14
Oct
09

Making it ourselves

I saw the Tim Burton film 9 last night with my wife. It was a movie that promised so much, yet failed to satisfy. In fact it was painful how breathless plotting, ponderous dialogue, and shameless clichés managed to rob a story that could have been heartbreakingly human. Instead it was a collection of fascinating ideas and themes that were ultimately lifeless.

This has always been a hazard of Hollywood, for seekers of substance. Every now and again a film is the real deal, but often it’s a pale, stilted imitation of authentic expression.

My wife and I noted that more and more of the promising movies we’ve seen have left that empty taste. The question hit us–are we witnessing a twilight of artistic depth? Is the age of personal human vision in art and storytelling passing from the earth?

I don’t know much about how 9‘s vision germinated. I do know that the production processes of movies and television provide a wealth of material for consumption, but are not conducive to authenticity. Human-ness is not produced by committee. What are then chances that a creator will say something honest, and be heard, as content-as-product proliferates?

Perhaps this trend in movies represents a mere slump, a recession if you will, in creativity. But if it is indeed the birth pangs of a complete creative collapse in the “entertainment” industry, then I must conclude that if we want to have stories with integrity, we must make them ourselves.

This is why roleplaying and storyjamming are more than mere diversions for me.

This is the way we make our own myths, the way we keep the flame of story alight. This is the way we teach ourselves, over and over, to be humans. This is the way we celebrate who we are.

Occasionally, within the “system,” (or sometimes in defiance of it–Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, for instance) a fire will blaze up that speaks with integrity, that teaches us, that celebrates with us. We cherish these flames. But by and large, we’re on our own. So we write our own novels with a purpose beyond leveraging motion picture rights, we make our own comics which explore the endless possibilities, we make our own music in our living rooms and on our street corners for whoever is there to hear. . .and we sit down by the hearth to tell stories together.

Put like that, storyjamming is less a pastime and more a calling. A calling I mean to keep.

Peace,

-Joel

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27 Responses to “Making it ourselves”


  1. October 14, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Hear, hear!

    Though, I find something interesting in your choice of words–an echo, perhaps, of a particular way of thinking, brought into sharp relief precisely by its dissonance with what you say. You said that, “Human-ness is not produced by committee,” and asked how “creator will say something honest.” I know what you mean! And yet, those words echo with a story I don’t find much use for these days. It goes like this: “Creativity comes from an individual human brain, so meaningful art must come from an individual’s creative vision.”

    In the current issue of Orion Magazine (you can also read it online), David Abram has a fantastic article titled, “The Air Aware,” in which he traces the history of this story to the existential trauma of the Copernican revolution. He suggests a different story. It goes like this: “Creativity happens all around us. It doesn’t come from us, but we get to participate in it.”

    Elizabeth Gilbert gave a TED talk (you can watch it on YouTube), where she talked about creativity, and the story, ancient in our own culture, about “genius.” The very same word that we now use to mean that kind of individual creativity that lives in a human brain, came from the Latin word for “spirit,” because they saw creativity not as an internal force, but as something that could come to visit anyone. A gifted artist simply laid out the welcome mat. In fact, she goes further, and illustrates with the accounts of artists, poets and authors, how our experience of creativity aligns much better with that story, than the story about anthropogenic creativity.

    Joe Sheridan & Roronhiakewen “He Clears the Sky” Dan Longboat wrote an article titled, “The Haudenosaunee Imagination and the Ecology of the Sacred” in 2006. I love to cite it, because they throw around big words like this: “Cultures colonized by these conceits tautologically confirm the interior sources of their intelligence. Minds colonized by such conceits think and conceive of themselves in this grammar of possessive individualism. Onkwehonwe (unassimilated, traditional Haudenosaunee), in contrast, regard any assumption concerning the existence of autonomous, anthropogenic minds to be aberrations that violate the unity, interrelation, and reciprocity between language and psychology, landscape and mind.”

    So, YES! And!

    Perhaps human-ness DOES come from committee! Of course, “committees” usually run on a death spiral of negative energy. Some brave soul puts out an idea, and others shoot it down. You wind up with the lowest common denominator. I think things produced by committee got their reputation that way.

    But does that automatically mean that we should expect or look for an individual’s “genius” to produce meaningful art? A committee–a group, a band–who comes together to explore the creativity they participate in together, the stories that come from the places they live, where they build on each other’s ideas, rather than breaking them down, building up their energy rather than tearing it apart, ah! That, I call storyjamming!

