Category Archives: understanding creativity

71118301_62ba2aa695_z

the lovely idea of synchronicity

(This old post on synchronicity was from my old blog and it’s just been sitting around. I realized it’s kind of relevant to my work on a short story – I had a realization the other day that connected an old understanding of my writing process to a new set of information. In the same week, I forwarded some information to a friend who found it relevant to something she was working on – but hadn’t considered in this particular way – and it all congealed around writing she’s been doing and other creative and life endeavors. Very timely for both of us. Anyway, I thought I’d resurrect this, just for the heck of it)

***

Like most people, I’ve experienced synchronicity in my life. It’s a mind-blown moment with meaningfulness  revealed out of previously-unconnected, now suddenly-relevant events, sights, experiences or occurrences.

Synchronicity requires attention – to details and connections. For what is synchronicity without being noticed? It is nothing without awareness, without a participant.

Sometimes I wish for synchronicity, for a sign to counteract the wishing. Of course the wishing is itself a sign that I long for connection with deep meaning that seems to be missing on a daily basis.

It could be suggested that I am simply blind to that which I seek, that it’s there, all along. All the synchronous events, the interlinking meaningfulnesses.

I like to hear about synchronicity at play in people’s lives, it reminds me that indeed, something must be there, this life really is strangely mysterious, and that something might, sometime, be revealed to me.

Some deny value in attributing meaning to synchronous events. Generally this opinion seems to stem from those who uphold a materialistic world view that suggests only material reality, what can be materially proven, has validity.

But I find closed-mindedness distasteful, no matter what costume it wears and would rather take a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. After all, as we’re only a fraction of the universe connected to but not comprehending the whole, I don’t think any human, or even the sum of all human knowledge, knows it all.

I would suggest this: there is no sensory or perceptive organ or ability that is unnecessary.

Nature doesn’t create superfluous perceiving capacities. Organisms have the ability to detect ultrasound because there is ultrasound. Humans hear at 12 to 20,000  hertz, but other animals rely on information transferred at lower and higher frequencies. Some organisms can see (utilizing visible light) because information is transmitted in that way. Plant roots can sense soil nutrients outside their immediate vicinity and then grow toward them whereas we stick our fingers in soil and know nothing more than moisture level and basic physical composition (rocky, sandy, clay, etc). Just because we don’t have certain perceptive capabilities doesn’t mean that things outside our perception don’t exist.

Likewise, I think that humans, being so good at finding meaning, at detecting pattern in the seemingly chaotic, have this capacity simply because meaning can be found, and patterns do exist. I doubt there would be meaning-finders in a world without meaning.

***

My attempt to organize my thoughts on synchronicity  was inspired by Matt Cardin’s post on Liminality, Synchronicity, and the Walls of Everyday Reality. Also, this is tied to a Ribbonfarm post on legibility and the catastrophe of enforcing an oversimplification of patterns on the world. I think a lot of problems might be attributed to not understanding complex patterns.

I wonder how one’s experience of synchronicity might be different if one were more aware of complex, dynamic patterns at play. Also, how much of meaning making, then, is really just simplification?  Akin to the Ribbonfarm-cited example of chaos being anxiety provoking, see  this article about how unclear meaning compels us to search for more meaning.

Lately, I’m thinking about stories and how they relate to deep meaning (which I call Story) and would suggest that synchronicity can point to Story. I’m curious about synchronicities that have served to wake people up to a deeper meaning in their own lives, that pointed out a new direction or provided a chance to recommit and would love to hear about such experiences.

Recently a post over at Holly Lisle’s writing forums brought the topic up. ‘Is the Universe Rooting for You?‘ the original poster asked (free forum sign up required for access, sorry). And several proceeded to tell of ways that parts of stories clicked into place at a point where they seemed most stuck – due to ‘random’ events or information that came just at the right time.

I’m aware of the varieties of cognitive bias – and that I’ve engaged in some of those here. Synchronicity can’t be proven. There isn’t a thing to prove. Nonetheless, it can be perceived and it’s the perceptual experience that is most fascinating.

