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  • On my desk in my office, I keep a small clay pot

  • that I made in college. It's raku, which is a kind of pottery

  • that began in Japan centuries ago as a way of

  • making bowls for the Japanese tea ceremony.

  • This one is more than 400 years old.

  • Each one was pinched or carved out of a ball of clay,

  • and it was the imperfections that people cherished.

  • Everyday pots like this cup take eight to 10 hours to fire.

  • I just took this out of the kiln last week, and the kiln itself

  • takes another day or two to cool down, but raku

  • is really fast. You do it outside, and you take the kiln

  • up to temperature. In 15 minutes, it goes to 1,500 degrees,

  • and as soon as you see that the glaze has melted inside,

  • you can see that faint sheen, you turn the kiln off,

  • and you reach in with these long metal tongs,

  • you grab the pot, and in Japan, this red-hot pot

  • would be immediately immersed in a solution of green tea,

  • and you can imagine what that steam would smell like.

  • But here in the United States, we ramp up the drama

  • a little bit, and we drop our pots into sawdust,

  • which catches on fire, and you take a garbage pail,

  • and you put it on top, and smoke starts pouring out.

  • I would come home with my clothes reeking of woodsmoke.

  • I love raku because it allows me to play with the elements.

  • I can shape a pot out of clay and choose a glaze,

  • but then I have to let it go to the fire and the smoke,

  • and what's wonderful is the surprises that happen,

  • like this crackle pattern, because it's really stressful

  • on these pots. They go from 1,500 degrees

  • to room temperature in the space of just a minute.

  • Raku is a wonderful metaphor for the process of creativity.

  • I find in so many things that tension between

  • what I can control and what I have to let go

  • happens all the time, whether I'm creating a new radio show

  • or just at home negotiating with my teenage sons.

  • When I sat down to write a book about creativity,

  • I realized that the steps were reversed.

  • I had to let go at the very beginning, and I had to

  • immerse myself in the stories of hundreds of artists

  • and writers and musicians and filmmakers, and as I listened

  • to these stories, I realized that creativity

  • grows out of everyday experiences

  • more often than you might think, including

  • letting go.

  • It was supposed to break, but that's okay. (Laughter) (Laughs)

  • That's part of the letting go, is sometimes it happens

  • and sometimes it doesn't, because creativity also grows

  • from the broken places.

  • The best way to learn about anything

  • is through stories, and so I want to tell you a story

  • about work and play and about four aspects of life

  • that we need to embrace

  • in order for our own creativity to flourish.

  • The first embrace is something that we think,

  • "Oh, this is very easy," but it's actually getting harder,

  • and that's paying attention to the world around us.

  • So many artists speak about needing to be open,

  • to embrace experience, and that's hard to do when

  • you have a lighted rectangle in your pocket that

  • takes all of your focus.

  • The filmmaker Mira Nair speaks about growing up

  • in a small town in India. Its name is Bhubaneswar,

  • and here's a picture of one of the temples in her town.

  • Mira Nair: In this little town, there were like 2,000 temples.

  • We played cricket all the time. We kind of grew up

  • in the rubble. The major thing that inspired me,

  • that led me on this path, that made me a filmmaker eventually,

  • was traveling folk theater that would come through the town

  • and I would go off and see these great battles

  • of good and evil by two people in a school field

  • with no props but with a lot of, you know,

  • passion, and hashish as well, and it was amazing.

  • You know, the folk tales of Mahabharata and Ramayana,

  • the two holy books, the epics that everything comes out of

  • in India, they say. After seeing that Jatra, the folk theater,

  • I knew I wanted to get on, you know, and perform.

  • Julie Burstein: Isn't that a wonderful story?

  • You can see the sort of break in the everyday.

  • There they are in the school fields, but it's good and evil,

  • and passion and hashish. And Mira Nair was a young girl

  • with thousands of other people watching this performance,

  • but she was ready. She was ready to open up

  • to what it sparked in her, and it led her,

  • as she said, down this path to become

  • an award-winning filmmaker.

  • So being open for that experience that might change you

  • is the first thing we need to embrace.

  • Artists also speak about how some of their most powerful work

  • comes out of the parts of life that are most difficult.

  • The novelist Richard Ford speaks about

  • a childhood challenge that continues to be something

  • he wrestles with today. He's severely dyslexic.

  • Richard Ford: I was slow to learn to read, went all the way

  • through school not really reading more than the minimum,

  • and still to this day can't read silently

  • much faster than I can read aloud,

  • but there were a lot of benefits to being dyslexic for me

  • because when I finally did reconcile myself to how slow

  • I was going to have to do it, then I think I came very slowly

  • into an appreciation of all of those qualities of language

  • and of sentences that are not just the cognitive

  • aspects of language: the syncopations, the sounds of words,

  • what words look like, where paragraphs break,

  • where lines break. I mean, I wasn't so badly dyslexic that

  • I was disabled from reading. I just had to do it

  • really slowly, and as I did, lingering on those sentences

  • as I had to linger, I fell heir to language's other qualities,

  • which I think has helped me write sentences.

  • JB: It's so powerful. Richard Ford, who's won the Pulitzer Prize,

  • says that dyslexia helped him write sentences.

  • He had to embrace this challenge, and I use that word

  • intentionally. He didn't have to overcome dyslexia.

  • He had to learn from it. He had to learn to hear the music

  • in language.

  • Artists also speak about how pushing up against

  • the limits of what they can do, sometimes pushing

  • into what they can't do, helps them focus

  • on finding their own voice.

  • The sculptor Richard Serra talks about how,

  • as a young artist, he thought he was a painter,

  • and he lived in Florence after graduate school.

