Sunday Opinion: Where Do They Come From?

A reader left a comment yesterday, asking me where my ideas come from.  Serendipitous, this question. A good friend who is an interior designer told me he regularly reads the blog of Seth Godin; he thought I might be interested.  I have been reading it ever since. Why is that? I read what he writes, mainly because I do not understand him.  Day after day, I have no idea what he is talking about. I am intrigued by this. I like to read what he says, in spite of not knowing what he says.   I am not familiar with his language, even though the words are English-this makes following his thought process highly intuitive.  Most of the time I loose track, but I still read start to finish. Sometimes I reread-this does not help me to understand any better.  I forget every sentence the second I am no longer reading it.  But I am confident that some part of me has heard what I have merely seen; something will sooner or later surface, in the form of some idea or another.  How when or why, I have no idea, nor do I much worry about that.  I read every day; I already suspect there is something there that means something to me.  That is enough to keep reading.

Where am I going with this?  Anything I might be exposed to may trigger an idea. A while ago I posted about wrapping the trunks of my linden trees for the winter.  I referenced a Japanese exchange student-roommate I had in college.  When Tomoyo was about to leave to go home, she gave me a picture of herself in remembrance of our friendship. I remembered her name for the first time in many years, writing this sentence.  She was standing next to a tree in downtown Tokyo whose trunk had been wrapped with a bamboo blanket for the winter. Who knows why I remember the photograph so vividly, though I am sure I did not want her to leave.  But my exposure to that wrapped tree, so many years before I ever but a shovel to the ground, stayed with me. The  40 years later, I had the idea that my trees might look good with winter coats.

Seth Godin actually wrote a post just a few days ago about where ideas come from.  Nature is on his list.  For me, nature is an endless source of inspiration.  This is not particular to me.  Ideas based in nature-who could begin to count them all? The monk who observed the conditions under which fruit trees thrive and bear heavily had the idea to grow trees in forms which came to be known as espaliers.  Someone observed a bank of cumulus clouds, and thought to prune boxwood in those shapes.    I am an avid reader.  Garden books, fiction, design magazines, magazines written in languages I cannot understand.  I read recipes, although I have no interest in cooking.  I read cereal boxes and maps of places I have never been.  Maybe ideas do come from reading, from other people, from places, from history, from experience-and from all the other places Mr. Godin cites.  But ideas that come from within may just come out of no where-surprise, surprise, and hello.


  1. I suppose ideas float around the world being constantly reused in different ways. This has been going on since man realized he had a brain. What we do with those ideas is what makes the difference. You find inspiration from Seth Godin (that must be something really deep between the two of you as I can’t see it at all); we find inspiration from you but who were the real innovators? Who in history had the most creative ideas? Where does taste come in to it? Why does one person’s taste make me cringe and another’s make me joyful? What makes some people creative and full of ideas and not others? I think you are right in that exposure through reading gives us a peek into other worlds. But what drives you to do that reading and research? What made Capability Brown design sweeping landscapes (which he would never see mature in his lifetime) in an era of formal, tight landscapes? What propelled Frank Lloyd Wright along the way of unfussy, simple lines, when all around him were fussy, cluttered Victorian tastes? Why am I passionate about plants and gardens and have friends who aren’t the least bit interested?


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