Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On Creativity

Where does this flow of creativity come from? I’m sure this is a question asked by every writer, sculptor, painter, and other “artiste” throughout history. I’m sure I am no different. Reading of Hawthorne’s life, I see close parallels, even in my so-far short life. I worried for sometime, over the last eight or so years as they passed, if my fountain of expression was simply a product of the ever clichéd “teenage angst”. It seemed to disappear as the mountain of adulthood grew larger, closer. My writing slowed first, then ceased, only to bubble up in moments of inspiration, which came infrequently. It was gone; that eternal fountain of my teenage years, where I could hardly contain the torrent of words.

As I think back, it seems, however, not to have been adulthood. The adoption of my religious system cooled my heart, as I gave myself up for something else. This thing replaced all creative output with a vacuum that absorbed all creative movements. I was stifled in the most devious sort of trap. For what is worse; the cell with bars and cement, dank and dreary, or the cell that is not apparently a cell, warm and welcoming? In either cell you have become separate from the world, and even often separated from yourself, forced by necessity to do things diametrically opposed to your intrinsic nature. Men perform acts behind bars that would normally go against their true character. Or do they? Perhaps these circumstances simply strip a person to his base, exposing all he truly is behind the masks of ordinary daily life. But this has all been said before. It was in this cell that I moved onto a further trap. That was the trap of escaping the first, and unintentionally entering into a new one. The new was more sinister. It was not a prison simply constructed by religious philosophy, but one of actual contract; the breaking of which would cause the imprisonment of my body, the following of which gave support to war and possibly my death for nothing. To say for nothing is perhaps too kind and not quite clear or truthful. That death would have been in support of suffering. It would have been in support of the destruction of independence, the taking of men’s lives, women’s lives, and children’s lives. It would have been in support of greed and the taking of freedom. Such a death would have been in support of a host of crimes against humanity. The grave would have been amongst national heroes, I am sure, but it would be there, as most others were, under false pretenses. These were heroes who were not men, such as I was not a man, but one of the “men of straw…a lump of dirt”, a man “manufactured that will serve” the unquestioned motives and entirely selfish desires of their leaders. Those that serve, such as I, and constitute the sweeping arm of our government, commit the greater sin against their fellow man. Is the evil greater of those who use the puppets for ill, or the puppets used, when they could choose not to be used at all, leaving the puppeteer with no means with which to proceed? I think that of course there will be other puppets, but I cannot live with clear conscience being counted amongst them. And furthermore, I cannot live, nor see how others live, without taking all they can in action when presented with the chance to bring other marionettes from their wooden forms to become real men.

So as this contract took place, it slowly pervaded and overcame the mind in much the same way religion had. After a point, what need was there of the religion, when this new contract took care of numbing my creativity? No, it was no longer needed for that purpose and was discarded. I continued along, uncreative and happier in a sense not to have feelings as I had. The point is now ascertained; that I hid first in religion, and then in military structure so as to numb myself from the creativity of my earlier years. This, it would seem, is an epiphany; an ellipse that has long remained un-followed, waiting to be succeeded. The placeholders I have put there can now be tossed away as the truth is made clear to me.

Why should one hide from creativity? Well, the saying is often said, that an artist must suffer for his art, but does not the artist suffer because of his art? I would say so. For isn’t it easier to live, un-confronted by your inner workings laid out before you on a page or canvas? Release may do well, but being forever reminded of your problems each time you see what you created may actually be no release at all, but simply their eternalizing.

So in my military service I continued, numbly rehearsing my life, day in and day out. It is strange how daily routine can blind you to the purpose behind your actions. To me, military service became a job; what I did each day to take care of my own. I woke each day, showered away my dreams, and suffocated my true self under the new skin of camouflage. Donning my cap so as to prevent my mind from flying away to freedom, I ignited the engine, burning up my Middle Eastern fuel, and spent my day doing what I could to ensure that when the United States was ready to wage war, it could. This was not so apparent in the daily routine of maintenance, lunches, and goofing off with fellow G.I.’s. We may as well have been making Freedom Fries at McDonald’s for all we knew, or cared to think in any case. This process continued for years, with changes along the way such as location, but the over arcing routine remained largely the same.

In a twist of irony, the change came when I obtained my first non-commissioned officer rank. It was at this time, in 2004, that I was sent to attend the Air Force’s Airman Leadership School for what they call “re-bluing”. You see, when one gets out of Basic Training, and Technical School, both of which are highly propagandized, a person is usually very energetic and accepting of the military way of life. This attitude, in the Air Force, is considered a “blue” attitude I suppose, which is the Air Force’s color. However, as the days pass, and become weeks, months, and years, this “blue” attitude fades as routine takes over. However, as said before, this routine makes most forget they ever were “blue” in attitude, yet the routine keeps them satisfied; not so much satisfied as unaware they are discontented. However, for fear that enlistees may wake up to this fact, the military sets up schools that members attend, usually a few years into service, and again a bit after the midpoint, around the fifteenth year of twenty, give or take. The first of these is Airman Leadership School. I attended, and was bombarded with military philosophy once again. Keep in mind the base purpose of the military and you can see why there has to be so much military philosophy and propaganda pushed on its members. While I was told we were to defend our country, I know that these veiled words really meant we were to die in foreign countries, or cause others to die, while protecting our nation’s interests, not its freedom or any other hogwash. What freedom? The freedom to ignore the important things in life, busying ourselves to make ends meet, and once met, enrich our lives with empty substance such as big screen TVs and SUVs while we pay our government to pursue its own selfish ends, which are often contrary to our own? I don’t call that freedom. Thank you, but if that is the freedom I am risking my life to defend, then no thank you.

