Friday, November 18, 2005

The Hot Topic: Creativity

Once again, this Hot Topic business is all I seem to be writing. But behold, just above this post you shall soon see, finally, a new review from yours truly. The the readers said, "Amen".

Standard warning about the cursing, and the cussing, and the bad words.


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From the composite intellectual consciousness of a mighty entity of social and cultural commentary comes the weekly sneering perusal of the issues of the day.

This is The Hot Topic. This week - Creativity

From: Aaron Fleming

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

The need, the desire, to partake in creative activity is something that is ingrained deep within the human psyche; it is an intrinsic part of human existence, or so it seems. Surely there's more justification for creativity to be an integral component of the human condition, as opposed to the sorts of capitalistic consumerist banality in which life revolves around the acquisitions that we all desperately 'need'. Here, express yourself!

Creativity is something that can give a life true meaning and enjoyment that goes beyond a superficial depth. I'm no psychologist so I won't, and can't, dive too deeply into that train of thought, I'd be drowning in orgones before I was even partially submerged.

Let's define creative activity for a moment here: writing, painting, producing music, acting, photography, inventing. There are undoubtedly more, but those are enough to set a stage for discussion.

This whole blogworld thing (the blogsphere as it's sometimes known; I think The Guardian calls it so) is in many ways a manifestation of the need for a creative outlet. It fulfills that need by providing a showcase for all us personal publishing maniacs (and also the diary need of mass narcissism).

So the question is, in this overt environment for individuals participating in creativity, what motivates you in the creative processes, any set routines or procedures, where do those ideas originate?

For me, I like to write, but why?

Catharsis, a purgation of the mind. Putting down those thoughts and ideas has an odd effect, a relief of pressure in the head, abstract or otherwise. As William S. Burroughs said: "Perhaps all pleasure is only relief."

These things get all stored up in there, bouncing around, I'd hate to see the mess in there, ya know what those little cogitations are like, bunch of fuckers. One time I caught them in a mescaline frenzy, party poppers were everywhere, and the walls were covered in sticky-back plastic, almost a nightmare vision of Blue Peter, now that I think about it.

I don't really have a set process for coming up with writing ideas. (I doubt many people have a prescribed course for this sort of thing.) Some ideas are kicked off by certain incidents witnessed, or discussions, or something I've read, or heard, or watched.

I tend to endeavour to entertain in my writing, usually trying to be funny, elements of satire and mass exaggeration. My self-deprecating way of looking at it is that I've got nothing profound and ground-breaking to say, so I better attempt to humour the world.

Sometimes I'll get an idea, often lying in bed at night in a state of petulant insomnia, and from there it will evolve and some bits and pieces will come together. Then it'll be recalled and released into the ether at a later time. Most writing comes from a stream of consciousness method when it comes to that release time. And I don't like drafting and rough versions and all that, partly to do with laziness, and also fear that I'll do nothing more than make it worse on revision.

Also I try and write with a nice expressive and varied vocabulary, I enjoy a good dip into the old lexicon. (What's with all these swimming references? I can't even swim.) This could be just pretentiousness, and it partially is, no doubt, but it's also because I enjoy reading prose that uses more than a limited number of words and forms an interesting syntactical structure.

From: Bennett Dawson

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

I wish it was like that for me Aaron, creation and release, but I'm much more agenda -driven than creative. I've reached an age where one starts looking at the ledger of accomplishment, the balance sheet of impact on culture or humanity versus time spent partying, and it occurred to me that there was great potential for having a positive impact through the net, by writing about things.

The genesis for this Hot Topic conversation was Stephen King's On Writing and his views of the creative process, and that struck a chord with me. I devoured his book, and it really pushed me to try to learn to write - to be able to use the mighty word as a lever on society.

Is it actually possible to reach across time and space to touch someone's gray matter with the words I type? Can I paint pictures of Great Planetary Journeys in their mind, from my little desk in my little house?

