“I Think About This a Lot” is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
As a kid, I always felt like creativity was a skill some people are born with, like wiggling your ears or rolling your tongue. I would see the final product — a well-executed crayon drawing, or an artistically virtuosic toilet-roll sculpture, for example — and feel incapable of wrapping my mind around the muscles that it would take to get there. Genuine inspiration seemed impossibly out of reach. Until I read what Björk had to say about it.
She first captured my attention in 2001, when she wore a swan dress to the Academy Awards. I had never seen anything like this otherworldly fairy-warrior in a white tutu with an orange bird bill on her boob. The music she made was even more enthralling. Her voice opened and closed like a gorgeous alien flower, and time signatures shifted wildly. Lyrics oozed over chorus, verse, and bridge like glittery putty. I was obsessed. Björk was the high priestess of everything strange, a mastermind with attitude, my id, my moon. I wanted to emulate her self-belief and, most of all, her creativity.
In September 2016, my prayers were answered. Björk did a Reddit AMA. “How do you usually get your inspiration?” a redditor wanted to know. “What do you do when [you have] writer’s block?” She did not disappoint. “I think creativity always lives somewhere in everyone,” she wrote, “but its nature is quite pranksterish and slippery and everytime u grab its tail its found a nu corner to thrive in. perhaps the trick is not to force it and put it up against a wall and want it to be in a particular area. but rather w a lot of kindness sniff it out and wonder where it has gone to this time around.” She made it sound as easy as playing hide-and-seek, a game of patience and inquisitiveness. “If its in sauce recipes, writing theatre plays, papermache improv w nephews, discovering nu hiking routes or simply trying to figure out a family members sense of humour. i def dont succeed in this all the time but feel overall things have been more fertile when i trust this creatures instincts and follow it rather than me willfully reforming it into a circus animal colouring by numbers.”
It was the perfect answer, the Björkest of Björks: purposely but naïvely weird. Of course she types in her own esoteric style. Of course she ends up playacting with children when she’s trying to make music. Of course she personifies her muse as an adorable but naughty animal — she is, after all, from Iceland, where the elves, or huldufólk, are a strangely persistent part of the national folklore.
In a world of “productivity gurus” encouraging us to “think smartly” about creativity via TED talks and diagrams and motivational slideshows and whatever else, this madcap reasoning has a delightful freedom to it. To me, it was a light-bulb moment. Knowing you’re dealing with a wild and mischievous animal makes it easier to accept that obstacles are part of the process. A creativity animal, by Björk’s book, is not a seal balancing a ball on its nose, performing on cue, but a cackling, strong-willed imp who will lead you down the garden path because, actually, that’s exactly where you need to be.
At the beginning of quarantine, many of my friends got pets, and new kittens and puppies filled up my Instagram feed. Watching from a distance, growing more jealous of these other life-forms, I realized I needed a project to keep me going. It was time to write something big, I decided. I came up with weekly plans, lists, deadlines, and goals to help me keep my place in the sticky mess of time before me. Hours of tedium followed, brain-crushing uselessness, waiting for something to happen. I was well and truly stuck.
Turns out my creativity animal is grouchy, spiteful, and always hiding, just like Björk knew it would be, playing with its tail in unexpected spots, and popping its head out to growl at strangers for absolutely no good reason. But as I learned when we were finally allowed to have a friend’s new corgi puppy visit our house, you can’t be angry at an animal you know is cute, even when it’s pissing all over your floor.
When my creativity animal giggles its way out of my grasp yet again, I try to remember Björk’s advice and respond with curiosity. The creature is, by nature, a delinquent. No punishment or harsh words will change that. It’s softness, coaxing, and experimentation that the Björkian training manual prescribes. When I hear the puckish tinkle of laughter, like a Pokémon evading capture, I breathe deeply and imagine Björk — fantastically bespangled in a metallic, bioluminescent pom-pom creation — chuckling along with it.