    My apologies if this merely diverts attention away from your passionately articulated proclamation; I thought it an interesting point to ponder, down the paths that your words sent me wandering down.

  2. October 15, 2009 at 7:09 am

    Joel and Jason,

    BOTH of you rock! I’m sharing this thread on the Monkey because both of you have touched on some issues that really stir me up – especially the notion of storycraft/storyjamming/mythopoeia as a calling. I’ve been percolating on that very notion for the past couple of weeks within the scope of trying to authenticate who I am and what I’m doing with my life.

    Thanks.

  3. 3 storybythethroat
    October 15, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Thanks so much, Mick! I’m delighted that you’ve found value in what I had to say. I too am in a process of calibrating and authenticating who I am, and it’s always a tremendous encouragement to find that what you value resonates with someone else as well!

  4. 5 storybythethroat
    October 15, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Cool, Jason! You raise a good point–I was very aware of the cognitive dissonance as I wrote, but found the language of rugged individualism impossible to separate from the idea of honest artistic expression. Which is interesting in itself! I’m very interested in the more animist understanding of participating in story, but the Enlightenment-humanist paradigm of isolated lights of brilliant vision permeates my perspective.

    I think the thing about “committee” is that the Hollywood version is divorced from shared human-ness, and the story-band is steeped in it. This is rooted in the very thought-patterns involved, and in the priorities and interests of participants. If one person wants to tell a story with integrity, but another wants to leverage a demographic, and another wants to get a cushy gig for an actor whom he owes a favor, and another wants to secure the best product-placement deals. . .well, humanity gets obviously lost. I’ve had a phrase on my mind, from Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: “Requesting that which enriches life.”

    With that as a priority and guiding principle, I think a lot of the stifling and stagnating influences would just fall away.

  5. 6 Willem
    October 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Important, vital stuff. I can’t hear this often enough – what conditions create stories with life, and what discourages it. Thanks guys.

  6. October 15, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for the thoughts. I also posted this to our website for further discussion. Herew was my initial comment to our group (Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester):

    Not a bad point. I agree that as the story-telling aspect of the mass consumer
    culture degrades it becomes more and more important to tell our own stories.
    RPGs are a very neat forum in which to do that. However, we should not overlook
    the classics as source for Great Story. Traditional Myths are imbued, I
    believe, with intrinsic meaning that relates to aspects of the human and divine
    relationship, and the inner world of the psyche and how it operates. Making up
    our own stories can be quite shallow too, especially if we happen to already be
    influenced (infected?) by the modern consumeristic story machine. So I am a
    proponent of reading the classics – of which there happen to be more than most
    people could read in a lifetime. And that’s a good thing.

    Carry on, friends. :)

  7. October 15, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I had a longer bit on this topic in my InterestingPDX presentation at one point, relating to the Save Farscape movement from back in the day. SF fans in particular are always having to fight to keep their preferred stories coming out of a system that’s designed to maximize profits, not diversity or quality of stories. We need to take stories back out of the centralized-currency economy if we want any good ones. (And, as Jason further elaborates, out of the attention-fixation economy too!)

  8. October 15, 2009 at 11:13 am

    (To clarify, the bit to which I refer didn’t end up in the final presentation.)

  9. October 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Hey Joel,

    I saw 9 and was hella disappointed. Reason Number One is lack of authenticity and emotional depth.

    Reason Number Two: Most bad-ass warrior evar gets relegated to unimportant love interest by the end of the movie, with some intense scenes of deprotagonization which seem to exist to do nothing other than skew the power balance in favour of our noble hero, 9.

    Reason Number Three: 9 is the young upstart hero. 1 is the old, scared man who’s been running the community on fear and experience. But, 1’s still been running the community and it’d have been nice to provide even a single scene where 1 saves the day. It would have reminded us that: there was a genuine struggle of interests, no tact is perfect, 9 was challenging some pretty serious rules (which were necessary to survival). Instead, we got a message of “rugged individualism in the face of community values and established norms is always good”. Grr.

    But, those other reasons are not the focus here. Now that I’m done bitching about them, I’ll move on.

    I want to challenge your “art isn’t made by committee” statement in another way.
    Story-bands, roleplaying groups… these are committees.
    They have rules for making decision based on consensus, and on voting (or, more accurately, setting stakes and resolving conflicts).
    There is the equivalent of a chairperson governing an agenda in most cases.
    They are places where people come together and compromise their creative visions to create a Shared Imagined Space.