***

image source: Creative Commons License Gianni Dominici via Compfight

 

 

steps to a goal – How to Think Sideways

* I know most of my Wander-Bird visitors are here because we know each other on the How To Think Sideways Forums. On the off chance that you arrived without coming across Holly Lisle’s many writing classes, may I introduce them to you by way of the story of how I took her How to Think Sideways class and am hard at work creating stories I’m proud of?

It’s a little meandering (I am a Wander-Bird, after all), and when you get to the bottom there’ll be a link to one of the big classes that won’t be offered again for some time. So, while this isn’t exactly an advertisement, it does recommend a product. If you’d like to skip this post, no worries. But if you want to join a group of writers working hard to tell good stories or at least hear how I figured out my hidden skill of taking persistent small steps (every journey, right?) and building something from the ground up (like the Great Wall?), then keep reading!

the obligatory, "I'm at the Great Wall" selfie

 

Speaking of the Great Wall, in 2008 I was living in Beijing, with my nerves a little frayed from the big city, my poor command of Mandarin (the northern accent also threw me after being used to more fluid southern accents), and life in a small apartment with kids. I really wanted a project. A writing project, to be specific. I wanted to move my desire to write out from the realm of journalling where it was slightly furtive and without purpose. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo but didn’t know how to either fit it in or to go about coming up with something worth writing a ‘novel’ about.

One of those “DUH!” moments occurred – I was homeschooling our kids, why not incorporate it into what we were already doing? This was a stroke of brilliance – both kids jumped in, happily (especially since I gave them all of November off from other subjects if they’d commit). Oldest Kid learned to type because of it (and dang, she’s fast now!) while Youngest Kid (who was in first grade) wrote hers by hand and they both ended up completely unafraid of writing and pleased to indulge their Youngest Kid, writing her storyimaginations. They’ve gone on and done NaNo several more times.

So, I had figured out how to fit writing into real life. Now I needed to know how to make what I wrote into a novel.

I searched around for instruction and even in 2008 there were a lot of online resources, so I bopped around for the first week or so trying different options but continuing writing without a solid sense of where I was going. It worked, sort of, in that I got a lot of words down. But there were serious structural flaws – from the plot itself to what was going on in scenes (or not going on, as my characters listened to crickets). It didn’t help that I wrote it out of order as well.

That ‘novel,’ Call the Rain Home, is a poster child for The Many Ways Novels Fail.

I won NaNo that year (as did Oldest and Youngest Kids), and though the story wasn’t finished and it was a mess, I was bitten.

Unknown

This fiction writing thing! It could be awesome!

I still had no clue how to write a real story (remember, I’d been mostly just writing observations and brain-dumps in journals, with some poetry now and again) and I felt the pain of novice-hood by the end of November. I loved the story I’d come up with and it made me sad that it was a broken and unfinished thing.

That’s why even as November was wrapping up, I was still shopping for a method to make a story work.

And that’s when I came across mention of Holly Lisle on the NaNo forums. To my delight (and that of my bank account) she had tons of free information on novel writing. With her help I was able to fill in critical but missing parts of my story, tie pieces together, patch It up a bit so that it could walk over the finish line feeling like a story.

When I returned to the US in 2009 I was ready to go in deeper, though.

file0001906291170After years of worrying my “lack of calling” to death I made a commitment to writing that, to be honest, I’m not sure I understood at the time. Or, if I understood it, I was probably too fearful to dig deeply into it. It wasn’t just a financial commitment, though of course paying for a course like How to Think Sideways WAS a financial commitment. More importantly, It was a commitment to learning and to labor –  motivated by knowing that my deepest self was in search of something.

Part of me wanted something desperately

– a creative life
– certainty that I hadn’t just let something keep its Dream Status without ever paying attention to what was at its heart
– to learn how to do something well
– to write

I wanted to stop praising myself in my head for having done nothing beyond fostering the idea that I “could do something if…”

That wasn’t praiseworthy, it was delusional.

