Critical Mass

Creativity for me is really defined by people. By watching other people I unlock my creativity and channel it. Stories don’t come from any one person’s state of mind, from one ideology, from one place. Within every person are the ingredients I need to make my stories. Nothing exists in a vacuum. I can only write based on what I can observe.

Given that, living in the suburbs sucks sometimes.

When I’m in cities, ideas sprout, they take root. I am exposed to lives I would not otherwise be able to observe. I see food carts, hear languages not my own. People do things I don’t expect, spectacles both small and grand fly by. There are dog walkers, pamphlet givers, sandwich board wearers, drug dealers, big shots, suits, beggars, cops, saints, and sinners. The density in these places are greater, and the more dense the better.

I learned this in Philadelphia when I arrived for my first year of college. I’d amble down to Rittenhouse Square and just observe. I’d watch bums harass passersby until cops came to harass the bums. I’d watch the well to do go into their highrise apartments while street vendors sold pretzels and questionable cheesesteaks to kids like me. There’d be artists drawing and musicians playing, from the wretchedly bad to the sublimely talented. Pomeranian dogs slip leashes and roll like Sonic the Hedgehog into clumps of people endeared to said dog with furious and unpreventable kawaii overload. From inside this human tableaux I drew countless stories and scenes, and I have built worlds for them to live in.

By no means was I ever constrained to people watching at Rittenhouse though. Any SEPTA station in town would do – 30th Street, Suburban, Market East – any trolley or subway stop. South Street. The Vet, and later Citizen’s Bank Park. The Italian (or now, more aptly, the Vietnamese-Korean) Market. Chinatown. Philadelphia has density on it’s side.

Then I went to New York this past week. You want to talk density, New York will give you a million stories and more per square mile than any other American city (though the New York Yankees and their fans make the city intolerable to live in). Upon entering Times Square, I encountered two people in the 89 degree heat and humidity dressed in full-on Predator costumes. I ran into an Asian Food Festival. I was swept into foot traffic that never lets up. I encountered every alt subculture imaginable churning through the subway. The subway itself is a beast of its own making, with seemingly endless tunnels and labyrinths waiting for exploration.

I’ve only been to two other places that compete on that level for density, and they too make for great places to sow ideas and wait for fruit to come. London with it’s years of empire and conflict. If there’s a place that out melting pots New York, it’s London, and that was almost twenty years ago in my case. The other is Tokyo, where it seems the entire population lives stacked on top of one another. It washes away all of my other direct experiences when it comes to pure overload and fodder for a million stories. As a devoted Japanophile, I draw quite a bit from the mere eleven days I had there, immersed in a completely different place.

Ultimately, these experiences fuel the fires inside of me. They make my writing what I want it to be. I suppose that somewhere there’s another writer out there who just sits out at a lake and draws from it the way I do from throngs of humans around me – but I’m not that author. We will forever misunderstand each other from the different sides of our shared coin. I’ll need constant food for thought from the streets, alleys, and thoroughfares of the world’s largest places to draw from.

I’ll need to explore more. And I plan to do just that.

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