If so, I need to get better at writing. It's simple actually - just write a lot, and that's where Blogcritics comes in. If I can develop my questionable talent here on BC, I might be able to inspire someone to take more science classes, to excel in mathematics, to push known physics, to become the best pilot in the military, to put in an extra hour checking blueprints, to become someone who helps realize the vision of getting humanity's "eggs" into more than "one basket".

So I write about NASA and the space programs hosted by our world's sovereign territories. I report the news, post the photos, and try to convey the enormity of the potential. I want to get people to imagine, perchance to dream. I want people to want to see this stuff happen.

And I look forward to the day when I don't cringe at my own posts, three days later. Juvenile! Rushed! Shallow! Incomplete! Clumsy! Fucking Stupid! Brutal self-critique when all I want to do is write clearly, succinctly, and in a voice that taps into just a little bit of the telepathy and time travel that Mr. King describes so eloquently. I'm not greedy; all I want is to paint one picture in the right head. If I can inspire just one person to start the chain of events that has an impact on the right kid...

That kid could walk on Mars.

The process of learning to write has been great, and I see improvement over the past eight months. It's not Duke De Mondo by any stretch, but it's better than it was... I'm actually able to write a sentence that doesn't end up sounding stupid to my inner ear a few days after publication.

It's coming easier, sharper at times, and I'm beginning to think that this new path was a good idea. I know my best writing is ahead of me, and some of it might actually have an impact on someone, somewhere. All I have to do, is to keep on writing.

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

These days, for me creativity equals writing.

Why do I write? The clichéd answer is "Because I have to." But it's the truth.

This wasn't always the case with me, as the writing gig (such as it is) didn't start happening for me until just a couple of years ago. Before that my creative outlets consisted of playing guitar in a band (instigating much improvisation, and grimacing from bandmates)) and reading.

Reading? Yes, the search for new material is never-ending. You may think of the act of consuming characters on the page as a passive activity and, until the writing thing 'happened', so did I. But what I discovered was that my seemingly passing thoughts on this stuff were building...and building and building. The mental backlog was there, ready to break free.

No, I didn't always want to write. When I was a kid much time was spent reading all manner of rock (and other) yacking: Ben Fong Torres, Dave Marsh (though I can sorta do without him now), Hunter S. Thomson and Lester Bangs. It was all 'incoming'. If pressed to write a paper in school I would get all sweaty, invoke the Procrastination Protocol and at some point scratch out a few pathetic pages. Not good stuff.

Many years after college and a sort of flatness became apparent. Two life situations that can surely foster the desire for that great and intangible "something else" are a fading marriage and a stuck 'career'. I had both. It all felt very....not sure what the word would be....heavy. An explosion of incredible ugliness solved the former problem. On my own I was left with more time to ponder things like Natalie Goldberg's book Long Quiet Highway. Yes, a person can change their life. Yes, a person can persue a life of writing.

But still, I did nothing.

Then Blogcritics happened.

Well, let's give this thing a go. Let's get over the fear of the unknown. What the hell am I going to say about this music? Do I have the words? Hmmm...I just might. Keep trying. Read more books. Stephen King's On Writing. Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. All of it. More. More.

Now, to use another sort of cliché, I feel like I've got a freaking river running through me. It appears to be unstoppable.

Let's just hope that I can swim.

From: Duke de Mondo

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

I think my own approach to the whole writing affair has been altered beyond all sense in the past year or so. Used to be, if I watched something, it got written about, 99% of the time. What occurred was that a lot of the time, I ended up with sorta amusing at best screeds that maybe took an hour to write an then, as Bennett says, I'd spend the next week cringing at the bastards.

Nowadays that doesn't happen any more, and it's the rogue 2% of stuff that gets written about. What I sorta need to be feelin like, is like I'm attackin' the fuckin' keyboard. A man needs enough caffeine in the system to be able to batter the thing ruthlessly, 'til at the end there's fifteen pages of maniacal gibberish that I'll leave aside for a time, a day maybe, an' go back to, edit and the like. (If anyone's actually read my damn stuff, it may seem odd that any such cutting and pasting occurs, but it does, yes.)