So as this “school” piled and piled upon me, I began to ask questions. In much the same way as my religion was destroyed, so was my satisfaction with the military. And that is the point of government; to keep you too busy to think. Thinking leads to questions and questions to change. So as my questions were stifled and went unanswered, my dissent grew. This led to more questions, followed by indignation and disgust. I, and a friend of similar mindset, became nicknamed the “Axis of Evil” in our class. While the term was mostly in jest, I felt proud to be called evil while amongst a group of mind-dead lumps of dirt. If by “evil”, they meant “unlike us”, which I can logically presume they did, then so be it. And so it was, that upon leaving Airman Leadership School, I immediately began pursuing ways in which to escape my contract. And that is the irony; that the “re-bluing” program completely and wholly succeeded in “de-bluing” me.

Now back to my pacifist roots, the ones that were turned from with the gain of my religious fervor, I searched into obtaining conscientious objector status. However, while pursuing this, I discovered the Air Force’s Force Shaping program, in which they were letting people in over-manned positions get out early. This, during a time of war. Now that is a prime example of military intelligence. And so ended the eight year stifling period of my life.
So far, I have only discussed what the cause of non-creativity has been in my life. The total writings of those eight or so years amount to about a few months worth of writing from earlier years. Now, the gates are reopened; but gates to what, exactly? Where are these words coming from, after all? You cannot say simply, from a human mind. While that said is true, it is not that simple. If so, then every human would do so. Perhaps every human would do so, if not for the constraining aspects of their lives, such as my religion or military. Perhaps we each have this inner voice, but each drowns in separate things, as a person drowns in water; a fish, in air. Maybe creativity is simply about finding what stops your insides from turning out, and disposing of it. But this doesn’t answer our question, it simply makes clear to us the means to allow creativity. We may each have an eternal wellspring that would flow if we allowed, but what is the source? Throughout my life I have consistently returned to this question in vain, as it seems now.

Is our creativity, which seems so amazing to us, simply instinct? Does it appear to us who, as cognitive creatures are able to pontificate, inspired by something beyond us, when it is in fact simply the going through of motions? Isn’t a spider’s web, upon close inspection, as amazing and beautiful as the Sistine Chapel? Michelangelo spent about four years of his life on that project, and that is perhaps part of what amazes us. But consider that the days spent creating a spider’s web, in its life of usually only months, are of equal investment when put beside our great artist, whom lived almost ninety years! Surely, the ratios are closer than we think, for those of us whom have thought about such things. Why do we marvel at certain things, and not others? Why do we hold the Sistine Chapel in such high regard, when equal works reside in the bushes outside our homes? Is it simply because by seeing such a work by one of our kind, we feel as if it could be possible by any of us? If this is so, then why doesn’t everyone begin a life of artistic pursuits when seeing such things? I’m sure some do. But perhaps the greatness of such a work is simply overwhelming, to the point that it beats down its viewers aspirations. Maybe this is the root cause of peoples’ unwillingness to open the tap on their creative well. If there were less great works, or at least less available for most to see, would there be more works, overall? Does it take a certain person to tap their well in the face of greatness? A person, it would seem, must be confident that their voice is worth hearing, before they speak, mustn’t they? Or perhaps they must simply be mad enough not to know when to shut up, as seems to be my case. So confidence or madness appear to be the two main factors, at least on of which must be present to be creative. I do not think that this is far from the truth. After all, aren’t most of humanity’s greatest artists known for either their brashness or their madness? When I think of artists, I see the pictures of men cutting parts of their ears off, while others sit gloomily in the stupor of absinthe. Perhaps madness is the greatest contributor to artistic greatness. Van Gogh cut his ear in earnest love. Pollock was a frenzied man, unable to connect on real levels with those around him. Poe was a drunken, strange man. Even our Michelangelo is rumored to have been autistic.

In the end, it would seem that human creativity is just that. Human creativity is something purely human. Something a person has simply for being human, something built into the human condition, like hope, and love, and thought, and breath. As some are forced, through circumstance, not to love, so are some forced not to create. As some would hope for better things, but have had their entire sense of hope crushed by life, so do some never being to create due to the path their lives take them on. As some never bloom to high thought, some are not nurtured to the creativity that sits, like a seed, within them. A seed will not germinate without water, sunlight, and other necessities, and neither will a person begin to write, paint, or compose without certain necessities. So we come to find that creativity comes from no place other than simply being human. It is perhaps one of the most indelible parts of human nature. It is simply a matter of finding your spigot, clamping down upon it, and turning with all your might, uncaring of what may flow out. The point is not to care whether it is water to quench the masses’ thirst, or putrid slime for no one but yourself. After all, some taps first bring forth brown water that clears to pureness after some flowing, do they not? But no matter the result, one must turn the spout, for to not do so is to not be fully within your humanity, and that is no way to exist, is it?

Image by Mark Townsend, found at http://www.fractalartcontests.com/2000/en/entry-430-4.htm

The "men of straw...lump of dirt" and "manufactured that will serve" quotes in paragraph two are from Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience"

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