  • While he was there, he traveled to Madrid,

  • where he went to the Prado to see this picture

  • by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez.

  • It's from 1656, and it's called "Las Meninas,"

  • and it's the picture of a little princess

  • and her ladies-in-waiting, and if you look over

  • that little blonde princess's shoulder, you'll see a mirror,

  • and reflected in it are her parents, the King and Queen

  • of Spain, who would be standing where you might stand

  • to look at the picture.

  • As he often did, Velázquez put himself in this painting too.

  • He's standing on the left with his paintbrush in one hand

  • and his palette in the other.

  • Richard Serra: I was standing there looking at it,

  • and I realized that Velázquez was looking at me,

  • and I thought, "Oh. I'm the subject of the painting."

  • And I thought, "I'm not going to be able to do that painting."

  • I was to the point where I was using a stopwatch

  • and painting squares out of randomness,

  • and I wasn't getting anywhere. So I went back and dumped

  • all my paintings in the Arno, and I thought, I'm going to just start playing around.

  • JB: Richard Serra says that so nonchalantly, you might

  • have missed it. He went and saw this painting by a guy

  • who'd been dead for 300 years, and realized,

  • "I can't do that," and so Richard Serra went back

  • to his studio in Florence, picked up all of his work

  • up to that point, and threw it in a river.

  • Richard Serra let go of painting at that moment,

  • but he didn't let go of art. He moved to New York City,

  • and he put together a list of verbs

  • to roll, to crease, to fold

  • more than a hundred of them, and as he said,

  • he just started playing around. He did these things

  • to all kinds of material. He would take a huge sheet of lead

  • and roll it up and unroll it. He would do the same thing

  • to rubber, and when he got to the direction "to lift,"

  • he created this, which is in the Museum of Modern Art.

  • Richard Serra had to let go of painting

  • in order to embark on this playful exploration

  • that led him to the work that he's known for today:

  • huge curves of steel that require our time and motion

  • to experience. In sculpture,

  • Richard Serra is able to do what he couldn't do in painting.

  • He makes us the subject of his art.

  • So experience and challenge

  • and limitations are all things we need to embrace

  • for creativity to flourish.

  • There's a fourth embrace, and it's the hardest.

  • It's the embrace of loss,

  • the oldest and most constant of human experiences.

  • In order to create, we have to stand in that space

  • between what we see in the world and what we hope for,

  • looking squarely at rejection, at heartbreak,

  • at war, at death.

  • That's a tough space to stand in.

  • The educator Parker Palmer calls it "the tragic gap,"

  • tragic not because it's sad but because it's inevitable,

  • and my friend Dick Nodel likes to say,

  • "You can hold that tension like a violin string

  • and make something beautiful."

  • That tension resonates in the work of the photographer

  • Joel Meyerowitz, who at the beginning of his career was

  • known for his street photography, for capturing a moment

  • on the street, and also for his beautiful photographs

  • of landscapes -- of Tuscany, of Cape Cod,

  • of light.

  • Joel is a New Yorker, and his studio for many years

  • was in Chelsea, with a straight view downtown

  • to the World Trade Center, and he photographed

  • those buildings in every sort of light.

  • You know where this story goes.

  • On 9/11, Joel wasn't in New York. He was out of town,

  • but he raced back to the city, and raced down to the site

  • of the destruction.

  • Joel Meyerowitz: And like all the other passersby,

  • I stood outside the chain link fence on Chambers

  • and Greenwich, and all I could see was the smoke

  • and a little bit of rubble, and I raised my camera

  • to take a peek, just to see if there was something to see,

  • and some cop, a lady cop, hit me on my shoulder,

  • and said, "Hey, no pictures!"

  • And it was such a blow that it woke me up,

  • in the way that it was meant to be, I guess.

  • And when I asked her why no pictures, she said,

  • "It's a crime scene. No photographs allowed."

  • And I asked her, "What would happen if I was a member

  • of the press?" And she told me,

  • "Oh, look back there," and back a block was the press corps

  • tied up in a little penned-in area,

  • and I said, "Well, when do they go in?"

  • and she said, "Probably never."

  • And as I walked away from that, I had this crystallization,

  • probably from the blow, because it was an insult in a way.

  • I thought, "Oh, if there's no pictures,

  • then there'll be no record. We need a record."

  • And I thought, "I'm gonna make that record.

  • I'll find a way to get in, because I don't want to

  • see this history disappear."

  • JB: He did. He pulled in every favor he could,

  • and got a pass into the World Trade Center site,

  • where he photographed for nine months almost every day.

  • Looking at these photographs today brings back

  • the smell of smoke that lingered on my clothes

  • when I went home to my family at night.

  • My office was just a few blocks away.

  • But some of these photographs are beautiful,

  • and we wondered, was it difficult for Joel Meyerowitz

  • to make such beauty out of such devastation?

  • JM: Well, you know, ugly, I mean, powerful

  • and tragic and horrific and everything, but

  • it was also as, in nature, an enormous event

  • that was transformed after the fact into this residue,

  • and like many other ruins

  • you go to the ruins of the Colosseum or the ruins of a cathedral someplace

  • and they take on a new meaning when you watch the weather.

  • I mean, there were afternoons I was down there,

  • and the light goes pink and there's a mist in the air

  • and you're standing in the rubble, and I found myself

  • recognizing both the inherent beauty of nature

  • and the fact that nature, as time,

  • is erasing this wound.

  • Time is unstoppable, and it transforms the event.

  • It gets further and further away from the day,

  • and light and seasons temper it in some way,

  • and it's not that I'm a romantic. I'm really a realist.

  • The reality is, there's the Woolworth Building

  • in a veil of smoke from the site, but it's now like a scrim

  • across a theater, and it