    Our most meaningful art comes from people sharing, compromising, integrating and interacting. STATEMENT.

    The reason 9 was a disappointment was because the sharing, compromising, integrating and interacting happened on several of the wrong axes: that of producer/consumer and group-interest/self-interest.

    I strongly urge you, for reasons separate from Jason’s reasons, to recognize how vital working together is to much of our art, specifically story games.

  10. 11 christopher kubasik
    October 15, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Good things are made socially all the time.

    And movies aren’t moving into a horrible, soul sucking place. There have been movies with lots of good movies — and years with lots of bad movies. Since the start of movies.

    The issue is, who has gathered socially to make the movie?

    Shane Acker is an animator, not a writer. Like a lot of visually focused directors, he can let his love of the visuals run the movie — even if it means the script is lacking. Terry Giliam, Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov are examples of directors who do this. With a strong producer overseeing the show there will be a strong script, and no one is going to think that the visuals will carry the day.

    So, let’s see who was producing for Shane Acker:

    Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton.

    Oh, yeah. That’s going to be a problem.

    So, no. The problem isn’t lots of people. Shakespeare was a producer and company member for his plays. He knew what actors he had available and wrote to give them parts to suit them best. Same with Moliere. And so on.

    Theater. Movies. Bands. Studios run by name painters and helped by lots of assistants.

    The trick is, is everyone at the top of their game and is everyone watching everyone else’s back in different capacities.

    The myth that art is done by one cool guy is pernicious, but I find it strange promulgated by folks who love the artistic expression of RPGs.

    — christopher

  11. October 15, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Wow–thank you all so much for this thread!

    Mick, thank you! It means a good bit coming from you. I started down this road listening to the Round Table. Your episode on story games got me started on all this!

    Joel, me too! I always find the echoes of stories I no longer even believe finding their way into the things I say. I don’t expect to ever become somehow “pure,” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t trained a careful ear to listen for when I do it. I usually find it enlightening, as I find new and interesting ways in which the old stories keep cropping up.

    I find myself in violent agreement with both you and Joe! When you think of a committee, you think of a bunch of people hired for a job, compensated for their talents, and held responsible for bringing a return on their investments. That naturally creates a pretty conservative atmosphere. New ideas can help, but only if they don’t fail. So, committees operate on a “No,” rule. When someone proposes a rule, you look for the problem. If you can’t find a problem, it passes. So, you typically shoot ideas down. You work by breaking down the energy in the room. You get a death spiral, and you end up with the lowest common denominator. It works great for finding something “safe,” something that won’t take any risks. Businesses love that kind of thing, but it makes for terrible art. I think “designed by committee” has taken on that meaning because of precisely that process.

    Then, you have that individual genius, and she might create something terrible intelligent and clever. Lots of brilliant artists do this all the time. But that work can never become more clever, more brilliant, more moving, than the artist herself. So, yes, Mark! Particularly the classics that came from a long tradition, like the Homeric epics (which, we now know, simply recorded Homer’s live performance of much older, oral epics). Our myths and traditions came from many generations of people pulling from the images and stories that meant something to them, and riffing on them. Jamming. Live performances by traditional storytellers often bear little resemblance to what passes for “storytelling” today. The audience interjected with questions, assertions and demands; the storyteller had to respond to those verbal cues, but also had to read the crowd on a more subtle level, and move the story not just towards what they SAID they wanted, but what they *really* wanted. They came from a long process of … well, something not entirely unlike storyjamming.

    But take even the very same human persons you had sitting in that committee before, and put them together again. Only this time, give them a different dynamic. This time, they want to explore the creativity they all participate in. This time, they follow a different rule: “Yes, and!” Now, what do you get?

    Mick made a post about this, so Judd made a post about Mick’s post (and they both said awesome and wonderful things), and on THAT post, Jesse Burneko said this: “I keep running into gamers who insist that rules ‘get in the way of a good story.’ To which I’ve formulated this reply.

    “In the games I play I’ve never seen the rules get in the way of *a* good story. Not once. I have many, many times seen the rules get in the way of the story a particular player wants to tell. That’s good. I hope the rules get in the way of you telling me your character’s story. I’m not interested in you telling me a story. I’m interested in the process of exploring human issues which will create a story. Hopefully, one that neither of us ever expected or perhaps wanted (in the safe and comfortable sense of the word) to tell.”

