Everything Flows – Making creativity happen (Part 1)

There’s a beautiful little bookshop in Madrid called Panta Rhei. It’s run by a lovely lady called Ingrid and I recommend a visit next time you’re that way.

I have a scant knowledge of Spanish, but even I can spot some imported words when I see them,as you may have done. The phrase panta rhei means ‘everything flows’ in ancient Greek. I’ve also seen it translated as ‘everything changes’ and it was coined by philospher Heraclitus, who lived in Ephesus in the 6th century BC. Now, I know once I stray into the area of Greek philosophy, I’m going to get a headache, especially with Heraclitus, who seems to contradict himself all over the place. Underpinning his philosophy, though, is this idea of nothing being as constant as change. That’s quite unsettling, isn’t it?

Constancy is comforting, even when what is constant isn’t very pleasant. If you hate your job, it’s easy to convince yourself to stick it out anyway, on the basis of ‘better the devil you know’. Some people even argue themselves into staying in unhappy relationships for the same reason.

What has all this to do with creativity? Maybe nothing, if you and I interpret Heraclitus differently. Surely, though, if change is happening anyway, we should all be part of that change,taking control, innovating and improving. Otherwise, won’t we be left standing whilst change pushed forward by others swirls around, and past, us?  Once again, that leads us to our old friends, fear and self-doubt.

If these two beasts are ever-present, we are going to have to make our changes in spite of them. We are going to have to start something, be it a novel, poem, painting or song, in spite of our doubts. If you think I say this, because I have the magic formula to overcome all doubt, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. I’ve been banging on for ages about how I’m going to do a sewing course. Have I done one yet? No, I haven’t. Why? Because it’s maybe a bit scary. Even going to the craft fair was scary (see previous post) and all I did was buy things! Those things are still in a carrier bag in a corner, by the way. I can see them looking at me, mocking.


I’ve talked before about making a ‘To Do’ list of things you want to achieve, but now it’s time to make another list, a sort of ‘Why I can’t’ list. What are the reasons that hold you back? Here are some of mine, and if you think some look ridiculous, well, they do. That’s the point. When you actually look at your fears and self-doubts in the cold light of day, it’s easier to apply a bit of logic as to why and how you can overcome them. I truly believe that they won’t ever fully go away, but we can learn to live with them. We can even, if we want, shout at them and tell them to politely take a hike because we’re busy creating.

Here goes:

  • I might be deluded about my own ability.
  • Everyone will laugh at me. (Rich coming from someone who once harboured comedic ambitions!)
  • I won’t have time until the weekend.
  • I’m having a busy weekend.
  • I bet someone’s already thought of this.
  • I bet someone’s already done this better than I can.

Well, that’s enough about me.

Now, you have a go. Make the list as long or as short as you want, just make it honest. Read it, then put it away. Next time you feel doubt or fear about your creativity, look at the list again. Recognise what’s in it and carry on creating.

Don’t forget, if you put something you’ve created out there, somebody won’t like it. It’s not personal, it’s just statistics. We can’t all like everything. I find Mozart a bore. (Don’t write in, I know he’s a genius.)

And get yourself to Madrid some time, soak up the culture and go and see Ingrid in her shop.

Happy creating.




The Infuriating ‘i’ Word

I’m at home today, with the worst head cold I’ve had in years, feeling sorry for myself. So, that might be why I’m also at ‘peak’ belligerence. Seriously, enough is enough. Yes, I like a nice cliche and a hackneyed expression as much as the next person (inserts notional smiley face), but it’s time to pick up the red pen and strip the word ‘iconic’ from the language. There’s a call to arms coming, so I do hope you’ll join me. Why must everything be ‘iconic’ and is something of less value if it isn’t? Here are just a few recent examples, some from people who ought to know better:

  1. http://wheelerdealers.discoveryuk.com/top-10-iconic-cars-of-all-time/

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to watch the Wheeler Dealers TV show, you’ll know it’s also liberally peppered with the offending word.

2) Hinduja Group Formally Acquires Iconic London Building

A headline from yesterday’s NDTV about the purchase of Churchill’s old war office at 57, Whitehall. Bear in mind, most people don’t even know this building  and couldn’t point to it on a map. But, according to Visit London, the city is home to some of the world’s most…you guessed it… iconic buildings in the world.

3) Here’s a photo I took at the National Theatre on Monday night:


Disappointing, I felt, in a building full of some of the most brilliant, creative minds we have. Alice is Wonderland is so many things, unique, witty, entertaining, meaningful and, yes, important.

