Caleb and I spent his Spring Break in Costa Rica visiting my Uncle John, who is spending the semester teaching geology at a university in San Jose. It was our first time in Central America, let alone Costa Rica, and we went into the trip with a plan to actively explore both San Jose and a few destinations outside the city, accessible by bus.
Highlights of the week included a day-trip to Jaco, a beach town on the west coast of the country, a long weekend spent in La Fortuna, the small, gateway town to Arenal Volcano National Park, and an afternoon at Sibu, a chocolatoeria and cafe that uses organic Costa Rican cacao to craft the most divine chocolates and desserts.
Unexpected highlights of the week were the early morning and evening hours that we spent huddled around the kitchen table with Uncle John, talking about everything from memories of past trips together to updates on various family members to books and current events. A good conversation never fails to leave me feeling nourished and invigorated, and we had some stellar talks with Uncle John.
During our many hours of conversation, Uncle John (my mom’s younger brother, a Ritter) made a comment that stood out to me about my Coda-family aunts and uncles, whom he has gotten to know through backpacking trips that include the two sides of my extended family. He observed that a conversation with one of the Coda brothers is like a brainstorming session: a free-form and spontaneous discussion that (hopefully) leads to unexpected connections, new ideas, and creative solutions to problems. Uncle John commented that he sometimes feels compelled to take notes during a conversation with my Uncle Tom, for example, because the movements of Uncle Tom’s mind lead to all sorts of new ideas.
I nodded along in agreement with Uncle John as he made this observation; I’ve often been struck by how thought-provoking and fascinating conversations with Dad and his brothers are. More than recalling a positive quality of my extended family, however, Uncle John’s comment reminded me of the importance of brainstorming, a term that I loved how he used to describe the high-energy dialogue with my Coda uncles.
Brainstorming is the sort of activity that I’ve done formally in school and work settings in the past, but haven’t necessarily given much thought to in my personal endeavors and more self-directed recent work. Unlike my Coda uncles, brainstorming isn’t something that comes naturally to me; I’m much more inclined to follow a to-do list than to let my mind wander in uncharted direction. Uncle John’s observation reminded me of the fruits of brainstorming and inspired me to prioritize making time for the activity.
Reflecting on brainstorming led me to realize that brainstorming is part of (if not the primary) reason why I blog. Because of my inclination to follow an ordered to-do list, I can’t count on brainstorming to happen naturally in conversations that I have with others and thought-processes that I go on alone. I need to devote particular time to brainstorming — to thinking about one idea and letting it take me to new thoughts, considerations, places and ideas. Writing helps me to do this, and blogging forces me to write.
When I write a post, I generally have three pages open on my computer: the document in which I’m writing the post, an internet browser where I fact check and utilize the dictionary, and a separate brainstorming document. In the brainstorming document, I capture the new thoughts and fresh ideas spring from the idea that I’m writing about in my post; I’m then able to return to these ideas at a later time. This method of brainstorming has helped me tap into my creative side and has made it so that I’m never at a loss for an idea of what to write about. It has also given me a place to note ideas that come to me at other moments in my life. Possessing a brainstorming document is like having a camera on my phone; I’m always prepared and ready to capture what might otherwise be a passing thought.