    I think I will use this as my stock response from now on, when people ask me why you’d want rules to tell a story. For people like us, habituated to the notion that imagination lives inside a human skull, and stories begin their lives when we make them up, those rules play the crucial role of scrambling our expectations. They keep us from making up a story, and instead, following where the story leads us. They force us out of our heads and into the moment, from making up our own story, and into participating in the story that WE tell, together, here, now.

    So, I agree with you, Joe! I think we simply attach some different associations with the word “committee.” We always have system–whether system looks the 3.5 edition Player’s Handbook, Robert’s Rules of Order, or the tribe’s etiquette, taboos and rituals surrounding how we tell stories. But system matters. So the best stories come from groups; and the worst stories also come from groups. It all depends on what kind of game they play, doesn’t it?

    • 13 Hans Otterson
      October 15, 2009 at 5:59 pm

      Instead, we got a message of “rugged individualism in the face of community values and established norms is always good”.

      Welcome to the U.S. of A., Joe! Seriously, I’m fucking sick of that same message and story being shoved down my throat.

      Anyway, more to the point: this post is provocative, and is shifting things inside of me, Joel. I feel a similar desire (is it need yet, for me?) to create my own stories*, yet I haven’t quite found that satiated in storyjamming/roleplaying. I’ve only played a few handfuls or so of game sessions in my life, and only one of those was this pinnacle experience, where I left shooting flame from my head like a butane torch.

      It’s a curious thing, and a hard thing, for me. I find that it takes so much more practice than I had originally thought. Even these indie games, in most sessions, haven’t been totally delivering on their promises, for me–though that could be do to other factors, such as never playing more than one session, or more than once with the same group.

      *though I don’t know that I completely share your belief in the creative collapse of the entertainment industry. I do recognize that there’s a good argument for it. I guess I’m with vbwyrde, here: many of my own stories, made through playing games, haven’t been these greatly polished pieces of art.

  12. October 15, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Delicious. 100% Delicious. The whole crazy thing.

  13. 15 christopher kubasik
    October 15, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Hi Joel,

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply. Sincerely.

    But let me say this, with respect: I think you’re really, really wrong.

    I say this as someone who actually goes into Hollywood pitch sessions.

    I can tell you that I reach across conference tables, slap my hand on the wood in front of an executive and say, “No. Don’t you DARE do that to the character! Whatever you do, whether you hire me or not, don’t do that the character, because you’re taking away everything that matters about that character!” And then I get the job.

    I think a lot of people have strange, misplaced, notions of what goes on in Hollywood offices. I’m guessing that most scenes go like this:

    INT. HOLLYWOOD STUDIO OFFICE – DAY

    Men (and one woman) in suits sit around a low coffee table.

    EXECUTIVE
    Well, how bad can we make this one.

    EXECUTIVE #2
    I think we can really shoot for the moon on this one.

    I can tell you that most of my meetings are with really smart people who want to make really, really good work. There are idiots, but I would say most bad decisions are made by people not knowing enough about what they are making decisions about — rather than out of fear.

    Specifically, I think you really missed my point about the role of producers in the case of “9”. Please note that neither Tim Burton or Timur are fearful men. They are simply BLAND when it comes to story. They simply don’t know what they’re doing, really.

    Now, whether you want to believe me or not, I’ll just finish by saying that while people envision strange conspiracies on the part of Hollywood, it simply isn’t the case. Bad movies get made when people make bad choices. Sometimes those bad choices are made out of fear — but more often ignorance. In the same way bad things happen in the airline industry, the postal service, and so on.

    Just something to think about.

    CK

  14. 16 storybythethroat
    October 15, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks, everyone! I’m happy for your contributions.

    Joe and Christopher: On a general level, I don’t think we disagree in the slightest. It seems you’ve misconstrued my point a bit–and understandably so! The “passionate manifesto” genre doesn’t always lend itself to sober clarity. I’m not saying that collaboration is antithetical to art, far from it! I’m saying that collaboration that produces an authentic statement probably doesn’t look like a Hollywood pitch session. Like you said, Joe, “The reason 9 was a disappointment was because the sharing, compromising, integrating and interacting happened on several of the wrong axes: that of producer/consumer and group-interest/self-interest.” Mick said it beautifully as well, in his blog post inspired by this one: “true art almost never authentically happens by committee – but committee is not the same thing as community, right?” That’s all I’m saying–not that the entertainment industry is “evil” or “horrible,” but that it operates on priorities that aren’t very conducive to expressing human-ness. What excites me is that through storyjamming we have the power to take storytelling out of the producer/consumer relationship and give it an environment where it in all its messy humanity can thrive.

