It Begins With an Idea

It began with an idea. Meena mailed to say “why don’t we start a blog?” I was all agog, but cautious. “A blog? What do we know about blogging?”  We were two people who shied away from anything “too techy”, and equally from opening up our thoughts and broadcasting them far and wide. How would we deal with a new medium of communication, and more important, what would we communicate? And why would anyone be interested in what we had to say? But somewhere the spark was kindled. After all we had been writing partners for decades. We had written as part of our work as environmental educators, then, while we had some freedom about how to write something, the “what to write” was often a given. But that had been a while ago.

“Let’s think about it” I countered. “We need time to get our act together, as they say.” But Meena said, “No if we procrastinate, it won’t happen. It is Women’s Day next week, a perfect day to launch into a new space for a new time”. And before we could retreat, the die was cast. And so it was that the Millennial Matriarchs joined the blogosphere!

With the flurry of writing and posting our first pieces, came the panic. We had, in our enthusiasm, decided that each of us would write two pieces a week. But before we wrote anything, we needed to have something to write about! There began the continuous challenge of getting “ideas” for what to write about.

That took us back to the very notion of an idea. There are plural definitions of idea: Any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity. A thought, conception, or notion. An impression. An opinion, view, or belief. A plan of action; an intention. A groundless supposition or fantasy.

These opened up a broader canvas for us. This was reflected in the sub title: Musings on Life and Times: Views, Reviews, Previews, Interviews…and Advice.

Indeed that became our guiding spirit, week after week. We discovered, day-after-day that ideas for writing lurked everywhere—newspaper items, things around us, books that we read, people we met, places we visited, conversations we had, birds and animals, changing seasons, history, folklore, festivals, and sometimes just a flight of fantasy! These had always been there, now we were more finely tuned to the potential and possibilities of pulling these out, looking deeper into them, making connections, and putting these in words. And every time this happened, it was an Aha Moment!

An idea comes, and you see it, and you hear it, and you know it…Ideas are beautiful gifts. And if you catch an idea that you love, that’s a beautiful day. And you write that idea down so you won’t forget it. And that idea that you caught might just be a fragment of the whole. Thinking about that small fragment will bring in more, and they’ll come in and they’ll hook on. And more and more come in, and pretty soon you might have a script. (David Lynch)

 We were looking at the world around us with a different lens. Even as the seasons changed, or we heard about an encounter or event, we were subconsciously filing away the raw material. The great fun then was the process of researching the topic or theme, compiling possibly useful information and then, making the connections. These were skills to be developed and honed. 

A book titled A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young published in 1939 discussed how the highest importance in the production of ideas involves developing a habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts.  

Every really good creative person…whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested — from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information.

Gathering raw material in a real way is not as simple as it sounds. It is such a terrible chore that we are constantly trying to dodge it. The time that ought to be spent in material gathering is spent in wool gathering. Instead of working systematically at the job of gathering raw material we sit around hoping for inspiration to strike us. When we do that we are trying to get the mind to take the fourth step in the idea-producing process while we dodge the preceding steps.

The book lays down some principles: The first principle is that an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements. The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. To others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is not so much a fact as it is an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts.

What you do is to take the different bits of material which you have gathered and feel them all over, as it were, with the tentacles of the mind. You take one fact, turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. You bring two facts together and see how they fit. What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.

In many ways this process has gradually become a habit of mind for us. It has fine-tuned our antennae to try and catch any “idea” that can transform into a piece, and to put it through the permutations and combinations, to twirl the bits in the kaleidoscope as we watch them form and re-form new patterns and. Oliver Wendell Holmes said: A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension. We are grateful for this opportunity to continuously explore and discover, and, we hope, to share some of that excitement.

This week, as we complete five uninterrupted years of Millennial Matriarchs (two pieces every week) we feel that we are at the third stage of what Arthur C. Clark wrote: New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!

But even a good idea cannot survive in a vacuum. The writer cannot do it alone. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it alive: a live thing, a story. (Ursula K le Guinn)

This is with gratitude to all our readers who have been gracious enough to join us on our journey, and who have shared our ideas.  

P.S. Coincidentally, while we began this blog as a celebration to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we find that this month is significant for another reason. March is celebrated as International Ideas Month! This month is all about realizing the value of an idea, no matter how fantastical or far-fetched it may seem at first. As the founders urge: If there is something you have been mulling over for a while, an idea you have not really thought of making it a reality, then this month is the time to get it rolling!

–Mamata and Meena

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