

It turns out that the mind op­er­ates in two modes: lin­ear and cre­at­ive. The first, which most of us are in most of the time, helps us plan and ac­com­plish our day-to-day tasks and long-term goals.

The second is more of a free­wheel­ing state pop­u­lated by day­dreams, ran­dom ideas and off-the wall thoughts. Some call it goof­ing off.

It’s this free­dom from fo­cused think­ing that opens the door to cre­ativ­ity. It works best when the body is act­ive, and the brain min­im­ally en­gaged. So, walk­ing (alone or with a si­lent com­pan­ion) is good, scrolling through your so­cial me­dia feeds is not.

Throughout his­tory, fam­ous people have cred­ited non-think­ing mo­ments to cre­at­ive in­spir­a­tion. Mozart claimed he of­ten “heard” his mu­sic while on a walk, while Albert Einstein coun­ted on Mozart’s sym­phon­ies to loosen the cre­ativ­ity tap when he was stuck.

Unfortunately, our cul­ture and there­fore our brains have been trained to go, go go and we of­ten don’t get enough — or maybe any — idle time.

In a Psychology Today art­icle titled, “3 Ridiculously Easy Tips for More Creativity and Happiness,” Emma Seppälä suggests:

-Make sure you have some down­time every day

-Do some­thing dif­fer­ent, meet someone dif­fer­ent or read or watch some­thing different

-Play, wheth­er it be sports, or with your chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, or pet(s).

Those all open the door to a broad­er per­spect­ive and thus more in­vent­ive thoughts. In fact, re­search­ers say, di­vid­ing your day into fo­cused and non-fo­cused think­ing seg­ments is most pro­duct­ive. It will likely boost your mood too.

As George MacDonald, Scottish au­thor and ment­or to Lewis Carroll, once said, “Work is not al­ways re­quired. There is such a thing as sac­red idleness.”


On being creative

Some say be­ing cre­at­ive has to do with a person’s ge­net­ic makeup. Others con­sider it an at­ti­tude. I’ve learned that the drive to cre­ate can be a lifelong passion.

In 2013, I in­ter­viewed Ruth Dickson about her up­com­ing art show at the

Ruth Dickson in 2013. Image cour­tesy Comox Valley Record

Pearl Ellis Gallery in Comox, BC. Within the last 12 months, she had com­pleted nearly 52 paint­ings and pub­lished her sixth book. She was nearly 95 years old.

As a young moth­er liv­ing in the isol­ated com­munity of Sayward, BC, Ruth played around with her children’s paints and pas­tels. Later, when the fam­ily moved to Cowichan, she took her port­fo­lio to the University of Victoria and was ac­cep­ted into the second year of the art pro­gram. Eventually she taught classes in oil paint­ing, silk­screen and batik at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University).

When Ruth turned 90, she de­cided she’d lived long enough to have some­thing to say about her past. So, she took her walk­er and a ma­nu­script to a week-long work­shop at the Victoria School of Writing. “I was the old­est stu­dent they’d ever had,” she said. “But they thought my work was funny and in­ter­est­ing and were ex­cited about it.”

Ruth wrote the first draft of her books in longhand as it “helped her think.” She taught her­self to type and tran­scribed her first two, po­etry col­lec­tions on an old Remington type­writer. For later books, Ruth joined the tech­no­lo­gic­al age, not­ing that she loved everything about com­puters ex­cept learn­ing a new word-pro­cessing program.

Ruth cred­its her love of the out­doors and her rich fantasy life to grow­ing up in re­mote loc­a­tions on Scottish light sta­tions and the Canadian Prairies.

She was al­ways curi­ous and eager to learn but, due to the Depression, was un­able to re­ceive as much edu­ca­tion as she wanted. Instead, after mar­ry­ing in 1941, she vowed to learn some­thing new every year.

I dis­covered you can learn your whole life — and to nev­er be afraid to try some­thing new,” she said.

Ruth’s mem­oir about her time in Sawyward, BC in the 1940s. The paint­ing on the cov­er is her work.

In her mid-to late nineties, Ruth’s nor­mal routine was to paint one week and write the next. One wall of her spare bed­room con­tained a table and paint­ing sup­plies, while the oth­er was set up for her lit­er­ary endeavours.

Despite health chal­lenges in her later years, Ruth ac­cep­ted a com­mis­sion to cre­ate a two-metre paint­ing of a great white shark. She also par­ti­cip­ated in an hour-long Port Townsend, Washington ra­dio pro­gram shar­ing the story of how, as a young moth­er, she shot at a cou­gar sneak­ing up on her baby’s car­riage. And, when a rat made a brief ap­pear­ance in her apart­ment, she in­cor­por­ated a much cuter ver­sion of the un­wel­come guest in a baby sweat­er she knit­ted to cel­eb­rate the birth of a great-grandchild.