    Joe, there’s some finer points about the notions of “consensus” and “compromise” that I could debate, but I’d rather not focus on that right now, at the risk of overshadowing our larger agreement. Perhaps a future blog post.

    Jason: That quote from Jesse is made of win. Thank you.

    Hans: I’m glad my musing move you. It sounds like you’re in a process similar to mine and Mick’s. I just want to tell you, take heart! This is an effort to reclaim a fundamental human birthright–we shouldn’t expect it to be easy. I found it took some time for things to settle into place where I was having those “head-shooting-flame” experiences. To be honest, I’ve only had a handful so far–the Go Play NW Nicotine Girls game, for instance, and my current Viking-settlement-era Ireland game of Burning Wheel. But I’ll tell ya, they’re coming more consistently as I refine the process, with the help of supportive and creative friends. I’d love to explore that experience more in a future blog.

    And by the way, don’t worry too much about “sharing my belief in the creative collapse of the entertainment industry.” I wasn’t expressing a belief, but a notion–a speculation, in fact. That speculation is based on, as I said, the very process being inimical to what I’m seeking, and the pervasiveness of that process increasing in society. There are other trends which could counteract that, of course–we’re talking about one of them. :)

    A final note to everyone: This whole topic is a little raw and vulnerable, being a fresh-birthed (and provocative!) idea that i’m still fleshing out. I’d appreciate the courtesy of interpreting generously, and I pledge to extend the same to you all.

    Peace,
    -Joel

  15. 17 storybythethroat
    October 15, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Christopher, thank you. I’d forgotten about your profession, and I now realize that I was a bit invasive in telling you your own story. I value your experience and it’s interesting to know how you practice your craft with respect and passion for human-ness. Truly awe-inspiring, in fact.

    I can assure you that I don’t attribute anything sinister to these bad movie-making decisions. I completely accept that they arise from ignorance, or fear, or just plain blandness, or what have you. No conspiracy, no malevolence.

    I think my bad opinion of the industry was really cemented when I watched the special features on the Lord of the Rings DVDs–hours of Philippa Boyens droning about how maintaining character integrity wasn’t “filmic” in this or that instance and otherwise demonstrating (to my mind) COMPLETE MISUNDERSTANDING of the central elements of Tolkien’s story, soured me on the whole deal. I concluded that Lord of the Rings stood NO chance of being adapted in a faithful spirit in such a climate, and that that didn’t bode well for other stories either–a conclusion that’s been borne out by many films, especially literary adaptations.

    But that said, I certainly have been wonderfully nourished by many products of Hollywood, and it would be just plain ingratitude not to acknowledge that. Making story ourselves is an even more exciting prospect for me, but a rich thematic diet doesn’t come from games alone.

    Peace,
    -Joel

    • 18 christopher kubasik
      October 16, 2009 at 5:38 am

      Wait.

      You didn’t like The Lord of the Rings movies?

      • 19 storybythethroat
        October 16, 2009 at 9:37 am

        Um, it’s more complicated than that. I feel they’re monuments of absolutely gorgeous craft, with some great performances. But I also felt that a lot of the screenwriting/adaptation decisions undermined the beating heart of Lord of the Rings. It seemed clear to me after awhile (like, oh, somewhere in the middle of The Two Towers) that the folks in charge of “story” in that project really didn’t understand the material they were handling. Sometimes they missed the mark by degrees, sometimes by a mile, sometimes they aimed in the exact opposite direction. And yes, sometimes they hit it dead on. But I think THOSE moments diminished steadily as the series went on.

        I’m not such a purist that I demand to see every scene included, or accuracy down to every last jot and tittle. But I longed for a movie series that conveyed the heart and depth of Tolkien’s themes, and in THAT respect I was disappointed. And hearing the commentaries on how the writers arrived at those decisions confirmed for me how widely they were missing the point.