As Sir Fleming muses, there's a need to be entertaining there. I like to assume that even if folks have never heard of the record or flick in question, or, just as likely, have heard of it, but couldn't give a half-drunk yak's wank, they still dig the waxing in question regarding it all.

But in terms of the mechanics of the procedure, I think I need to be in some sorta mindset, usually one frazzled to fuck on caffeine an' lust, and yeah, I need to feel like I'm carvin' the damn words outta rock. If I find that I'm writin' an' every line has me pausing for a while to think of a word or something, I just quit an' come back later, when the head is suitably lit.

The result of all this is that I, at least, dig the stuff that gets finished, even if the hard-drive creaks an' groans an' rattles with the weight of all the stuff on there that never got past the fifth paragraph.

And it tends to mean less output, but personally I think the output is improved, so I'm willin' to put up with that.

In times of severe writers' block or whatever, I need to go off with a book I know will send the psyche reelin', usually some Hunter S Thompson or maybe Naked Lunch, something in which the language flies off the page like rifle fire, 'til half a fella's head's on the walls behind him.

You can't read something like Naked Lunch and not be inspired to fling words 'cross screen, or notepad, or whatever.

That's another thing, actually. I find it impossible to write on anything but a computer, and it has to be my computer, also. In this back room wi' the vibes on, and then off, and then on, 'cause sometimes a great lyric (at the minute, for example, Adam Green talking bout 'My asshole in my mouth') smacks a man upside the chops an he can't concentrate.

That's as much as I know about the whys and wherefores of the procedure, least with regards my own scrawls.

From: Greg Smyth

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

Okay, here's my take on the whole thing...

Why do I write? There's two answers to this I think, or at least two questions hidden in that rather innocuous query.

1. Why do we write?
2. Why does Greg write?

The first kinda informs the second so we'll start there.

Why do we as a species, people whatever write? Because we always have. It starts pictorially with the cavemen, gets vocal sometime later and then once a proper written language is available people start recording and so it goes. It's not a giant leap from Dave Caveman drawing a picture of how he killed the wild boar everyone's eating on the wall of a cave, to "the one that got away". Add that embellishment at every level and, eventually, I'm guessing you get fiction as is. Then you eventually progress to folk tales that get (again, eventually) written down.

We write/create because it's part of our evolution as a species and because it's a uniquely human thing to do. We've got a very large brain, why not make some shit up?

Why does Greg write? The potted history goes thus: As a kid I used to make up stories for something to do and because, as a kid, it's fun to make stuff up. Keeping a slightly childish approach to life helps in that respect. About the same time I got my first part-time job during sixth year (age 16/17) I got seriously into music. Aided by the fact that a pretty decent indie record store opened up and a newly discovered love for the NME and late-night radio, I started writing some reviews.

This continues, via being music editor on the student newspaper, throughout university. I narrowly miss out on writing for the NME though washing the car while the editor rings my mobile. Nothing happens. Currently I'm doing some writing in an unpaid capacity for a couple of small but really rather good magazines.

Anyway, I don't know where the creative process happens but for me I think it's a case of letting your subconscious mind make all the connections over a (hopefully very short) period and then you sit down and write. Literally, just write it. There's very little actual skill involved. The skill is in judicious editing and the post-production.

I'm forever reading other people's thoughts on being a proper writer and really it boils down to that. It's discipline, rather than skill in many cases. If you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to write a novel, then write every day. Simple.

You may, after three months, have a big pile of steaming shit and that's when the hard work and the real art begins. Bring on The Red Pen Of Death. Cut it to bits and then write some more. Repeat until the work is Finished.

I guess it's much easier being a critic of some description because you're never really faced with a blank page. You've always got The Product to fall back on like a crutch. Being a critic is about stringing together a bunch of facts, opinions and gossip into a small, neat package. The truth is, though, that the general audience would be just as happy, if not more so, with a picture of the thing and a score out of ten.

