[pypy-dev] i just had the book FLOWS reccomeenmded to me

Alex Martelli aleaxit at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 13 18:21:14 CEST 2004

On Tuesday 13 April 2004 02:47 pm, Laura Creighton wrote:
> In a message of Tue, 13 Apr 2004 13:39:44 +0200, Alex Martelli writes:
> >On Saturday 10 April 2004 12:05 am, Edward K. Ream wrote:
> >> > Why do uncreative people live at all?
> >>
> >> Why ask why? It's their problem :-)
> >
> >I disagree: we, the uncreative, provide most of the indispensable support
> > and
> >follow-through for most creative people's "sparks".
> <snip>
> somewhere along the line, we have the interesting phenomenon that Alex
> Martelli doesn't think of himself as creative ...  meanwhile, he goes
> about life creating a lot.  :-) You must think that creativity is
> something different than what happens to you when you are creating
> things.  How very odd. 

No, actually, I acknowledge to creativity -- when I write poems, I create; I 
bring something into being "from nothing".  The "background" elements, i.e., 
the Italian language [or the English one, sometimes I do write English 
poetry], my feelings and experiences as a human being, etc, I do "take for 
granted": they're far from "nothing", of course, but, like water to a fish, 
they can be implied, otherwise no human being could ever "create".

But the last time I wrote a poem was almost two years ago -- I was rather 
depressed at seeing how posting it made me a target of spam from "poetry 
societies" just burning with desire to shower me with honors... as long, of 
course, as I paid their entry fees, paid to attend their conferences, and, 
sure I would want a few dozens beautiful copies of the book with MY poetry in 
it, at a deeply discounted price, and...  Pooh.  Last time I had published my 
stuff, 30 years earlier, I had gotten real recognition and prizes, not these 
vultures preying on would-be-poets.  Ah well, creativity IS its own reward.

Anyway, it's because I _know_ how creativity FEELS, due to those very 
occasional bouts of poetry-related creativity, that I know that just about 
all of my programming, teaching, technical writing, etc, _isn't_ creativity.

It's quite close to the _POST_-creativity part of poetry writing -- carefully 
weighing the syllables and sounds, trying out alternate words or word orders 
to get the feeling and the sound just right and matching each other, 
rebuilding the rhymes you've broken (yep, I'm a dinosaur, I care for 
rhymes!-), and so on.  You have to know a lot of words, and have the right 
kind of "combinatorial" thinking, to mentally try them all out, and an ear 
for word sounds, to sift productively through them.  But the creativity, the 
invention, the spark, is just about all in that first draft, sometimes penned 
with a near-dry bic on a bar napkin, because the imagery, the thought, the 
poem itself, _erupted_ by its own strength right out of you -- THAT is the 1% 
that's inspiration.  Comes when IT wants to come, out of the blue.  You don't 
DECIDE to create -- when you must, you MUST.  The _rest_ is the 99%, the 
careful and time-consuming work of polishing up, and takes willpower and 
patience, as well as the right kind of "mechanical" mental skills (which can 
be trained and enhanced with study and experience -- creativity itself can't, 
really).  Note that the world of poetry is chock full of rough gems that were 
never polished, often published after the author's death and against his or 
her stated will -- e.g., 99% of what we have from Emily Dickinson.  You can 
still see the gem's inner light through the rough, but it's obvious why the 
author didn't want them published, or, not yet.  There's even more examples 
of doggerel that's just as carefully and skilfully polished as you please, 
but just lacks that inner fire -- all perspiration, without the inspiration; 
in poetry (and most other arts), that, IMHO, means _dreck_.

Fortunately, in _most_ fields of human endeavour, "mechanical" skill, care, 
knowledge of the way things are done in that field, takes you a long way.  I 
can eat and enjoy my food in many places, even when it doesn't have the 
genial perfection that so many Gothenburg restaurants amazingly display, even 
when it's "just" carefully and skillfully prepared without that creativity 
behind it.  Somebody, once, invented those recipes, and just applying them 
carefully and without gross mistakes can ensure pleasant and palatable 
nourishment.  Somebody once invented "arabic" numerals, double-entry
book-keeping, and all the amazing products of creativity that go into ordinary 
everyday accounting -- but now, you can just apply them all carefully and 
skilfully and produce useful accounts for any firm.  (Indeed, "creative" 
accountants are probably the kind who helped run Enron, Parmalat, etc; their 
creativity may have helped their employers, but surely not society at large].

