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Dalen Keys : Creativity and "Just a Quilt?"

Creativity and ‘Just a Quilt?’

By Dalen Keys

I have had the great fortune of devoting most of my life to the creative and innovative process as a scientist — or the manager of scientists. I am thrilled by the creations that can come from a science lab. I am energized when inventions can be turned into real products. Okay, I admit it; I guess I am kind of a nerd. But, I'll accept "nerdship" since I guess I feel that I have been allowed to keep my creativity and curiosity that often slips away as we become adults.

As we become adults we become occupied with "adult" matters; such as, finding a mate, getting a car, getting a job, money, buying the coolest clothes, great abs, baldness, getting a house, getting a bigger house — you get the point. With these wonderful things comes the burden of "paying for" and "maintaining" them (I gave up on my abs a long time ago). Paying for them and maintaining them absolutely saps the brain, all available energy and any possible joy in life — if you let it.

I think that it is easy for us to lose our curiosity — even about the simple things — because of life and our adult preoccupations. Maybe, we need to set aside some of those adult distractions occasionally and just take time to think and ask questions — yikes! Maybe, think about how life could be easier and more fun. After all, someone invented that cool built in handle on top of the cardboard packaging to allow you to carry your 12 pack of sodas. Or, what about Crocs™, how cool are those? They're rubbery shoes — why didn't I think of that! Maybe, we need skateboards made from recycled materials.

I believe that we will see a surge in creativity and innovation. I have observed, on a much smaller scale in the workplace, that when things are tough (money tight, business concerns, product issues), new inventions abound. So, on a global scale, I see tough economic times. I see concerns about the environment. I see an aging workforce. So, I expect an explosion of creative new ideas, products and business over the next five years. I can't wait.

So, I encourage us all to create. I think creativity is made too mysterious and difficult sometimes. There is always something in life that you would like to see simplified. Give it some thought and see if you can find a way to solve that problem. Creativity is not just for kids or for weird scientists lurking in their labs. But rather, creativity is for everyone. Always have the curiosity of a child — ask questions — why? how? and when? are good places to start. Try some creative thinking exercises:

  • What if all houses were underground?
  • What would extreme golf be like?

Recently, I wrote a little story in which I combined a quilt, a little boy and the boy's boundless creativity. It's hard to imagine what will result from this combination. After living over 33 years with a quilter it occurred to me that her fabric creations could be the absolute source of creative thought. Even I could vaguely remember those times as a boy when I turned the common place into a fun place. The storage space under the stairs from the kitchen to the backyard was not for storing tools and yard supplies. It was a dark cave that my friends and I could explore. I was not constrained by the adult conventions. So, I realized that a quilt could take on so much more significance than just being a homemade blanket.

In Just a Quilt? I take the opportunity to explore the creativity of a child using a quilt his mother had made for him. This quilt was unleashed to be a race track, an airport, a cape, a shield, a tent just to give a few examples. But, this story is special not only for the creativity but also for the linkage to home and the security of the quilt. Sometimes even the most creative people need comforting.

Just a Quilt? is a creative adventure for this science nerd too. Never did I expect to be writing a children's picture book. Never did I expect to be writing anything that would include quilting. But, I found myself rushing down this pathway and I couldn't stop. The story blossomed and the ideas cascaded like a waterfall. Maybe, Just a Quilt? is allowing me to tap into my own creativity in a way I never expected. I can't wait to see what happens next. •

Copyright © by Dalen Keys 2009

Dalen KeysDalen Keys has a B.S. in chemistry from the University of North Alabama and a Ph.D in chemistry from Rice University. As a science nerd, Dalen has devoted himself to the creation of leading edge technologies and products in the fields of printing, electronics and displays. More »

1/9/09