On Creativity: Anticipation, Regret, and Remembering Grandpa Earl

Very early in 2011, shortly after hearing of my grandfather’s passing, I thought of something Sir Ken Robinson said in his GISA 2010 keynote. In talking about creativity he mentioned that even engaging in remembering is an act of creativity. In remembering we “imagine” past experiences because, obviously enough, they are no longer occurring in the present moment.

I just returned from a four-day reunion with my mom’s side of the family, the quadrennial Monroe Family Reunion.  At our last reunion in 2008, my grandfather Robert Earl Monroe encouraged us to go back to the roots that we left behind at the 1973 Grand Tetons National Park “Jenny Lake” reunion (I was -1 year old at that time);  he wanted us to go camping.  There was consternation.  The younger generations, with few exceptions, are not a camping sort.  Families with young children rightly assumed that camping would would be more inconvenient than hotel travel.  There was a good bit of grumbling about the shift in reunion ethos.  However, they loved “Uncle Earl.”  His four older brothers having been deceased for years, he was considered the pater familias.  So, he got 95% of the family to do what it didn’t want to do.  And 18 months before the reunion he died. If you knew him, you’d know that not only would he have found that hilarious, but his family quietly delighted in the irony as well.

In the end the family greatly enjoyed their time camping in beautiful Asheville, NC.  Their fears, it turned out, were unrealized.  Some folks imagined that it would be worse than it was, which is to say, they remembered an as yet unfulfilled but potentially likely version of the event.  In their mind they created a vision that was prognostic, but in the end wholly different from what actually was.  They used creativity to imagine a scenario that did not exist, and in fact would never exist since the reunion came to pass in a very enjoyable fashion.  I happen to remember that some of these family members, during the oft-maligned “talent show” at the 2000 reunion in Branson, MO, openly declared that they “weren’t creative people.”

So as I remember my grandfather I seem to be taking particular joy in imagining my visits and adventures with him and in recalling the many stories he’s told me of growing up in a world that I can scarcely imagine.  But I don’t need to imagine it; I merely need to share in his remembrance of it.

I don’t mourn Grandpa as much as I dread the notion that our adventures have come to an end. And that’s a form of creativity as well: imagining a world that will never again come to be.  Even regret is a form of creativity, says Kathryn Schulz in her TED Talk Don’t Regret Regret?  If I want to spend some time with the self-proclaimed “Earl of Curmudgeon,” I’ll have to do it by remembering him. I’ll have to imagine him.

How can those among us claim to “not have a creative bone in our body” when we spend every day remembering, regretting, and wondering?  It is true, perhaps that these people don’t have creative output to show for it.  But that’s a consequence of not sharing one’s creativity, not the wholesale lack of it.

The Factotum’s Factotal

From the home office in Kensington, Maryland:

The Monroetorhome Monarch, the Soujourning Sovereign, the Ranchette’s Registrar reports the following fascinating and fiddling figures of most petty and picayune persuasion:

Total mileage: 8,168
Average mpg: 8.66
Occupant days in motorhome: 105
Cost per person, per day: $59.90

So, if we were to take as our model the good people of Packwood, Iowa, the Monroetorhome 2008 Cross-country Excursion rates a score of 8341.56 degrees of awesomeness. If you don’t understand the Packwood reference, scroll down, click on the link labeled “July”, take off your shoes, get something substantial to eat, and start reading.

To quote Earl in the entirety of his speech at the 2002 Branson Reunion, “It’s been a pleasure.”

Signing off.

In conclusion…

Long before Earl and Barbara set off on July 4th to cruise the country, Earl sent Barbara and me a detailed itinerary prefaced by a cover letter. A portion of that letter reads:

The trip includes majestic mountains, fantastic forests, limpid lakes, gorgeous geology, ancestral abodes, shifting sands, restless relatives, and a liberal dose of America Deserta – central Nevada. It should be fun.

Mountains. Upon my arrival we dove headlong into the Gallatins, Big Belt, Bitterroot, and the Cascades. Down the road we found the Coastal Range, the Basin and Range, the Colorado Plateau, the San Juans, Colorado Rockies, to name very, very few. Each majestic indeed.

And the forests! The subalpine forests with their lush understory of ferns just daring the firs to block out the sunlight. The alpine forests whose moist but crunchy bed of decomposed needles and cones crinkle and sink under your feet at the same time. The severe ridges and valleys of the Great Basin host sagebrush, needlegrass, and pinyon pines that look thousands of years old. You wonder where they get the water that sustains them, and then you realize that only the human race lives but on the surface of the planet, with little idea of what lies under foot.