Despite our age dif­fer­ence, my in­ter­view with Ruth evolved into many emails, phone calls and vis­its over tea and cook­ies. She was a lively, en­ter­tain­ing com­pan­ion and will al­ways be an in­spir­a­tion to me on how to re­main curi­ous, en­gaged and cre­at­ive through­out life.

Ruth passed away in Courtenay, BC on March 12, 2021 at age 102. Wherever her spir­it has gone, I’m sure a paint­brush, note­book and com­puter are close at hand.

When You’re 97 is a col­lec­tion of hu­mor­ous draw­ings and com­ments Ruth cre­ated as a light­hearted look at the chal­lenges of grow­ing old.

Fossilized wolf pup sheds light on wolf migration

When Neil Loveless found a tiny, fos­sil­ized body com­plete with head, tail, fur and skin thaw­ing in per­ma­frost, he thought it was a dog. Although it was not the pre­cious met­al the gold miner was look­ing for, he stored it in a freez­er un­til a pa­le­on­to­lo­gist could check it out.

The re­mains, now iden­ti­fied as a Pleistocene gray wolf pup about sev­en weeks old, were found in the Klondike gold fields of the Canadian Yukon. The fe­male pup lived and died on the an­ces­tral land of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, who have a cul­tur­al and spir­itu­al re­la­tion­ship with wolves. The little pup was named Zhùr, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in word for wolf.

It’s rare to find fos­sil­ized mam­mals from an­cient times, es­pe­cially one as in­tact as Zhùr. Scientific stud­ies con­duc­ted since the dis­cov­ery in 2016, re­veal that Zhùr ate a diet rich in fish, not the more tra­di­tion­al fare of muskox or cari­bou. The fish were prob­ably caught in the nearby Klondike River by her moth­er or oth­er mem­bers of the pack.

Zhùr was old enough to ven­ture out­side the den, was well nour­ished, showed no sign of dis­ease and her re­mains did not ap­pear to have been dis­turbed by pred­at­ors or scav­engers. Scientists spec­u­late that the young wolf died in­side the den when the roof col­lapsed suddenly.

Other fos­sil­ized wolf re­mains have been found in north­ern climes such as Siberia but Zhùr’s is the most com­plete, miss­ing only the eyes. And the ap­prox­im­ately 56,000-year-old body provides tan­tal­iz­ing clues to the move­ment and evol­u­tion of wolves in North America.

Over the years, there have been nu­mer­ous the­or­ies re­gard­ing the mi­gra­tion of wolves between Europe and North America. Genetic tests show that when alive, Zhùr was closely re­lated to ice age wolves in­hab­it­ing Europe but not with wolves found in North America where she lived. Her mum­mi­fied body provides a vi­tal clue to a sig­ni­fic­ant change in the pop­u­la­tion dy­nam­ic of grey wolves in Canada at the end of the ice age.

Due to its sci­entif­ic and cul­tur­al im­port­ance, Zhùr’s body has been ac­cep­ted by the Canadian Conservation Institute and is now on dis­play in an ex­hib­it at the Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse.

Feature photo cour­tesy Yukon Government 


The Wolf Moon

The first full moon of the year ap­pears in the heart of winter. And, de­pend­ing on loc­a­tion and cul­ture, it may be called Frost Exploding Moon, Freeze Up Moon or Cold Moon. For ob­vi­ous reas­ons, my fa­vour­ite full moon nick­name is Wolf Moon.

It’s said that Indigenous people dubbed the January moon Wolf as the pred­at­ors could of­ten be heard howl­ing through­out the long, dark nights. While some people be­lieve the wolves are howl­ing at the moon, they ac­tu­ally use that form of vo­cal­iz­ing to de­fend their ter­rit­ory, com­mu­nic­ate with oth­er pack mem­bers or grieve the death of an­oth­er wolf.

Photo by John Cavers

Sometimes wolves seem to howl for the sheer pleas­ure of it or as a warm-up to the nightly hunt. Young pups learn to howl by watch­ing and listen­ing to their elders.

Although vis­ible for sev­er­al nights, the of­fi­cial 2021 Wolf Moon will ap­pear in North America the even­ing of January 28. So, grab your bin­ocu­lars or tele­scope and look up.

And speak­ing of look­ing up, the reas­on people think wolves howl at the moon is that, wheth­er they’re sit­ting, stand­ing or ly­ing down, they al­ways lift their snouts to howl. But that’s more for the vo­cal af­fect than any­thing in the sky.

Try it your­self by look­ing down and howl­ing and then tilt­ing your head back and howl­ing again. Not only does the head-back howl sound bet­ter, the angle of the throat and mouth also pro­jects the sound over a longer distance.