Creativity Rules: In Honor of Jimmy Breslin

He brought creativity to new heights.

Posted Mar 19, 2017

Photo by I.C.
Source: Photo by I.C.

“After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what – how – when – where? But there was dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows with serene and unified face, and no question on her lips.  I awake to an answered question, to Nature and Daylight.”  —Henry David Thoreau.

Once you remove the ego creativity makes sense. This is because creativity must come from what you see, think, feel, and experience, not from someone else. Many individuals associate creativity with concepts such as uniqueness or thinking outside the box and so on. A creative thought or direction can in this way be similar to what some refer to as an “inspired moment.” But this element of creativity alone does not guarantee functionality and/or “good.”

When you flow through a moment’s thought and continue following that initial burst of energy, another component of creativity comes into play. This piece of creation is assembly. Assembly involves other skills beyond the first sparks of inspiration.  These include how you assemble your inspired thought or thoughts as well as how you convey and express them to others – and this will involve expansion, deletion, and organization as well as the ability to identify new and perhaps technically inspired approached to these components. This is where the artist/writer, etc. needs to step back in the process and take a closer (creative) look at the assembly of a project.   

If you give five people a list of details that were drawn from an event and ask them to assemble the details into a story, individuals who have “learned their lessons,” well but are lethargic about creativity can assemble a perfectly procedural story.  Some individuals will be perplexed and make a mess of everything. And others will assemble the piece in a way that dazzles the rest of us with freshness, because few others will have thought of or “felt” their angle. 

Jimmy Breslin

There is a wonderful piece of journalism that has become a classic in the field.  It is a story entitled, “Digging JFK’s Grave Was His Honor,” and it appeared in the New York Herald Tribune, Tuesday, November 26, 1963, the day after Kennedy’s burial.  The piece was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jimmy Breslin — who passed away today. 

The reason I have liked and admired this piece as an example of great creativity is that it is more than just another article. It is visionary and iconic. Like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Breslin’s work became so influential that it morphed into a colloquialism and changed the world of writing — and the world of art. 

Let’s zoom lens it back into history for a moment. With all of the media on JFK’s assassination and so many lasting images already flashing through peoples’ minds, Breslin, as the world media altogether, was challenged with writing yet another story.  Consider how saturated the world was at that point with stories and pictures and information. What more could be written? How could a writer make anyone feel anything “new?”  

Breslin’s Genius

Recall our earlier notion of assembly and creativity. These elements launched the Breslin piece into the realm of the iconic and separated his story from others.

Breslin took his piece down a totally other direction. He chose to write his story from the perspective of the grave digger, a man by the name of Clifton Pollard. And that strategic piece of “assembly” made all the difference, then and historically within the writing world.

By telling the story from the perspective of the grave digger, an ordinary person like the rest of us, Breslin was able to weave “everyman” themes into his story that opened up a whole new window of sensitivities to the Kennedy assassination.  There was no confessional television back then where celebrities went with their feelings.  Yet through Pollard’s rendition of events, Breslin was able to capture Jackie as a woman whose husband was murdered next to her, who “had this terrible strength that everybody needed so badly.” In the article, Pollard is said to have been unable to attend the funeral himself as he was elsewhere in the cemetery digging graves for other people, for $3.01 per hour. That was Pollard’s job. 

Breslin succeeded in bringing creativity to new heights – with which to see, assemble, and experience the event(s). The structural contrast he generated with Pollard, Jackie and JFK and the grave-site shattered conventional reporting. 

Breslin had succeeded in making us feel through this experience differently amidst a flood of conventional media. Readers not only filled with compassion for their President and his family but also for their own families – for every human – themselves and their own families included.   

Breslin — like the best of the best of writers, psychologists, and professionals in all fields — succeeded in deepening our vision into the nature of being human: We are men, we are women, we live here and this is what it is like. And this unique assembly of details placed this story in literary history. 

Since then ... The phrase, “Find the gravedigger,” has been used as a metaphor by editors and teachers to help direct reporters and aspiring reporters to find the unique angel on their own story that can set it apart from the rest that will be written on the same topic.   

If you wish to explore a wide variety of ideas on creativity, creative energy from the lens of mind-body medicine, check out my books, THE FIVE SEASONS, BE LIKE WATER, and BODY INTELLIGENCE