Does it seem crazy that a novel writing course could help even at the deep levels of self-perception?

It’s not.

I am, absolutely, NOT Holly’s best, brightest, quick-outta-the-gate and off-the-presses, student. At least not if you look at my publication (non) record. But if you could see the total revolution that’s occurred in my head, you’d be astounded. I went from being a goal-less dreamer to someone with an enthusiasm for projects and the plans and skills for accomplishing them. I went from never admitting to anyone I was writing to being willing (and nearly ready) to put my work into the world where it can be read (and judged, let’s be honest) by anyone who comes across it. I’m braver, more focused, less prone to fearing my life will amount to nothing.

At the beginning, like a lot of people, I had a history of being my own worst enemy and from its first lesson, How to Think Sideways starts students on a path that gets the enemy out of the way.

Always of two minds: that I *could* write something good (maybe, someday, if given a chance) – and that I would never write something good and who was I fooling. I benefitted from the How to Think Sideways curriculum that helped me look self-sabotage right in the face and decide to stop indulging.

It also gave me tools to change those habits.

Here’s how Holly describes it:

In Section One: Sideways Thinking on Ideas, you’ll learn to clear out the four thinking obstacles that have stood in the way of your success in the past, you’ll learn how to discover your own “genre” that you can take with you wherever you go in the publishing world, you’ll learn how to work with your Muse, you’ll create ideas on a time limit—but without pressure—and not just figure out which ideas are worth writing, but learn how to improve your keepers, and you’ll discover how to find—or create—the market or markets in which you’ll start your career.

For me, Holly’s methods for making friends with your creativity are keystone practices that carry into the entirety of the course and beyond. From the beginning there are systematic methods as well as tips, tricks and exercises related to fiction writing and “creative life in general.”  A lot of it is transferable to short fiction and that’s what I’ve been focusing on lately. But it doesn’t stop there – and it’s not a recipe book – it’s customizable and can be tweaked to fit your own style (or genre).

Full disclosure – I’ve not written a novel with it. Yet. When I do, though, it will have been possible only because I took this course that covers everything from learning to hone in on consistently good ideas that matter to you, how to pace a story by planning scenes, how to keep your creative side happy without sacrificing the logic of your story, and working with agents and publishers as well as producing and publishing your work independently.

Here’s how it stands for me at this point. I’m still a novice and still learning to write a good story – but I’m so much closer than I was before. Now, instead of hiding my passion for writing, I start with the assumption that I can improve and I actively go about learning how to do that. Then I practice, then I test myself. In the coming months I’ll be putting my fiction to the test in a collection of short stories.

Five years ago that would have seemed impossible.

I’m one of Holly’s serial students – so some of what I’ve learned has been from her other courses and workshops, but the key that unlocked the door to freedom from the Fake Dream Perfection Someday trap was How to Think Sideways.

It’s been empowering and educational to work through the lessons, often in conjunction with other writers.

If you’re interested, I recommend you look into it and make a decision in the next two weeks. Holly’s moving her courses to a new website and the migration will make it impossible to support new sign-ups until the move is done. So, if you get in this month, you get to join with a  group of fellow writers (there are benefits to that, especially in the forums) who all start this month too.

There won’t be new openings until after the site move (at which point every existing student will be rolled into the new site, still maintaining access to all the course materials, etc.).

I started HTTS as part of a group and it was great to have classmates working on the same problems and sharing solutions and support. In the last few years Holly kept the course perma-open, something that probably has benefits, but by reverting to once or twice a year open enrollment periods, she’s giving you the best of both options: you can engage with others as you wish – or not, maybe just going through it at your own pace without active involvement with other students.

And that’s key – at your own pace – I think the thing that makes Holly’s teaching method applicable to so many people is that the emphasis is on always keeping close to your creative mind, to finding ways to keep to your own purpose (after honing in on what it is) and breaking everything down into manageable steps.