4) My God, there’s even an iconic estate agent. Thank you, Norwich.

I have no objection to the word itself, just to its overuse and the fact that it has been rendered so meaningless.

Here’s how the online Oxford Dictionary defines ‘iconic’

1)Relating to or of the nature of an icon:he became an iconic figure for directors around the world

2)Of a classical Greek statue) depicting a victorious athlete in a conventional style.

Interestingly, here’s the definition from the online Cambridge dictionary:
Very ​famous or ​popular, ​especially being ​considered to ​representparticularopinions or a ​particulartime:John Lennon ​gained iconic ​statusfollowing his ​death.
It seems the boffins at Cambridge are more up to date on usage, though it pains me to admit that they are nearer to the mark, as  their definition gives us all carte blanche to label anyone or anything famous as ‘iconic’. We have such a rich language, and so many words to choose from. This ‘iconic’ trend is fairly new, so what did we use before? Let’s go back to ‘seminal’, ‘ideal’, ‘representative’ and, yes, ‘important’.
So, are you with me? Will you join me in this campaign to expunge the ‘i’ word, or at least put it back where it belongs, as a very special word, only to be used to describe the most…um…’totemic’ of people, places and things?
Civil disobedience. Switch off Wheeler Dealers, deface posters, and write in the strongest words to the editor of The Times.
Together we can make this happen, people. I’ve even created a hashtag. #iconicballs. Use it with pride.
And why Bette Davis? Well, she is, isn’t she? A true icon, properly iconic, and I just love this image.
Back with you when my head is clearer.


‘Books Still Accomplish Miracles’


I know I shouldn’t be buying more books. My ‘to be read’ pile is getting high enough to rival a Middle Eastern skyscraper, in addition to which, you’ll remember, I am committed to supporting my local library. In truth, I hadn’t intended to buy any more books, but, on Friday, my wanderings took me by one of my favourite London bookshops, Judd Books. (www.juddbooks.com)

Tucked away in Bloomsbury, the two floors of Judd Books contain treasure after treasure, not to be found on any bestseller list. The shop specialises in secondhand and remaindered items, and you never know what you will find there. Such joy. It’s like entering a sweetshop and finding whole brands of chocolate you’ve never heard of, that are better than any you know, but cost half the price.

Most of the books are modern and you don’t find many truly old books, which is why the 1902 Dictionary of Quotations by the Revd. James Wood immediately caught my eye. And at only £3.95, it was a swift addition to my collection of books for the aspiring creative. After all, what could presage the creative flow more than wise words from artists and thinkers of times gone by? Plus, it’s a lovely old book, and I love to post a good quote on Twitter.

Immediately I turned to ‘C’ for ‘Creativity’. I found nothing. Perhaps the good reverend lived too austere a life to think of more artistic pursuits as anything but frivolous. Certainly he was kept busy by his linguistic studies,as there are quotes in English, French, German, Dutch and Latin. People say our educational level has not been ‘dumbed-down’, but when was the last time you quoted Cicero – in the original?

So, on I searched, Cicero appearing, as I far as I could see, to have nothing to add to my musings at this stage.

Success is the child of audacity – Benjamin Disraeli

That one really chimed with me. In my last podcast, I mention Wil Gompertz’s Masterclass that I attended earlier this month. He talked about artists being ‘disruptors’. A new word for it, maybe, but not a new concept. Disraeli was already wise to it.

Anxiety is the poison of life – Blair

This being 1902, I am ruling out former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a man, who, anyway, showed little anxiety in wreaking some international havoc. The internet actually ascribes the quote to American theologian, Tryon Edwards, so we are none the wiser as to ‘who’ Blair. But, again, this rings so true for me and I’ve talked about it often, how we sabotage ourselves by fear. And calling that anxiety a ‘poison’ rightly sums it up. It can seep through every part of you, until you just give up, and what’s the point of that?

I’ll leave you with one more gem.

Genius is mainly an affair of energy – Matthew Arnold

In other words, it takes graft. We all have the capacity in us to create something great, we just need to work at it. That’s what I’m trying to do with my time right now. Create, enjoy and put aside the anxiety.

I wish the same for you, too.

If you are looking for inspiration, then tune in to the podcast:


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Leave a comment, or email me at imasquattingtoad@gmail.com

Oh, and by the way, the title is a quote from Thomas Carlyle, 19th century Scottish philosopher.

Good luck.