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Introducing Margaret and Mireille

I would like you to meet two sides of my creative personality.

Margaret is organized and efficient.
You can depend on Margaret to Get. Things. Done. (Usually with spreadsheets.)
Her favourite colours are black and white, and she is something of a homebody.
She studies chemistry and calculus for fun.

Mireille, on the other hand, is dramatic and emotional.
You never know what Mireille is going to do from one moment to the next.
She dresses in a riot of colour and adores travel.
Her favourite pastime is yoga.

You can tell a lot just by looking at them.

Margaret and Mireille used to be at each other constantly.

“Can’t you clean up after yourself?” Margaret would snipe. “This mess is stressing me out!”

But Mireille just laughed. “Oh, did I leave that there? Sorry, I was thinking about my novel.”

Or Mireille would start poking Margaret when she was hard at work. “You’re so boring. Let’s watch Downton Abbey and eat truffles.”

“Leave me alone,” Margaret huffed. “Someone has to pay the bills around here. Besides, sugar is bad for you.”

Each was highly suspicious of the other’s approach.

How could Margaret possibly enjoy life when she was analyzing things all the time? What could Mireille make of herself when she spent her days reading books and cooking up hare-brained schemes?

Sometimes things got very acrimonious. “You’re a lazy, good-for-nothing scatterbrain!” Margaret would shriek at Mireille. “I’m not giving you any time for writing this month. See how you like that.”

“Oh really? Well, you’re an uptight, self-righteous egghead. How’d you like a severe shoulder ache and a shot of anhedonia? Try and get any work done now.”

Needless to say, things were not going well.

Then one day I told them that I’d had enough of their bickering.

“You’re both on the same side,” I said. “If you could only co-operate and contribute from your strengths instead of tearing each other down, we’d get a lot farther.”

The ladies eyed each other skeptically. All this time they’d been trying to turn each other into themselves (two Margarets! two Mireilles! Wouldn’t that have been more congenial?) But their efforts had been in vain. They were each stubbornly different.

Then I showed them the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Margaret liked that he was a psychology researcher with a PhD. Mireille liked that he studied writers and artists. (Plus she became obsessed with listening to his name over and over again on Google Translate.)

“Look,” I told them, “Csikszentmihalyi has written that many creative people have complex personalities.”

[They] show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes—instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.” Like the color white that includes all hues in the spectrum, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves.

Having a complex personality means being able to express the full range of traits that are potentially present in the human repertoire but usually atrophy because we think that one or the other pole is “good,” whereas the other extreme is “bad.”

from Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Creatives need all the dimensions of their personalities.

“But I’m the one with the ideas!” pouted Mireille. “I must be the most important.”

“Well, your ideas wouldn’t see the light of day if I didn’t get you out of bed in the morning,” objected Margaret.

“Ladies, please! Let us stipulate that you are both of equal value.” (Margaret smiled when I said stipulate.) “Could you possibly come up with an image that demonstrates how you can work together to keep me happy and productive?”

M & M conferred for a few moments. Then Margaret started narrating while Mireille searched Compfight for a good photo.


“This race car is you. You’re a high performance creativity machine. We are your pit crew. I handle mechanics and maintenance, tire changes, part replacement, that kind of thing. Mireille here keeps the gas tank full.”

“I love it!” I said. “So Margaret, you keep life running smoothly. You make sure I remember my appointments and eat a proper lunch. You fix typos and figure out E-Junkie and remind me to go to bed.

And Mireille, you keep me supplied with truth and beauty and make connections between ideas so I have lots of material to draw on when I sit down to write. You take me on long walks for contemplation and channel the voice of the divine.”

“And don’t forget a steady diet of pleasure,” Mireille said. “Valrhona chocolate is an inspiring thing!”

“As long as it’s in moderation,” Margaret said. “Too much sugar makes you groggy and then you can’t focus.”

“You see?” I said. “I need you both. Do you think you can team up?”

Margaret and Mireille smiled at each other. “I suppose,” said Margaret. “Since it’s for a good cause,” said Mireille.

Now I’m curious, do you have a squabble going on between the various aspects of your creative personality? Have you been able to call a truce? What did you do?

Photo by sidehike

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