Lakes that make you tear up they’re so beautiful. Lake McGregor in MT has not one house, dock, or tire swing among it. It makes you want to have one of each just to yourself. Pend Oreille Lake in ID teems with activity, but its restless beauty is not diminished in the slightest. Crater Lake in OR typifies that the most violent acts in nature often inspire photographs that we use to soothe our spirits. Lake Powell, one of the innumerable man-made lakes provides for millions. Yet how many treasures have we lost in the canyon country as a result of its capture?

Geology. Don’t get me started.

The ancestral abodes of the clan Monroe. Ours, like many families, is peppered with delightful stories and terribly sad ones. The interweaving of these is what makes families stick together, split apart, empathize and criticize. But in the end, each home, apartment, office building, boarding house, scout camp, airstrip, college campus, medical practice, ranch house, and Quonset hut that the Monroe boys and their parents called home adds its own ingredient the unique Monroe flavor.

The shifting sands of the Columbia and the San Juan Islands are just a prelude to what you see in the Desert Southwest of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. You see these shores in the rock record from the California Sierras all the way to the ancient, eroded, folded, and faulted Appalachians. The Great Sand Dunes National Park of today is the petrified sand dune of Canyonlands National Park from hundreds of millions of years ago. Is that Elton John’s “Circle of Life” I hear playing in the background?

Restless relatives, after all, are the reason for this excursion in the first place. We’re blessed that we are so fond of each other that we come back, whether it’s three or five years, every time the clarion calls for another Monroe Reunion. Let’s consider Earl’s plea to focus less on the day trips (guilty as charged) and more on spending time as community, cooking and eating, reminiscing or getting to know one another, enjoying memories of the past, but also focusing on one another’s present and future. Monroe Reunion 2013 is just around the corner. Work on your GORP recipe. We’re going camping.

Earl looked for a specific subset of people to join him on this enterprise. He didn’t pick Barbara and me because he likes us. He picked us because we’re unemployed (me during the summer and Mom until the dividends stop paying). So, you could say that we are in a special position to take this sort of trip where others are limited to vacations of limited duration. Whatever your case, if you’re ever offered the opportunity to criss-cross the country with family, my advice is to not think twice. Just go. I never imagined myself being able to have a three-hour conversation with my grandfather that ranged from the stock market to differential erosion, but by God, it happened, and it kept me up way past my bedtime! And it was great!

In Earl’s cover letter to us, he also mentioned the “meek and manicured West.” I must respectfully disagree with my grandfather on this point. The west that I’ve come to know both on this trip as well as while teaching the Field Geology course, is anything but meek. In fact many parts of it are coiled in suspended animation. We put up sign posts and build catwalks and fences in the name of safety and stewardship. But it is not at all difficult to imagine this land as raw and undressed and primordially violent as it once was, and no doubt will eventually be again. After all, as our friend on the DVDs Dr. James Renton is fond of saying, “in geologic time, time is irrelevant.” So, though it may be a bit manicured, to me it’s still the “bold and bountiful” west, the “pure and powerful” west, the “noble and natural” west.

So, there it is. The Monroetorhome 2008 blog has come to an end. The next reunion will be on the East Coast, so it is doubtful that I will be saddling up for another cross country motorhome trip for the next one, that is unless I feel like taking the long way to NC, or VA, or wherever it takes us. Oh, wait. Mom and I are planning the next one. Well, I guess I’d better wrap this up and call Mom. Thanks for tuning in, all three of you! It was a pleasure recounting our travels, and thank you for allowing me my indulgences, as faulty and inaccurate as many of them may be. Maybe for the 2013 Monroe Reunion we can set up a wiki, that is, a blog in which all participants post (instead of being relegated to the “Comments” section). We’ll see. We’ve got five years to come up with ideas.

Another talent show anyone?

And the winner is…

Congratulations to the Cerar’s on their Gold and Silver medal finish in this, the first and final competition of the Monroetorhome 2008 Blog Inane Trivia Contest. Since there was no Bronze medal finisher, I declare myself the 2nd runner-up, and therefore keep the highly valued third place prize, the blazed orange Parking Violation warning sticker that the National Park Service places on all illegally parked vehicles at scenic overlooks. Yes, the Monroetorhomers were virtual outlaws, terrorizing Bryce Canyon National Park visitors by parking in parking spaces reserved for TOURIST BUSES. Have they no sense of decency??