So, while I’m not currently novel-focused, I’ve still learned a lot from the course.  If this sounds like something you could benefit from, here’s where to find the course: How to Think Sideways 

Be forewarned, it’s not an inexpensive class – but to me it’s been worth every penny I spent on it. Do take your time, if it interests you, to read through the description to get an idea of just how comprehensive the class is.

It’s available to new students starting February 27th until  March 5th, 2015 and then after that enrollment will be closed for at least nine months, maybe even a year.

If you do end up joining in, let me know. I’d love to cheer you on!

***

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an affiliate of Holly’s, meaning that I make a commission if you decide to purchase through one of the links I provide. This doesn’t change the price you pay at all.  If you’re interested in her many free resources, try here: http://hollylisle.com/my-articles/writing-how-tos/

I hope any of these products help you in your creative journey.

***

image credits

– yes, it’s one of those obligatory “I’m at the Great Wall” selfies

– that’s Youngest Kid, writing her story

– compass photo by irkengirdib on morguefile

World Building: Ambassador to the Soil Magicians

Sometimes I think I want to do the impossible here on Wander-Bird: try to tie in all my disparate interests and reveal the common thread that I follow intuitively.

For example, I write stories and I’m a plant geek and apprentice permaculture designer. It seems it would be hard to write a post that would tie those things together, right? Unless I wanted to set a murder mystery in a botanical garden (hmm, maybe that’s a good idea!). I think I figured out from the following video, though, that both interests are fundamentally world building. I’ll be darned, I never saw that coming!

I’ve learned in writing (with the help of the How to Think Sideways course), that the answers to story problems are usually in plain sight and just require training the unconscious mind to actually SEE what’s been observed. As I work on becoming a better writer, I’m still learning to stick to the trail of the story. When I lose it, I find I have to “feel” around the work and let what I’ve observed about it settle in my awareness, letting it percolate at the edges and then -*pop*- up comes an idea for a solution.

The same kind of method is a fundamental part of permaculture design – long observation forms the basis of eventual understanding of the patterns nature uses to generate life in all sorts of situations. It ought to be self-apparent that learning from and emulating nature will always be a good strategy, but since we’re a kind of slow-to-learn-species, I’m glad there are “ambassadors” reaching out with the things they’ve learned (whether about writing or designing communities). I have a lot of respect for those who are willing to stand at the edges of disciplines or established ways of doing and understanding things and try something new. For example, Paul Stamets is a mycologist who, through deep respect for fungal life forms, has explored ways to partner with them to repair damaged land by promoting healthy soil biology.

That’s already pretty fabulous!

But he takes it to another level in his recent research. I don’t think he’s projecting a fantasy world, but it does rely on imagination. Without an observation-fueled imagination, he wouldn’t have figured out a possible way to keep bees healthy in this era of catastrophic collapse.

Check out the video, it’s pretty cool stuff – and he actually does refer to the fungi as soil magicians! :)

*all my links to Holly Lisle's classes and workshops are affiliate links meaning that I make a commission on purchases made through my links at no additional cost to you.

The Trap of my Imagination, Where I am Safely Perfect

278_Spirialling_Steps_of_the_Amedee_LighthouseThis morning, as the end of a year approaches, I woke into an insight as framed in the last few days of reflection and consideration. The insight pointed out that part of me thinks it’s safer to leave GOTS and all my other bits-and-bobs of writing unfinished. I’m pretty aware of this pattern of stopping again and again though I’ve not yet  overcome it.

Fishing around for my motivation to finish GOTS I saw that there is a contradictory inner force pulling the strings, ruling through my own abstention from taking power, my own abdication.

GOTS has this strange quality of never, never ending, while simultaneously taking 60,000 words (so far) to go absolutely nowhere. It’s a non-story, in fact. But if I keep it unfinished, in a permanent state of “draft,” I never have to deal with that. A perpetually hopeful, childish, “I don’t want to grow up and finish something attitude”  keeps everything I work on in a state of incompletion.

dollcar

Short stories are always just drafts, poems are drafts, CTRH (my first “novel-thing”) is a broken mess of a draft that is, not surprisingly, without an ending. GOTS is so flawed that I can’t see my way to complete it because its “completed” state will prove that my writing is a waste of time.

