When Creativity Goes Flat

Article and photo by Virginia Parker Staat

“Writer’s block doesn’t exist… lack of imagination does.”      ~ Cyrese Covelli

Last month a first-grade friend of mine in Colorado sent me her version of Flat Stanley. For those of you who don’t know Flat Stanley, he is a children’s book character who was squashed by a bulletin board and lived to tell the tale. When he wanted to go on a trip, his parents folded him up, stuffed him in an envelope, and mailed him to California. Jeff Brown was the creative genius behind Flat Stanley. In the words of today’s culture, the experiment went viral.

Because it is a perfect language arts activity for children, unsuspecting friends and relatives across the globe now receive a Flat Stanley replica or similar flat visitor in the mail. The recipient’s mission is to take photos with the flat visitor in a variety of places, write adventures, and send the information back to the child.

Our flat visitor arrived in the form of a life-size replica of my small friend. We have named her Flat Missy.

I am happy to announce that my creativity has now gone flat. I wake up at night softly giggling at prospective new ideas. So far Flat Missy has flown like a kite, gone to the beach, ridden a tractor, played a guitar, become a nature detective, and played Monopoly with our Golden Retriever, Roxanne.

Flat Missy with Roxanne on a hiking trail.
Flat Missy with Roxanne on a hiking trail. To see more about Roxanne’s adventures with her flat friend visit her blog: roxannedogblog.blogspot.com

The most fun was taking her to Space Center Houston. With Rocket Park now behind a gated entrance, we were uncertain if we would be allowed on the grounds without a tour. A gruff-looking guard met us at the gate. I stumbled with my plea for entrance, finally blurting, “Have you ever heard of Flat Stanley?”

The guard’s face melted into a beautiful smile. She simply said, “Flat Stanley is welcome here.”

We are still laughing.

Writer’s block is a curse that most writers deal with from time to time. We stare at blank computer screens, munch on junk food, and become obsessed with capturing illusive dust bunnies from under the bed. In my humble opinion, the best visual of our angst is Billy Crystal in the opening scenes of his movie Throw Momma from the Train.

What is a writer to do when surrounded by nothing but humdrum ideas? Tried and true measures include finding soul-searching exercises on the Internet, taking a bath, or listening to music. Inspirational books by the hundreds have been written, including personal favorites such as Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water.

For me, however, the best thing to kick start my imagination is to simply change my attitude and focus. Hiking always works. Whether high or low ground, it allows me to reconnect with that child-like awe of something extraordinary in nature. Painting works (walls… not canvas). With busy hands, my mind can freely wander. And lately, looking at the world through the eyes of a first grader has certainly changed my perspective. As a result, Flat Missy and I have been having ridiculous adventures all over South Texas. I am loving it.

Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” My little flat project is no exception. It has turned into something amazingly grand. It has spiked the imagination of more than just myself, spreading like wildfire. Husband David has become a willing puppeteer, rigging a fishing pole and line that is attached to our flat visitor so that he can stand out of camera range. Friends and family phone with suggestions.

Most of all, my young friend is delighted. Her grandmother calls regularly to share the latest news. She has told me that the child rushes home from school just to see Flat Missy’s next online adventure, squealing with delight at her escapades. After one post, she even begged that her mother take her to their downtown aquarium just so she could learn more about sea turtles. I can’t help myself… the happier my young friend is, the more my imagination soars.

If your creativity is a bit flat (pun intended), may I suggest rejuvenating your imagination by doing something radically different. Get out of the chair, out of the house, and out of your comfort zone. (You can even go flat with your own Flat Stanley. There’s an app for your phone at www.flatstanley.com!) I can guarantee that it will spark an ember of creativity and put thoughts of writer’s block far behind you. I also guarantee some fun in the process.

What are you waiting for?