However, after 15 rounds of arduous testing, the 1st runner-up, having answered 7 of the 15 questions correctly, is Jean Cerar. [applause]

And the winner of the Monroetorhome 2008 trivia contest, scoring 9 of 15 possible points, Charlie Cerar!!! [ovations and laurels descend toward the rostrum]

Jean and Charlie will receive prizes for their efforts just as soon as the Prize Selection Committee can convene to determine what those prizes are, just as soon as he finishes grading this set of quizzes sitting next to him.

Now, given my obtuse testing format, it’ll probably be easier for all if I adopt Jean and Charlie’s scoring method to show the correct answers.

Before I divulge the answers, might I mention how impressed I was that both respondents answered correctly that Barbara (and not Ted) is the one drinking “Moose Drool” beer during cocktail hour. This goes to show you how well they know their cousin Barbara as the bourgeois, ignoble, beer-swilling delinquent that we all know her to be. Either that or they just think that I’m an east-coast, gin and tonic, private school, fancy pants liberal.

Either way, they couldn’t be more right.

The correct answers are as follows:

#1 The morning begins

#2 Start the morning

#3 Indulge in

#4 Following breakfast

#5 Before departing
B & T, E

#6 At the wheel

#7 Always with a sense of

#8 As a passenger

#9 I take

#10 I wear

#11 I enjoy

#12 Following lunch

#13 I sit down and enjoy my

#14 During which I

#15 As the final geology lecture ends I

I will give you a day or two to soak in the correct answers. I will return in a few days with some final thoughts, and officially conclude the blog.

Last chance for FREE STUFF!!

Well, things have settled down enough for me to at least upload the remaining “best of” pics, and to share with you this last bit of “life in the motorhome with an Old Fogey, a Yahoo, and a Whipper Snapper.” But there’s a catch…

Now’s your chance to show how much you know about your relatives, the Monroetorhomers. You are about to read an account of a typical day on the Roaming Ranchette. You will find that the narrative is periodically interrupted by three choices in parentheses. One applies to Earl, the other to Barbara, the other to Ted. In some cases, one answer will apply to multiple people, in which case, only two choices exist. If you guess the most, you win the prize. Read the first comment for instructions on how to answer. Then, to submit your answers, post a comment. Submit answers in the following fashion:

Where E=Earl, B=Barbara, T=Ted, designate initial in the order in which it appears in the parentheses, for example number 1 might be (E, B, T) while number two might be (T, E, B). If there are only two answers, indicate a shared answer with an ampersand (&). For example, since #5 only has two answers, you might indicate (E & B, T).

Game on.

The morning begins (at the crack of dawn / whenever I feel like it / when everyone else starts making noise). I start the morning with (calisthenics / a 2-3 mile run / a 15 minute walk) followed by a light breakfast. Typically I indulge in (yogurt and cereal / oatmeal / raisin bread) which tides me over until lunch. Following breakfast I (spy on neighboring campers through my binoculars / read literature on the sites of the day / recharge electronics) until it is time to shove off. Before departing I (unhook water, electric, and sewer / retract the leveling jacks).

Once on the road, we take turns driving. For my part, when I’m at the wheel I drive (without glasses / with glasses / with sunglasses) and always with a sense of (confidence / purpose / nervous caution). As a passenger I typically (look out the window with awe / follow the map wondering, “Where does that river lead to” / read road signs aloud). When we stop at a particular site of interest, I take (pictures / video / my time), enjoying the scenery. During most of the day, I wear (flip flops / sneakers / walking shoes), except on challenging terrain.

We break for lunch at some time around noon, and stop at a rest area, park or other such spot. I enjoy (a salad / a sandwich with cold cuts / 1 cup cottage cheese and one half banana). Following lunch I (wash dishes / dry dishes / watch while cracking jokes about having hired help) and continue to enjoy the scenery for a short while. At some point in the afternoon, after four to six hours of driving, we arrive at our destination. After hooking up the motorhome, cocktail hour begins! I sit down and enjoy my (martini / gin and tonic / “Moose Drool” beer) and we all chat about the day’s events, scenery, or family history. Some nights we decide to watch another episode of the geology lectures, during which I (nod in and out / fall fast asleep / remain awake and alert).

Finally, as the final geology lecture ends I (fall into my ready-made queen size bed / convert the sofa to my full size bed / convert the dinette to my full size bed) and drift away to sleep. In the morning we repeat the process all over again.

Due to my prolonged silence, many may have assumed that I’ve abandoned the blog. So, we will give several days for you to post your response. I’ll be back next weekend to give the answers, announce the winners, and give my final thoughts on the Monroetorhome trip, the family reunion, and the American West.