I “refuse” to put action in the story (observing “it just keeps slipping away”), I never make something happen, and my characters don’t act decisively and with commitment (yes, my characters appear to be reflections of my own worst traits, don’t worry, I won’t force you to read it), because doing so would send them on their way toward being just as crappy in their final form. Short stories don’t get shown to anyone, they sit in rough or final drafts or are idealistically compiled into  fake “anthologies” which go nowhere though their mother has high ideals. Everything inhabits a fluid and open spot on my to-do list. Eternally in progress, unjudgeable, safely tucked away.

If that’s the case — and it is the case — now that I’ve identified the problem, what needs to be done to fix it? Two ideas popped up in the course of assessing this situation.

1. I need to submit short pieces to real markets and not just self-pub them (to my audience of 4 blog-readers). Self-pub is in the works for some things, but self-sabotage requires external assistance. If I rely on myself for everything, the process breaks down at some point – something stalls when that outdated mindset wants to keep everything “safely” In Progress.

2. I need to finish a crappy draft of GOTS. It needs to crawl to the finish line. I’ve come to judge it, to think poorly of it, to disdain it because it’s such a pale, broken simulation of what it was supposed to be and keeping it un-done allows my mind to hold onto what “it could have been” and what it  “could be,” the ideal I’m capable of creating in a perfect world where I’m a perfect me.

This means that, for my own peace of mind, to overcome this pattern of cowardice (always backing away, always turning tail with a cheery smile on my face as I look to New Ideas that don’t put up a fight), I have to start calling some things DONE. Play is all well and good and I love that part of creative work – that it engages playfulness – but at this late date, I also need to grow up a little and claim my work as *Something* and not just let it dissolve so I can avoid disappointment through avoiding completion. Not having done this and  always focusing on process, I’ve also avoided the kind of joy that is only available by wrapping something up and feeling the syncretic reality of process joined with final product.

brokenprototypes

It’s time to stop fooling myself with my fantasy world in which I pretend all is well in the workshop, that all the kinks are being worked out eternally, eternally in service of how good my ideal is and, “shhh, don’t look at the broken, misshapen, flat and unworkable prototypes on the factory floor. They’re not mine, I don’t know how they got there.”

If I want to inhabit my creativity, if I want to actually do real work and not live in my head (where it is very, very safe and very, very stifling) then I’m going to have to finish something and let it exist as itself in the world.

That’s what 2014 is going to be about.

***
image credits: Amédée Lighthouse stairs, photo by Eustaquio Santimano, originally on flickr, here, but it wouldn’t load for me. It was also here. Creative Commons license.

the armless driver (WHO is driving this ship?) is also on flickr from donpezzano/Don Urban. Creative Commons license.

the little broken dolls are from the blog Ullabenulla. The blogger, Ulla Norup Millbrath uses such things for her own artwork (lesson: use it all, even the broken pieces!!). Not cc licensed, but hopefully use with attribution is ok.

I, where I turned, felt the enchantment

“The experience of centering was one I particularly sought because I thought of myself as dispersed, interested in too many things. I envied people who were “single-minded,” who had one powerful talent and who knew when they got up in the morning what it was they had to do. Whereas I, where I turned, felt the enchantment: to the window for the sweetness of the air; to the door for the passing figures; to the teapot, the typewriter, the knitting needles, the pets, the pottery, the newspaper, the telephone. Wherever I looked, I could have lived.

 It took me half my life to come to believe I was OK even if I did love experience in a loose and undiscriminating way and did not know for sure the difference between good and bad. My struggles to accept my nature were the struggles of centering. I found myself at odds with the propaganda of our times. One is supposed to be either an artist or a homemaker, by one popular superstition. Either a teacher or a poet, by a theory which says that poetry must not sermonize. Either a craftsman or an intellectual, by a snobbism — which claims either the hand or head as the seat of true power. One is supposed to concentrate and not to spread oneself thin, as the jargon goes. And this is a jargon spoken by a cultural leadership from which it takes time to win one’s freedom, if one is not lucky enough to have been born free. Finally, I hit upon an image: a seed-sower. Not to worry about which seeds sprout. But to give them as my gift in good faith.

