Meccano, Creativity and the need to be alone

by Michael Adler

Published in CQ 8/23 June 1990

A Meccanoman who visits a friend with similar interests for the first time with start his journey with some anticipation.  There are a number of factors which he might well want to compare with his own experience.  He will want to see the size of the construction set and its condition, how it is stored, where the area is situated in the house.  For instance I have known friends who have attic spaces, or basements or garages, or even their own Meccano room in their house.  He will be most interested in the circumstances in which Meccano activities take place.

Current wisdom assumes that man is a social being who need the companionship and affection of other human beings from cradle to grave.  Indeed it is widely believed that interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, it not the only, source of human happiness.  The lives of creative individuals seem to run counter to this assumption, for they are bound to spend a great deal of their time alone.  Is the predilection of the creative person for solitude evidence of some inability to make close relationships?  And yet how often have we known true happiness and contentment in some new construction or mechanism.

It is clear that interests, whether in breeding carrier pigeons, speculating in stocks and shares, playing the piano, gardening or Meccano building, play a greater part in the economy of human happiness than modern psycho-analysts allow.  That mysterious being, the ordinary man or woman leaves little behind to indicate the breadth and depth of interests which may during a lifetime have been major pre-occupations.  The enthusiastic gardener can leave evidence of his creations for years, if not for as long as author or painter.    But nothing remains of a passion for windmills or cricket.  Yet we must all have known people who's lives are actually made worthwhile by such interests, whether or not their human relationships were satisfactory.  Love and friendship are an important part, but they are not the only source of happiness and the notion that satisfying human relationships ideally provide happiness, seems to be exaggerated.

Needs change as life advances, and human relationships often become less important. In any case there is always an element of uncertainty in interpersonal relationships.  Human beings seem driven towards the impersonal as well as the personal as long as life span extends beyond the reproductive period.  It could be argued that people who have no abiding interests other than their spouses and their families are as limited intellectually as those who have neither spouse nor children may be emotionally. 

It seems to me that what goes on in the human being when he is by himself is as important as what happens in his interactions with other people.  Two opposing drives operate throughout our lives;  the drive for companionship, love and everything else that brings us close to our fellow men; and the drive towards being independent, separate and autonomous.

Some of man's most significant moments are those in which he attains some new insight, or makes some new discovery, and these moments are chiefly, if not invariably, those in which he is alone.  The capacity to be alone is a valuable resource which facilitates learning, thinking, innovation, coming to terms with change, and the maintenance of contact with the inner world of the imagination.

New ideas emerge or inspiration occurs often in a state of reverie, halfway between waking and sleeping; it is a state of mind in which ideas and images are allowed to appear and take their course spontaneously, but one in which the subject  is sufficiently awake and conscious enough to observe and note their progress.  Forming links between disparate entities, or a union between opposite ideas is an important part of the creative process, which continues throughout life, and takes place largely when one is alone.  New problems occur which compel him to seek new solutions.  Complete works are but halts on the way.

Meccano as pure tabletop engineering, affords us the ability to reproduce structures and mechanisms closely allied to the world at large, and which can in no way be inferior to prototypes because of their difference in size.  It gives us the ability to be creative, innovative, ingenious, artistic.  It is thus a deeply satisfying activity.  Moreover it provides a pathway into old age of interest, activity and challenge.

Each of us has his own style and special fields of interest.  Some are more innovative than others.  Yet all are imbued with the fascinating world of Meccano.  All are able to view with pride the completion of a new model.  Indeed Meccano provides a reason for forming relationships with others of like minded interests.  What starts out as aloneness in the quiet of one's home can unlock the door to companionship, through lifetime personal friendships often built by attendance at meetings and exhibitions, or through the pages of the Meccano literature.  Meccano can therefore provide the perfect bridge between solitude and companionship.

It was Byron who said: "Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt - in Solitude, where we are least alone".