I had a problem.
Last year I was fortunate to reconnect on Facebook, unexpectedly, with a good female friend from high school, which was many years ago. I liked this person very much for her cheerfulness, good humor, and general intelligence. We carried on a long-distance correspondence briefly after high school, but that eventually ceased.
Once we reconnected, we resumed the correspondence eagerly, and have been happily filling each other in on the details of our lives since high school. Here’s the problem: I found myself running out of things to write about. We’re both in long-term relationships now, so romantic topics are off the table. I’m not so self-centered that I think every twist and turn of what I’ve done in the past is worth writing about. And I’m terrible at small talk, with no interest in simply writing about what I had for dinner yesterday or some cute trick my dog has learned to do. For her part, my friend has a very busy life of her own. Although it is certainly very interesting, it leaves her little time for writing – so that I have few opportunities to respond to what she has time to write about.
It’s not a terribly serious problem, of course, but it has been bugging me. Then this morning I went to relax in my outdoor spa – naked of course. It’s not especially cold where I live, but not exactly comfortable being outdoors naked either – except in a spa full of nice hot water. I was looking only to relax, not to mull over problems, mundane or otherwise. Enjoying something like a spa is a rather passive activity. It is, or can be, a lot like meditation, where the goal is to “turn off the noise upstairs” and try to banish annoying and irritating thoughts from one’s mind. Morning is a good time to do that. It clears the mind for facing the day ahead.
However, as often happens, thoughts and worries intrude whether welcome or not. And not infrequently, good ideas to deal with those thoughts and worries appear almost simultaneously. At least, that’s how creative ideas often occur for me. Students of the creative process have a name for that experience: it’s the “illumination phase”. It follows sometime after beginning to think about a problem (the “initiation phase”), and a period of time may pass with little attention to the problem (the “incubation” phase). For some people “illumination” happens during a morning shower or on a stroll around the neighborhood. For me it happens while I’m in the spa.
Creativity – having unexpected and fruitful ideas – is a wonderful, satisfying experience, and I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. Most people are capable of being creative, but may not be strongly motivated enough to think about or try to practice creativity very often. But everyone benefits from the significant creative ideas of others. The list of examples is long. All of the satisfying entertainment we enjoy is the product of someone’s creativity – whether it’s art, photography, a good book, a favorite piece of music, an engrossing movie or TV show, a skillful athletic performance, a hilarious comedy routine, a new electronic gadget, or just great conversation. Someone’s creativity is behind each of those things that we especially enjoy.
Although not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to create such things at a high level, the creative process itself is highly enjoyable at any level, even if it’s only playing games like chess or poker, helping a child with her homework, thinking up something new and interesting to fix for dinner, or solving tough problems in our daily lives. Trying to live a naturist life in which the wearing of clothes is avoided as much as possible presents its own unique set of problems, as everyone in our society who enjoys nudity is well aware. (Here’s an example of ideas that one nudist came up with for addressing the problem of How to Get Your Family to Be Naked.)
And so the study and practice of how to be creative is not some esoteric, abstract subject that most people can largely ignore, at least not if they want to get as much as possible out of life, or even just to get by without being dragged down by the little problems that nag at us every day.
Now back to this morning. The idea I had was that I could write to my friend about the thoughts I have on the subject of creativity. As I said, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot from time to time. I’ve read a number of books on the subject. I have plenty more that I could read and comment on. Neat. One problem solved – creatively – right there.
But then I thought to myself – wait a minute, this is a lot like the problem I and other bloggers have in coming up with interesting things to write about on our blogs. I haven’t been especially troubled by this problem so far, since there is so much to discuss about nudity and naturism that isn’t treated nearly as much as it should be. There is still a problem though, because I want what I write to be interesting and read by a lot of people. To do that requires more than just putting out a lot of words. One has to think of ways to present the topic to make it seem as interesting as possible. So one thing I could do right here is to write about creativity and how important understanding it is for people who enjoy nudity. Hence this post you’re reading now.