      – M.C. Richards in Centering: In Pottery, Poetry and the Person

 

***
related, in case you haven’t seen it, to this post.

Florence_GL_27jul09_pa_b_592x888

Florence and the Mythic


Let’s talk about magic,

starts off the “About” page of Florence + the Machine’s website.

Because music, at its best, is a kind of magic that lifts you up and takes you somewhere else. two modes of consciousness

Muse
Three Graces/Three Muses? Click on the pic to see the connection.

Coming to her website after repeatedly playing her most recent album, Ceremonials, this was spot on with what makes Florence Welch’s music work for me. I like to be transported, I like a whiff of old magic mixed with my modern sensibilities, find I resonate with the presence of the mythic in my own and other people’s creative work.

Creativity is a little like conjuring. We call up something from the deep and give it life. It’s strange, fickle, difficult work. And sometimes it doesn’t work and the artist, the creator, is led instead to silence or stoppage, dark days, dreamless nights. The recent Moveable Feast of posts (on Terri Windling’s blog) on the topic of Madness and Inspiration has links to thoughts on just this.

out of a myth
Medea? Priestess of Hecate?
click the pic…

Altered states of consciousness, changing perspectives and perceptions, shamanic practices and mystery traditions (and their association with psyche-altering consumables), are so tied up in humanity’s ability to create that sometimes we cross beyond the borderlands, past “right mind,” in ways that are uncontrollable, ways that threaten to lose us in the process.

Eventually her website comes to this,

Florence writes her best songs when she’s drunk or has a hangover, because that’s when the freedom, the feral music comes, creating itself wildly from the fragments gathered in her notebooks and in her head.

Apparently she’s on an unfortunately stereotypical (and honestly unhealthy) path of creation associated (for some) with “output” but one which can also lead ultimately to destruction. Cruel irony.

Here’s an example of her beautiful, “feral music.”*

Her website continues with Welch saying more about her songwriting process and its reliance on alcohol:

You’re lucid,” she explains, “but you’re not really there. You’re floating through your own thoughts, and you can pick out what you need. I like those weird connections in the universe. I feel that life’s like a consistent acid trip, those times when things keep coming back.”

 “I feel things quite intensely, which is why the music has to be so intense. I’m either really sad or really happy, I’m tired or completely manic. That’s when I’m at my most creative, but it’s also dangerous for me. I feel I could write some good songs, or break some hearts. Or tables. Or glasses.”

Obviously everybody who wants to be creative has to figure out what works for their Muse, and alcohol seems to be a common method, though I wonder if it’s worth it in the end. Last week I wrote of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, saying “he relates to the previous post on writers/artists and altered states of consciousness (the opium doesn’t invalidate his work, in my opinion),” and now I wonder if hold/held that opinion because he’s dead. Or maybe it’s a biased romanticizing of the Romantic poet. How else do I explain my contradictory notion that when seeing Florence Welch so alive and full of power and productivity I have a simultaneous feeling of pity and disdain for her methods?

Why, since I haven’t personally taken those paths to creativity, do I have a strong reaction against alcohol-as-fuel but am fine with art-from-other-psychotropes?  Maybe they both work.  In spite of not being productive or prolific, I don’t have any intention to try either approach and so I’m left looking for other means – a subject for another post.

But I still have this question: Is the result (an artistic perceptiveness and consciousness) justified by the means of attaining it (drugs, drink, prayer, ritual)? Are the means equal? If not, isn’t that evidence that it’s important to find right methods – the ones that work in a pinch and pinch-hit for each other on off days, the ones that dip you in the pool of images but don’t drown you in madness or your own vomit?

