The Monk by Bob Dylan

Last week I was sitting on the beach at Waikiki, re-reading Lehrer’s Imagination: How Creativity Works, looking for a way to answer my own questions posed in my last post about the bizarre behavior of Thelonious Monk .  Lehrer writes:


creativity isn’t just about relaxing showers and remote associations. That’s how Dylan wrote “Like a Rolling Stone”, but that’s not the only way to make something new.  The imagination, it turns out, is multifaceted.  And so, when the right hemisphere has nothing to say, when distractions are just distractions, we need to rely on a very different circuit of cells.. We can’t always wait for the insights to find us; sometimes , we have to search for them. (p. 56)


Lehrer points to two kinds of creative processes “divergent” or Dionysian and “convergent” or Apollonian-generally right and left brain processes.  Different art forms may require more of one than the other and different artists may emphasize one over the other, but it appears that any creative process utilizes both.  For instance “aha” moments usually are followed by long periods of refinements and revisions.

Waikiki Beach

So, there I was in a definite “Dionysian” mode but with a problem that seemingly called for an Apollonian, left brain solution to a problem of my own making.  In my “Waikiki State of Mind” I could not muster the concentrative powers that Lehrer says is necessary for right brain creativity.  I did have a series of points in mind but to tie them all together would have required writing a dissertation and violate Rule Number One for Bloggers: “Be Brief”.

Fortunately an  “aha” moment came the next night while watching the sunset and drinking  a  Mai Tai in the Hula Lounge at the  OutRigger Waikiki Hotel.  Here is what I said to myself:  “Why don’t I just provide the essential facts of the case and let each reader come to his or her own conclusion?  It is a bit lazy on my part (see exchange between Jane and me in Comments)  but it should be more fun to write and perhaps to read as well.  Of course, there is always the chance that the readers won’t understand it at all”.

This last thought made no dent at all in my “Waikiki State of Mind”.  Rather, I convinced myself that if the blog made no sense at all, I might be dubbed  the “Bob Dylan of  Modern Blogging”.  You gotta love the Waikiki State of Mind.

Hula Lounge

So here are some essential “facts”.  See  where they lead your mind.


Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.               Mark Twain


1.  The first set of facts were contained in the last blog  post describing my being

spanked on stage by Thelonious.

2.   Lehrer’s book provides the following information:

a)  Artists who don’t rely on left-brain dominant processes of creativity often use benzedrine or amphetamines to  help keep focused.  He uses the poet Auden as an example.

b)  Subjects in a research study whose  moods were experimentally manipulated to be sad, produced more creative art than those who were not sad.

c) 80% of the writers at the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop had depressive disorders.

d) 40 % of a sample of creative people had been diagnosed as bi-polar.


3) Monk was diagnosed with all sorts of mental disorders but the most recent and credible assessment I could find was that he suffered from “bi-polar disorder”.

4)  Unbeknownst to Thelonius, his personal physician regularly give him vitamin shots laced with amphetamines.

5) One source suggested that Monk was just generally tired  from having to play night after night during the time period I saw him.

6)  When I played in bands, I found the creative aspects of collectively coming up with new tunes and arrangements to be more creatively fulfilling than performing those tunes over and over before an audience.

7) Monk was known as a hard worker and a devoted family man.

Monk and Dizzy

8)  Monk was an inveterate performer who was surrounded by other jazz musicians who valued being “far out”.  Lehrer devotes a chapter to the importance of social influences in creativity.


8)  Some scholars maintain that roots of contemporary theater and show business is Shamanism.

Cab Calloway

Sly Stone

Lady Gaga

9)  Slapstick comedy has been one of the oldest and simplest forms of entertainment, and is a type of entertainment that tries to reach people by the most basic forms – physical comedy. Whether it is a pratfall, a pie in the face, somebody turning and hitting someone in the head or any number of other forms of physical comedy, slapstick comedy is one form of entertainment that can be understood without words.

Punch and Judy Puppet Show

A Slapstick


Do you know the origins of the phrase “pleased as Punch”?  See http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-pleased-as-punch.html

10) Zen literature is full of instances of teachers striking students or monks hitting one another as a means of communication considered more direct and effective than spoken language.


Mu Chou asked a monk, “Where have you just come from?” The monk immediately shouted. Mu Chou said, “I’ve been shouted at by you once. ”Again the monk shouted.  Mu Chou said, “After three or four shouts, then what?” The monk had nothing to say. Mu Chou then hit him and said, “What a thieving phony you are!”

The master of the Chinese monk Shui-lao kicked him in the chest, and it resulted in a satori [enlightenment]. Afterwards the monk said,  “Ever since the master kicked me in the chest I have been unable to stop laughing.”

11)  In Zen, and many other spiritual traditions, there are accounts of what is often referred to as “crazy wisdom”.  Here is how novelist and Zen advocate, Tom Robbins describes the term:

For want of a precise definition, we might consider that crazy wisdom is a philosophical worldview that recommends swimming against the tide, cheerfully seizing the short end of the stick, embracing insecurity, honoring paradox, courting the unexpected, celebrating the unfamiliar, shunning each and every orthodoxy, volunteering for those tasks nobody else wants or dares to do, and perhaps above all else, breaking taboos in order to destroy their power. It’s the wisdom of those who turn the tables on despair by lampooning it, and who neither seek authority nor submit to it.

Whirling Dervish

12) All great comedians are Buddhist monks in disguise. In this spirit, I submit to you that the secret Zen masters of American pop culture are the Three Stooges.  April 08, 2012|By Ty Burr  http://articles.boston.com/2012-04-08/movies/31292643_1_three-stooges-buddhist-monks-cultural-elite

The Three Stooges

The Old Pie in the Face Gag

13)  A)The distinction between psychological illness and creative thinking is wafer thin, new Swedish research confirms, arguing that there is a feasible explanation for why the age-old myth of genius bordering on insanity could in fact be true. http://www.thelocal.se/26708/20100518/

     B)The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success. Bruce Feirstein. Read more: http://www.finestquotes.com/select_quote-category-Insanity-page-0.htm#ixzz21hWEK02g


A. Monk

Another Monk

14)  Thelonious Monk is famous for his jazz stylings which frequently bent the rules of music. Monk’s jazz is famous for its rebellious use of broken chords and skewed scales. Monk had the uncanny ability to “play the wrong notes right” and mixed it with backbeats that gracefully stumbled into brilliant surprises around every bend.
Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_made_thelonious_monk_famous#ixzz21hUrZ6Kd

Congratulations. You’ve made it to the end, which means that you rank way above average on the “The Blog Reader Attention Span Index”.  Although ostensibly this was an exercise in understanding Monk’s behavior, it, hopefully, also had some personal relevance as well.  I said at the beginning that I was not going to draw any conclusions from the so called “facts”. However, I feel compelled to simply say that the main thing I took away from this collection of “facts” is  that while concepts like “creative genius”, “enlightenment” and “left or right brain” are necessary for communicating, they can also be limiting in ways that are problematic.  This is behind the emphasis on “non-duality” in Zen. I’ve touched on that theme in earlier blogs and it will certainly crop up again.  But, an even more “bottom line take-away” from this exercise is beautifully expressed in one of my all time favorite quotes by Howard Thurman:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.


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