  16. October 16, 2009 at 4:55 am

    I think it is possible to create great stories from RPGs. However, I also think it is not the common result. My contention is that for anyone, or any group, to create great stories, they must have Great Story within them. One way to get Great Story to reside within your heart and mind is to (literally) follow the path of the hero yourself in real life. That means being a true hero who has courage, conviction, and life experience that make that person into a living embodiment of Great Story. The messages that come from such people are Great because they transmit their own Greatness into their normal lives, and those who then go on to Gamesmaster, or write, or create film, or art, have something worth telling, and something worth listenning to.

    However, not everyone can or will do that, and most people, to be honest, will never consider even trying. That said, the alternate means by which to acquire Great Story is to read the Classics. Infuse them within yourself. Read them with an eye toward learning what Great Story is. And by Great Story I not only mean the literary conventions of how great stories are constructed (beginning, middle, end, narrative, dialog, etc, etc), but more so what the messages are. The Great Story reveals something about our true nature, our relationships with the world and ourselves, the divine and the mundane, and life’s inner, secret meanings. IF you can draw these aspects into your RPG World then I think you’ll be more likely to create Great Story in your RPG. I don’t say this is easy, but I do say it’s possible.

    Another point I’d like to emphasize is that from an RPG perspective to some degree system does matter – if you are RPGing a game with utterly silly, overly complex and/or railroading (from a character or plot development perspective) rules then that will make creating Great Story in your World that much more difficult. For this reason, I tend to prefer rules-light systems that provide total flexability in terms of back-story, character development and plot development. I tend to shy away from systems that introduce chaos into the World as that can be disruptive (so I tend to avoid rules that allow players to create backstory in-play as my sense is that such effects, while fun for the player in the moment, also have the potential to create story-chaos). The rules you use will effect the nature of your story. I tend to prefer systems and settings that provide a framework for play, while leaving the details to the GM and Players in a broad sense.

    The question I prefer to ask is: How to create RPG Worlds that rise to a more Literary Quality than the usual hack-n-slash campaign? I believe it can be done, and one of the keys to success is understanding what Great Story is, and one of the ways to obtain those keys are to read the Classics. Just thought I’d try to hammer that point home again because no one seems to have picked up on it. If you want great stories in your games you should really try to understand what great story is in the first place. Amen?

  17. 21 storybythethroat
    October 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Hey, VB, sorry I overlooked you the first time around.

    I absolutely agree that feeding on the classics is invaluable. I don’t mean in ANY WAY to say that we should turn our nose up at established stories and replacing them with our own. I’m all for building on the richness that has gone before us, and creating our own stories out of that enriching environment.

    Peace,
    -Joel

  18. 22 Zac in VA
    November 9, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Hey, I’m glad to see you’re still putting out great articles, Joel!

    My take on creativity-and-individualism is thus: some media, like the novel (or the book, in general, perhaps) seems to me to lend itself well to production by a single individual, mostly. Yes, we’re the sum of our experiences. Yes, other people inspire us. But the author does the great bulk of the work. Am I saying the novelist is a John Galt figure?

    Why, no, not at all.

    What I’m saying is that there is, to me, a deeply spiritual component to creation: instead of the artist existing as some kind of force of nature, waiting to unleash hir creative powers on the world, the artist exists as a jar full of water. The water is the divine essence (bear with me) that inspires, but of course it must be channeled, or ferried, or doled out with care, to be useful and productive.

    When I write, I get a lot of ideas from the bedrock/humus of media and stories and people in my experience. But there are also plenty of times when I have to stop cold in the middle of a scene and let things percolate for a while, let that essence refill for a few hours, or days, and then I can come back and write some more. Things need to settle, or come to you, sometimes, and to me that has a great deal to do with a kind of Zen cultivation of emptiness, or oneness, or what have you.

    I guess what I mean is that there is you, the author, carving something, and then there’s the universe, telling you when to stop adding details, when to leave things to the imagination, when to step back and get perspective… all those little things that aren’t ‘creative’ per se, but have to happen in order to make it as good as it can be. You have to know when not to work in order to work more skillfully, I guess.

    I wish I could phrase that more like a koan, but such things are supposed to be ineffable anyway ^_^

  19. 23 storybythethroat
    November 9, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Thanks, Zac!

    I’ve long wrestled with the tension between “briliant visionary, carving out their masterpiece by tireless effort” and “work with the flow of the universe, let the ideas coe to you and flow through you.” I think they both express something true about art and creativity, and it’s in finding a synergy between them that creative flow happens.

    At least, I think. I’ll let you know if I ever consistently FIND that synergy.

    Peace,
    -Joel


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