Speaking of the pool of images, here’s Florence and the Machine’s latest video release, Spectrum.

She’s obviously steeped in symbolism, attracted to the mythic too. Her first album, Lungs, is described thus:

The songs are full of Gothic imagery, of fairytale flights of fantasy…

and tucked into the end of the same biography is this telling statement,

Florence goes at it like a woman possessed.

Here, from the song “All This and Heaven Too”

And the heart is hard to translate
It has a language of its own
It talks in tongues and quiet sighs,
And prayers and proclamations
In the grand days of great men and the smallest of gestures
And short shallow gasps

But with all my education I can’t seem to command it
And the words are all escaping, and coming back all damaged
And I would put them back in poetry if I only knew how
I can’t seem to understand it

And it talks to me in tiptoes

And it sings to me inside
It cries out in the darkest night and breaks in the morning light

And I would give all this and heaven too

I would give it all if only for a moment
That I could just understand the meaning of the word you see
‘Cause I’ve been scrawling it forever but it never makes sense to me at all

No, words are a language

It doesn’t deserve such treatment
And all of my stumbling phrases never amounted to anything worth this feeling

All this heaven never could describe such a feeling as I’m hearing

Words were never so useful
So I was screaming out a language that I never knew existed before.

—–
On a side note, I initially enjoyed the music of Ceremonials for its own sake but seeing the rich imagery of her videos, I’m equally enjoying how full and lush with the symbolic they are.  The Art Deco/Art Nouveau flavor of her website and costumes is beautiful as well.

I’m certainly not the first to comment on her artistic influences, ranging from pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts in addition to the two movements noted above. This blogger, and especially, this one already have and there have been write ups in fashion magazine (with accompanying photos) on the topic.

 

 

 

*I’m sorry to those of you in countries where you don’t have access to videos (as here, in Germany, where they’re super uptight about media rights). You might try a VPN to circumvent that.

SONY DSC

Oh, the Mad, Magical Mind!

There is so much back story to the things I eventually want to post here that I freeze up and don’t get started. As in my regular creative life, hurdles appear large, and without adequate momentum I don’t get over them. The only thing to do, perhaps, is ignore the necessity of extensive back story and just write what needs to be written.*

So, the brief version: Over the years I’ve come to find that creative activity is essential to my existence. That knowledge, combined with severe self-judgment about the quality and quantity of creative output has led me to be keenly interested in understanding just what fuels creativity, what it means psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, practically. It’s possible that this is a fancy and somewhat academic way of shunning actual artistic endeavors (intellectual procrastination), but determining that is also part of the quest to understand and ideally, enhance this journey.

Given what has already been established in my experience – the connection between creative states and mental states, despair over inability to function creatively coupled with existential depression, an awareness that creative “inspiration”** certainly may be understood as characterized by firing neurons (and thus be biologically based), and that it might be useful to consider an inspiration source outside the self – I am aware of close ties creativity and mental illness have had throughout history.

I’m aware too, that mental illness is, in our society, often conflated with proclivities toward altered states of consciousness. Are they the same and mutually inclusive? By suggesting so (and thus pathologizing the whole caboodle), do we deny validity to the often physical, social, and cultural benefits of ASCs? A tightrope awaits the one who journeys this way.

Altered states of consciousness are praised in certain circles – shamans, psychonauts, visionaries and religious practicants (and hippies and hipsters, too) search them out. Heck, we all do (see Consumption of Alcohol, Children Spinning in Circles and other commonplace activities that stretch awareness and perception). Simultaneously we have difficulty dealing with extreme ends of the spectrum as relates to mental phenomena such that there are severe social stigmas associated with altered mentality.

On Friday, one of my favorite author-artists, Terri Windling, posted an invitation to join her in considering the link between hearing voices and hearing muses and thinking back through the path I’ve taken to explore the nature of personal and general creativity, I offer a hat-tip to a number of places I’ve come across other writers’ and artists’ take on this topic.