Similarly, thanks to the infectiousness of ideas, clear and readable books of 
essays can be written, excellently useful programs can be coded, perfectly 
serviceable furniture can be built, etc, etc, without needing each worker in 
the field to display the creativity that originally sparked the ideas behind 
the work.  I do not know who invented the concept of table, that of armchair, 
that of padding a piece of furniture with leather, etc, etc -- without the 
creativity of those unsung geniuses, our lives would all be poorer.  But, all 
of those ideas (and many more "minor" ones, relating to processes using in 
building furniture) _have_ done their "spreading like infections" work, 
fortunately, so we can all benefit -- _with_ a lot of "followup" work on the 
part of MANY of us "normal" people, of course.

We _do_ know (roughly;-) who invented computers, programming, Python, all 
sorts of nifty algorithms &c used in its library, and so on, and so forth.  
But that doesn't really change the picture: again, thanks to this wealth of 
accumulated cultural baggage, it _IS_ quite feasible for the rest of us to 
_use_ these ideas, just like accountants, ordinary cooks, furniture makers,
etc, use the products of past creativity to help us all live better.

> I would say that all of those support people
> are creators too.  

Then I have a hard time understanding where creativity stops in your 
worldview.  An accountant carefully and skilfully applying a rich mass of 
concepts and practices, for most people, would be sort of the "symbol" of 
non-creative work; indeed, "creative accounting" IS used disparagingly in 
ordinary language.  A judge, say, is most definitely NOT supposed to 
"create": he's supposed to apply EXISTING laws carefully and skilfully.  I 
consider my professionality, my mindset when I work, to be quite similar to 
those of other professionals such as judges or accountants.  I do understand 
that more creativity may be needed for many jobs where clear and complete 
rules are basically unthinkable -- anybody who manages others, for example, 
is dealing with all the complexity and unpredictability of human beings, day 
in day out, as is, say, a salesperson.  We may have a lot "hard-wired" (in a 
cultural if not biological sense) about how best to sell wares, or organize 
people, but such is the complexity of the job [as it deals with humans 
directly] that improvising must be the order of the day.  But I think that 
judges, accountants, etc, are just as crucial to society as manages, 
salespeople, etc.

> However, the joy of 'helping' might be more of
> what motivates them than the joy of 'creating'.  I am curious as to
> what happens to those people who are getting satisfaction out of their
> lives while not being creative, because I understand them so poorly

There is an intrinsic pleasure in patiently and carefully applying rules and 
obtaining a satisfactory result, even if you're not creating anything, but 
just, say, determining judicially who, of two neighbours squabbling over 
their dividing wall, must carry which part of the repair costs for it -- the 
kind of job most judges spend most of their time on.  When I was a kid, I 
played both with Lego bricks (great creativity enablers) _and_ model plane 
kits, where no creativity was needed, you "just" had to place each piece 
right according to the instruction, with enough glue but not too much, etc, 
etc.  The kind of pleasure given by each kind of toy was very different: one, 
intrinsically unending, the other, finite and delimited, basically centered 
on _not making mistakes_.  The first kits I put together were disasters, even 
though chosen among the easiest ones, but gradually I progressed to harder 
models and built the planes better.  I also liked having the planes to play 
with; I could have bought them pre=assembled but they would have cost much 
more.  So, one kind of reward for the patient, meticulous toil was that I got 
more planes to play with later -- just like part of the satisfaction in most 
jobs is knowing that you're making a living from them;-).

> This will make it hard for us to build attractive work environments for
> them.  Whatever it is that they want, we probably do not have.

IMHO, we do.  For example (but that's for python-marketing, not here) we could 
make more, word of mouth, about the peculiar fact that Python programmers 
make more money that those using other languages on their job (yearly 
confirmed by SD Magazine's surveys) -- present it as PART of the return from 
extra productivity, the other part going to those smart enough to EMPLOY 
Pytonistas, of course, so you don't antagonize either employers or employees.
That plays on the part of job satisfaction that is based on the job's rewards.


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