If you read a variety of blogs about naturism and nudism (there aren’t really that many), or blogs about anything, you notice that a lot of them simply pass along relevant news articles or articles from other blogs. That’s certainly a useful activity, because it’s one of the main ways we get to see relevant information and ideas we’d otherwise miss. It’s also an activity that requires some effort – one has to be on the lookout for interesting things to pass along. Blogs have been doing this as long as there have been blogs (about 15 years). But there are now a variety of other things that are a little different from blogs, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc., for doing the same thing.
However, in order for there to be interesting things to pass around, whether it be written articles, pictures, videos, or whatever, someone has to create them in the first place. And since I enjoy the creative process itself, preparing the content I do for this blog is the path I’ve taken.
So let’s begin by talking, briefly, about the creative process itself. Then we’ll apply it to naturism. Any complex act of creativity involves solving problems. A novelist, for example, has to conceive her characters in such a way that their actions and relations to other characters are plausible and not internally contradictory. In order for the plot to work out, a novelist has to come up with credible events that drive the plot.
As noted above, there are a number of stages that the problem-solving process usually goes through, including:
- Initiation: the problem to be solved is studied, relevant information is gathered, and some kind of summary or outline of the problem is prepared. If a “divide and conquer” approach is followed, the problem may be broken into sub-problems, and the same techniques can be applied to each sub-problem.
- Incubation: after the mechanical steps of the initiation phase have been completed, if no good solution of the problem is apparent, then one just lets it sit for awhile (perhaps weeks or even longer) while one’s brain continues to process it unconsciously.
- Illumination: often suddenly and unexpectedly a promising solution to the problem (or sub-problem) will appear, apparently out of nowhere. It may be triggered by seeing or reading about a similar, analogous problem, or it can just come “out of the blue”.
- Elaboration: the new ideas that have emerged are carefully examined and consciously developed into a complete plan to address the problem (or sub-problem). The plan may be shared with others who are willing to help, or are working on the same problem.
- Verification: sometimes the plan can be implemented directly, if the problem is simple enough and the plan seems solid enough. Alternatively, if the plan may be expensive or difficult to implement, it can be tried out experimentally on similar but easier problems to check that it has some chance of working.
- Iteration: if the plan proves to have flaws or it simply doesn’t fully solve the problem, then go back to an earlier phase and try again from there.
All of that is more or less the textbook approach to creativity and problem-solving. But I realized a long time ago that there are some important stages that should occur even before "initiation".
- You must recognize that a problem actually exists. For example, suppose you’ve been in an exclusive relationship with someone for awhile. Perhaps you don’t even realize the relationship isn’t as fulfilling as it could be – until you get to know other people whose relationships seem to be much better than yours. Or perhaps you just notice that the initial thrill of your relationship doesn’t seem to be there anymore, but you assume that’s just the natural course of events. However, if there’s to be any hope for improving the situation, you have to become consciously aware that you actually have a problem that could be worked on.
- You must try to explicitly describe what the problem is. If it’s a relationship problem, perhaps the trouble is you and your partner argue too much. Or maybe the sex just isn’t good enough to suit you or your partner. Whatever it may be, you’ve got to be able to give the problem a name and summarize it in enough detail that you at least have some clue what needs to be done in the Initiation phase.
- You have to try to identify the causes of the problem, keeping in mind that many if not most problems have multiple possible causes. You have to be very careful about this, since it’s very easy to not understand the real causes. And if you don’t know what the causes are, you probably won’t be able to take care of the problem. If it’s a health problem, you probably need to consult a physician. If it’s a relationship problem, maybe you (and your partner) should see a counselor.
- This may be the most difficult step of all: You must make a conscious determination that you really want to solve the problem and will make a serious effort to do so. This phase is about accepting the challenge posed by the problem. You have choices to make. If you’re like most people, you have to deal with multiple problems. In this phase, you have to prioritize and decide what problem it is that you really want to work on.
OK, after all that, let’s look at how it applies to naturism. There are a number of different ways that techniques of creative problem solving can be applied in naturism. Some problems confront individual naturists. How to convince family and friends that being naked is a sane and even desirable way to live. How to avoid potential problems with employers that might not approve of a person’s interest in naturism, even if it doesn’t affect their worklife. How to find places that are conveniently located where naturism can be enjoyed. Every individual will face a different set of problems. But let’s leave more discussion about such problems for another time. Many are already covered in readily available writings about naturism.