Douglas Eby’s Talent Development Resources has numerous articles in the category Mental Health exploring the connections and misconceptions between facing one’s demons (and using them creatively) and finding one’s daemon (as the Greeks conceived of one’s link to cosmic creativity through personification). These two articles may be of interest as well as the writings of those who challenge the stereotype of tortured, afflicted artist as the only legitimate embodiment of creativity.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk was synchronous with several sources of the idea that it might be useful to make friends with one’s muse (or non-linear, non-rational mind, however you want to call it) which I found when I needed them. And I am grateful for James Hillman’s words on the deep meaning of following one’s imagination-as-real: “Personifying not only aids discrimination, it also offers another avenue of loving, of imagining things in a personal form so that we can find access to them with our hearts.” Matt Cardin has considered the topic skillfully and in great depth on his focused blog Demon Muse and in his collection of writings on muse- or daemon-based-creativity, Course in Demonic Creativity. Don’t let the title scare you off, it’s well worth the read.

In his other blog, The Teeming Brain, (with enough links to provide interesting reading for months and insight on those links to keep you returning for more) Cardin questions a definition of reality that excludes the “unproveable” or that denies the reality of imagination and dream (see this post on the weird territory of alien abductions).

I think we’re in an era of uncertain self-identity, coming out of the stark materialism that resulted after having been burned by the Middle Ages. No pun intended, I think the witch burnings left serious scars, as did the Enlightenment – basically we’re all not right in the head, but at least we are trying to understand the implications of consciousness in a world of material manifestations. There is fuzzy space, room for interpretation and a lot of uncertainty about how this all gets tossed together and who we are in the process.

Regarding the reality/unreality dichotomy, another TEDtalk is worthwhile. USC professor Elyn Saks talks about her experience with schizophrenia, characterized by psychosis (“being out of touch with reality”) because of delusions (”fixed and false beliefs that are not responsive to evidence”) and hallucinations (”false sensory experiences”).

Given some flexibility with what experiences you jam into those categories, does the creative who enters imaginal realms (not reality)and converses with entities whose existence cannot be proven (characters of stories) differ qualitatively from the schizophrenic or the religious adherent caught up in ecstatic fervor and speaking in tongues or seeing angels?

What is the dividing line between those who mine their dreams, to whom the dreamed image begs to be brought to life and those who suffer a “nightmare while awake?” While in a psychotic episode Saks engaged in “loose association” in many ways reminiscent of my experience with poetry and free-associative writing, some of which has resulted in a sense of my being carried by something not myself, as a conduit of an energy seeking expression through language.

Saks goes on to say that she resisted medication for some time out of the assumption that “the less medicine, the less defective” she was. Interestingly, Sinead O’Conner found that with the help of medication to treat her manic-depressive (bipolar) disorder, her creativity and enjoyment of music and life returned, suggesting that artists needn’t suffer to reach their potential – terrible suffering doesn’t have to be a starting point, even if Rilke famously said, ”If my devils leave me, my angels will too.”

Being a relatively well-trained rationalist I sometimes feel defensively insecure about my clear-headed decisions to engage in magical thinking.

Yes, I wished on a lot of dandelions in hopes that we would move to Germany with Dan’s work. Did I really think the dandelions would make it happen? No. But it was a kind of Pascal’s wager and I seeded more lawns in California than I care to admit and quietly thanked the gorgeous blooms here in Germany this spring.

Yes, I search for ways to write from other consciousness perspectives besides the purely logical, evidence-seeking one.  I converse with my Muse-mind, walk in the woods hoping to find the place where I can understand animal-talk. I want to believe there is more than just a sack of bones and a brain with logical thoughts calling itself Wendy. I want deep psyche-spirit connection with a reality greater than I can rationally understand. I want to write from that connection – that’s what makes the phases of uncertainty and creative fumbling that looks a lot like listening to voices in my head worthwhile.

—-
*I will ignore the debate over whether or not any blog post NEEDS to be written given the information sea that swamps everyone.
** is this an overused word in these times, when we understand it etymologically, but don’t actually believe that something is doing the breathing-in?