End of an Era

Posted by psa on Oct 16th, 2007
Oct 16

They are closing my Starbucks, the end of an era.  It was the first in my end of the valley, west of the 405, the suburban wasteland north of Los Angeles proper.  We had matured together, Starbucks and I, communing on a somewhat daily basis, okay, at times a bi-daily basis for sixteen years.  A life-saver, well, possibly more a sanity saver as I was an expatriate of Berkeley and the Bay Area where picking up a morning cappuccino on the way to work was a well established tradition.  On being transplanted to the southland it was an on-going problem.  Where to get coffee?  Sure, you could make it at home, but that wasn’t the same.  It didn’t have all of the trappings of the established ritual, walking in, seeing old friends, joking with the pre- barista baristas.  Granted, down here in the southland, one drives everywhere rather than walking, but that part of the ritual was amenable to moderation.  There just weren’t any coffee places here in the southland pre-Starbucks.  Oh, yes, there were specialty coffee shops, the loss of whose uniqueness everyone bemoans, but no place where they took coffee seriously, or rather where they took you seriously and understood that you needed to get in and out and you really wanted, needed you coffee to be the same day in and day out.

So, yes, there are other Starbucks now.  They are spaced out along Ventura Boulevard at roughly half mile intervals, but I will miss this one.  It had a unique atmosphere, quirky enough to be interesting, a reasonably odd assemblage of patrons to make the people watching satisfying, yet nothing so outrageous as to feel unsafe.  Even the homeless guy who hung out in front trying to intimidate (he scowled, but then again why shouldn’t he) patrons into donating, seemed the right fit.  This Starbucks and I watched each other mature.  We saw each other through the rebuilding years after the earthquake and we watched each others families evolve.  My children into teenagers and then adults while I watched generations of baristas find their footing and move on to other careers, hopefully better or at least more interesting careers.

Yes, I hear you will be back in a couple of years when the building has been rebuilt into a modern commercial / retail / residential complex, the wave of the future.  The corporate Starbucks will return, this time in the preferred corner location, but the unique blend of character that emerged here will have dissipated, changed, moved on.  Everything changes, and I will miss you. 


Posted by psa on Oct 13th, 2007
Oct 13

Lately, I have been thinking, in the odd moments here and there about creativity, or more particularly about my creative process.  How I create? How do others?  Where do interesting ideas come from?  It is a discussion that goes back to my days at Berkeley in the late 70’s.  It was a discussion that at the time, ED3, was more about mood and how to put oneself into a creative thought paradigm.  However, as I think about it now, that is actually the second part of the problem.  The first part is having the raw material to work with.  Ideas don’t occur in a vacuum.  They must be built of something.   Over the years I have taken design classes from a variety of teachers, artists, architects, jewelers, others and none of them have addressed the issue from the point of view of acquiring the raw materials, the thoughts, the images.  You need a vocabulary.  You need to fill the blank slate of your brain.  I don’t believe that children have ideas until they acquire language:  words, sentences, and then ideas.   Finally, when you have crammed your brain with enough odd disparate concepts, you may have interesting ideas.   

Basic language is easily enough acquired, though that may not be sufficient for ones creative purposes, but what about creative disciplines that require other sources?  What is the equivalent in what ever creative paradigm one might engage in that letters and words are to language and writing?  I spent some time as an architect and after I had graduated with a degree in architecture, it seemed to me that my design teachers had left out an essential element, the acquisition of a visual vocabulary.  How could I play with ideas when my exposure to the visual environment was primarily tract houses and suburbs?  If it was not visually a wasteland, then it was certainly visually impoverished if only by its lack of variety.  It became apparent to me that the first thing someone should have relayed was that I needed to look at things, to study the visual world, to create a three dimensional vocabulary, a built vocabulary.  For architecture it was a blend of visual, seeing different possibilities and then technical mastery, what works and what doesn’t, gravity and structure, equating to grammar perhaps.  Until the whole thing comes together and builds and matures you don’t really begin to think creatively.  So, I have spent the years since then doing that, reading magazines, looking at the built world and observing critically.  Critical observation is crucial, but I don’t mean that in the sense that most art, theater or dining critics would.  I am not looking for any one thing to be better than another, but rather at how it comes together. How it fits or conversely contrasts with its context.  What were the design constraints and how were they resolved.  Eventually you start to develop a feel for the thing, for all the myriad details and changes in scale and how they all come together,  for the possibilities to be explored in the shaping of space while not losing track of the texture of the details. 

 So, in how many fields, or how diversely can one successfully be creative.  Even if success is measured only as the ability to sufficiently entertain oneself, which, clearly is mainly what I do.  The interesting thing is that I believe the same process holds true regardless of the particular area of endeavor.  In which case a question would be, how transferable is any of it?  Does having developed an expertise in one particular area mean one can shorten the process in another field, or must the field be somehow related.  Clearly some art related areas cross over well, but would an expertise in art enable one to learn to compose?  Possibly not, but it might depend on the acquisition of a basic vocabulary, or it may be, as with speech, that ones develops a vocabulary in the areas of ones interests naturally.  Thus you may have been acquiring a musical vocabulary over many years and then one day finally have the time to put it to use and discover that it is there waiting for you. 

It is the same process regardless of the discipline:  music, painting, fashion, jewelry, and the same issues of building a vocabulary, then learning to manipulate it pertains to them all.  Learn the vocabulary, learn the technique, and study the history and then …..Well, then we get to the next aspect of the problem, the process of creation.  How do you put yourself into a workable creative paradigm?  ED3 for those who might have been there. (Trusting a somewhat failing memory)  An interesting question as it was thirty years ago.  One of the answers, despite Nike co-opting the phrase, is to “just do it”, but that is a different discussion. 

Ah well, perambulating to no good purpose I suppose.

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