I think it’s pretty clear that naturism itself has problems – big problems. The membership rolls of both national organizations, AANR and TNS, shrink every year. Naturist/nudist parks and resorts seek out non-naturist customers or go out of business entirely, and they aren’t replaced. Beaches that have allowed clothing-optional use for decades cease to allow it, and they aren’t replaced. And, perhaps worst of all, attitudes of the general public towards naturism and nudity in general continue to be unfavorable at best, and hostile at worst.
It is not “bashing” of the national organizations to point out these facts. Rather, it is simply taking the first step of all, by recognizing that a serious problem exists. Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck at just the second preliminary step. We can describe the problem in more specific terms, as in the previous paragraph. However, in my opinion, it doesn’t seem like most naturists or officials of the national organization have a very detailed picture of the problem. If those officials actually do, they certainly aren’t being very candid with the rest of us about it.
And the last two preliminary steps to problem solving have hardly even been addressed. The underlying causes of the problem are likely to be subtle and complex, because human psychology and human societies are complex. Certain things are likely to be among the problem causes. For instance, the significant difference between men and women in willingness to participate in social nudity. The difficulty of convincing young people that social nudity isn’t something that only their parents or grandparents could be interested in. And the hostility of the general public to allowing clothing-optional use of public lands almost anywhere. But this is a very incomplete list.
About two weeks ago I wrote about 8 important questions for naturists and nudists to think about. If naturists actually did give some thought to those questions we’d be much closer to identifying the causes of our problems.
But the real killer is the fourth step, which really is the hardest of all. That is, the need for naturists and their organizations to fully commit themselves to solving the problems. Only when that has happened will it actually be reasonable to apply the textbook principles for creative problem solving. Without that, we’ll keep procrastinating and never even attempt to do anything.
Let’s wind this up for now with one small example of an attempt to address a small part of the problem. On January 13, Larry Darter‘s petition went up on the We the People site at whitehouse.gov. The petition needs to get 100,000 signers within 30 days, and at this point it’s probably going to fall extremely short of the goal.
That’s quite unfortunate. It was certainly a long shot to begin with, a very long shot. I know that Larry has put a lot of time and effort into this. But there are some things, I think, he could have done that would have improved the chances of success at least a little. Most importantly, I think he should have spent more time on the Elaboration stage of problem solving. For instance, he should probably have discussed his plan with AANR, TNS, other naturist organizations, and writers at a number of the naturist blogs. As far as I can tell, he discussed the idea with hardly anyone beforehand. I know various naturist “leaders” who were completely in the dark about this petition when it came out, and very doubtful about getting involved with it in any way.
AANR eventually did endorse it. TNS/NAC did not, but they graciously said that individuals were free to sign it if they wanted to. Almost surely this would have worked out better if the organizations and other active naturists had been consulted. Not only would the petition have received their endorsement at the very beginning, but Larry could have received valuable advice about how things could have been done to give the petition the best possible chance. Undoubtedly Larry had his reasons for proceeding the way he did. I don’t have any idea what those might have been. But surely an ambitious project like this should have been carried out with more careful planning than seems to have occurred.
Live and learn, I guess.
Larry has hinted that he has further creative ideas in mind. “If you follow Dallas Nudist Culture Examiner, you will learn about what comes next in the very near future once the petition initiative wraps up. Those interested in helping to affect real change will have their opportunity.” Perhaps it’s this. If so, I very much hope that naturists will make full use of the best currently available Internet tools to advance their ideas. Effective use of the Internet is a very powerful tool that the old-line nudist/naturist organizations have conspicuously and almost totally failed to understand and use.
Let’s hope Larry really means what he says about an opportunity for broad-based grassroots participation, and that this idea, whatever it is, has been thought through in much more detail than the petition effort. He seems to have put his finger on a big part of the problem when he writes “One thing that has been learned from the clothing optional access petition initiative effort is that the naturist/nudist community at present is splintered and there are almost as many competing and conflicting ideas about how to best advance naturism and nudism as there are individual members who identify with the lifestyle.”
I alluded in Question 8 on my list of things to think about to how effective use of the the Internet might be very important for overcoming this splintering of the naturist/nudist community.