Friday Musings: Limited Potential
The idea of creativity is one that I think about quite often, although I don’t necessarily agree that it means having the ability to bring something into existence, as it is defined by the Oxford American Dictionary. To me, this interpretation implies that creativity comes from nothingness, but I tend to see it more as a passionate reordering of the raw material we’ve been given in such a way that something new emerges. This reordering is totally governed by our imagination. I will concede that this way of thinking may be one hundred percent related to the kind of work I do. What is the exercise of making cocktails, after all, if not exactly that? I take ingredients and think about them (rather passionately, I might add) in terms of flavor partnerships or symbolism, depending on whether my motive is to simply make an appealing drink, or to design one that represents something on a much deeper level. Either way, the individual parts sit in front of me until I reorganize them into a cohesive whole. From a collection of citrus, sugar, water, herbs, spices, and spirits, a cocktail is born, standing up on its wobbly legs, ready to take on the world. A similar thing happens with the posts I write on this blog. Ideas move around in my head, unformed, until I gather them together and give them a structure built from words. In both cases, I find the process to be immensely satisfying, and when the final version of a drink is poured or a post is written, there is a moment that always feels deeply moving and profound.
We are all creative in one way or another, whether our abilities lie in being able to tie the perfect bow onto the most beautifully wrapped gift, or in arranging a harmonious grouping of furniture and objects in a room. We may even be the person who paints a modern masterpiece that will one day hang in a gallery at the MoMA. The difference is, of course, that the latter example speaks not only to being creative, but to being artistically talented as well. This is an important distinction to make. Many people believe that they are not creative because they cannot write poetry or compose a symphony, but what they really mean to say is that they are not artistic. Everyone has some measure of imaginative creativity, and a good many of us will have, or find, artistic ability too. Sometimes, we have a talent of which we are totally unaware, until we suddenly discover it in a class we take or through the pursuit of an interest we’ve always had. In whatever way we end up sharing our gifts with the world, it’s fair to say that we will all experience that weighted moment that happens when we watch our raw material transform into something that’s bigger and greater, infused with whatever idea inspired it and carrying within it all of our best intentions. Sometimes these moments are huge and very public, like composing the perfect speech for an event, but other times they are a rather small and private, like cooking the perfect meal for our favorite person. In either case, when we strive to give the very best we have to offer, we push against a boundary, and the significance we feel marks the moment when we actually transcend that boundary.
Before elaborating any further, it’s important to note how much of the creative process has been hijacked by advancements in technology, automation, and the development of highly specialized services that can complete so many tasks for us. A few years back, I downloaded an app that would consider the inventory of my bar ingredients and spit out recipes for the cocktails that could be made from them. Does it come as a surprise to you that this particular app lived on my home screen for about three minutes before it was deleted? The cocktails it created might have been perfectly fine, but the entire process felt sterile and devoid of any excitement or passion to me, with no recognizable sign of that moment of deep importance anywhere. This makes me think about something I read recently by Nick Cave, the fabulous songwriter, thinker, and musician who has a blog entitled The Red Hand Files, where fans ask him questions about life, love, and loss, and he responds with incredible sensitivity. The question that I’m remembering had to do with whether or not Artificial Intelligence could be capable of writing a great song like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Cave’s answer is that although AI could generate a song that is great from a technical standpoint, it could never capture the experience of Kurt Cobain performing the song as a manifestation of the personal journey it represented for him. He maintains that what we are hearing is the audacity it takes to push against our boundaries as driven by the very human need to transcend our limitations. AI, on the other hand, has no such limitations. “If we have limitless potential,” Cave writes, “then what is there to transcend? And therefore what is the purpose of the imagination at all. Music has the ability to touch the celestial sphere with the tips of its fingers and the awe and wonder we feel is in the desperate temerity of the reach, not just the outcome. Where is the transcendent splendor in unlimited potential?” And the answer is, of course, that there is none. Transcendence cannot exist without limitations. Our task is to allow ourselves to recognize and appreciate even the smallest triumphs of our imagination for what they are: a glimpse of the divine just beyond our reach, yet already held by the fingers of our outstretched hands.
Today’s cocktail was meant to reflect a kind of creative journey that began with the main spirit, a whiskey distilled at Recklesstown from an IPA beer that is then aged in oak barrels. The weight of the whiskey comes through, but the basic flavors of the beer, Spellbound‘s Major Nelson in this case, are still very prevalent. This allowed me to work with the original taste profile as I chose other ingredients for the cocktail. When I first tried the Major Nelson, I sensed that a certain spice and warmth would blend perfectly, so I decided to use a Velvet Falernum that I’d made from scratch at the distillery for the sweet component of the drink. It starts out with almonds, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise, before literally transforming into the adult version of spiced gumdrops. For my citrus, I decided on lime and then began searching for a way to bring the slightest hint of something bright and floral into the mix. I landed on a handcrafted Ginger Hibiscus shrub from Little Apple Treats and then added an ounce of an IPA beer from Evil Twin Brewing in NYC to act as the high note to the deeper bass of the whiskey. To finish up, I decided on house made Angelica bitters to lift the floral notes and to add a certain level of sharpness that would complement the IPA personality of both the whiskey and the beer. As an added bonus, angelica is the herb that symbolizes inspiration, and the thyme garnish is meant to represent the courage it can sometimes take to push against the limits of our own potential. The dragonfly on the glass serves as a reminder that when we do, the end result can truly be transformational. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! Thank you so much for reading.
2.25 oz RFD Cover Crop Major Nelson beer whiskey
1 oz handcrafted Velvet Falernum
1 oz lime juice
.25 Little Apple Treats Ginger Hibiscus shrub
1 oz of your favorite IPA
2 dashes handcrafted Angelica bitters
Single stain into a meaningful Collins glass over fresh ice.
Garnish with thyme sprigs.