The Creative Mind Never Runs Out

Château d’If prison, a fortress off the coast of Marseilles, only holds “the ones they’re ashamed of,” even its warden admits: those who are innocent but showed up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Edmond Dantès is one of them.

After rotting away in his cell for seven years, Dantès finally receives a surprise visitor. As it turns out, his fellow inmate Abbé Faria spent five years digging his escape tunnel in the wrong direction. Where Dantès is apathetic, almost disgusted at the sight of another human being, Faria is in good spirits despite his “minor” navigational error.

Having nearly lost his ability to speak, the first sentence Dantès manages to utter is this: “There are 72,519 stones in my walls. I’ve counted them many times.” To which a smirking Faria can only say: “But have you named them yet?”

It’s truly an “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” moment, and while initially, Dantès starts weeping, eventually, Faria will convince him to come around. “Let’s dig together,” he suggests. “This time in the right direction.”

As part of their cooperation, Faria, a former priest, teaches Dantès everything he knows. How to read. How to write. Knowledge about science, economics, and mathematics. Even a little philosophy.

Will they make their great escape? At this point in The Count of Monte Cristo, no viewer knows, but the lesson is abundantly clear: There is always more to do for the creative mind.

The concept of prison is to break humans spiritually more so than physically. For an innocent man in a hellhole, the goal isn’t to get out without a scratch on his back. It is mental and emotional self-preservation — and what better way to achieve both those things than to keep yourself occupied?

To Faria, it doesn’t matter whether his endeavors are made up, logical, or completely fruitless from their inception. What matters is staying busy. Have you counted all the stones? Great! Now name them. Have you memorized all the numbers? Wonderful, let’s run some calculations. Dug your tunnel towards the wrong end of the prison? Whoops — let’s turn around and keep digging!

I haven’t been bored in a long time, but with every passing year of my writing journey, I discover more books, essays, and posts I want to write. The only limit I know is that there’s not enough time to live all this life I want to live. That is its own kind of problem, but it’s a lot better than the alternative: Sitting in a dark room by oneself, disengaged and demotivated.

The most rewarding activities are the ones we pursue for their own sake. When ideas spring from our brain like flowers out of a meadow, ideas that we maybe can’t justify but know we must pursue, that’s when we are truly alive — and this state is no less accessible to us in a damp, lonely prison cell than it is in the middle of Times Square, one of the most energetic, pulsating places in the world.

There’s this saying that, when you think you’re bored, actually, you’re just boring. Perhaps sometimes, that is true. Most of the time, however, it is an entirely different set of emotions running underneath the superficial phenomenon. You might be afraid, depressed, or disconnected. You could be grieving a loss or hesitant to start a new adventure.

Whatever it is, once you pull it out into the light, accept it, and process it, the clouds will clear away, and the path forward will appear. Let the past pass so new imagination may flow in. There is always more to do for the creative mind — even if it means digging a tunnel for the next eight years.