Most people couldn't give a shit about your opinion. Your task is to make it enjoyable enough, whether the thing is good or bad, so that for a second they do.

From: DJ Radiohead

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

Why the fuck do I do what I do? Like I haven't been asked that 1,000 fucking times. I am more than a little intimidated having seen some of the fine attempts by the rest of this criminal element to grapple with the question but I will take my stab at it...

Expression has been a part of my personality from the word go. I have never been one to shut up - at least this is what I have come to understand both from my I have always had something to say (or thought I did). I almost never leave a conversation feeling as though I said everything I intended to say. I never thought of myself as much of a writer until my mom or teachers mentioned it - same thing with public speaking/speeches/etc. I guess I was blessed with at least a nominal ability and certainly a keen interest in such things. It's in the DNA.

Those of you who listened to Episode 6 of mine own podcast you know I have a compulsion to talk about the music that moves me (fucking self-promotion... you bet your ass). I can't explain it. It's just... to quote John Lee Hooker, "Let that boy boogie woogie cuz it's in him and it's got to come out."

My college years were some of the best for me in this regard. I got a gig writing and editing for the campus newspaper. I even started a 'Music' section while I was there. I was supposed to be the news editor. I was more interested in music than I was in stories about parking spaces and mascots. It was also in college I got my first taste of big-boy, professional radio. I started out as a DJ. I also got a chance to be a cub reporter and news anchor just after college. I even hosted a 30-minute business talk show. That was more an acting job than a radio job because what I knew (know) about business could not fill a thimble.

A few months after college I took the job I have now. It is a great job and it keeps the lights on and food on the table. There is just not a whole lot of creative expression. In fact there is no creative expression. I took the money. I sold out. I chose a life with the wife to whom I am married over the pursuit of a career in my field. Do I regret that decision? Not for a fucking minute. I did not think of it as a choice between two competing interests when I decided upon my current path. It just sort of worked out that way. I missed being in a situation where my talents and passions were engaged but if I had it to do all over again I would.

Those first few years were filled with some listless days. I had no outlet for my creative juices. The passion in me slowly diminished. I became surly- OK, surlier. I dabbled around with creating my own website. I got discouraged when I realized no one was traveling to it but me. I quit writing because I felt like I already spent enough time each day talking to myself. It was not worth the effort. I do not know if I will ever find a gig paying me to do what I love. That is no longer the most important thing to me. The internet, my web site, Blogcritics... they have given me an audience as well as the opportunity to be amused, inspired, and humbled by the talents of some other folks worldwide.

I realize this is bordering on embarrassing sentimentality but allow me a quick aside: Driving home from work the other night I was chuckling about some of the pieces I read here on BC (in this case in particular something by our own beloved The Duke). As I was pulling into my apartment's parking space I had a vision: The Duke, at age 90, sitting in the corner of some nursing home staring at nothing with an unlit cigarette dangling 'tween his fingers muttering bitterly about some cunt named Fay-hee or Fah-hee.

Keep this in mind; I have never seen The Duke. I could not pick him out of a lineup (not that The Duke has ever had cause to be in such a thing). I laughed until at least the time it took me to walk to my front door with that image- just one part of what Blogcritics has given me. I am now a part of 'The Brotherhood of the Bozo.'

As to where I do what I do... I have been a bit of a vagabond in that regard. I had not had a single place for to do my mad science. That changed this week when the seeds of this discussion were sewn. I heard Saleski, Berlin, et all discussing their creative spaces. It occurred to me I had no such place (some who have read my work and heard my podcast would argue I have no creativity, either)- just wherever. If I could find five undistracted minutes I would work anywhere. That is... until Monday.

I talked the ever-patient wife into buying me a small desk and re-arranging our bedroom to accommodate said desk. Last night, I penned part of my contribution to the upcoming Springsteen discussion to be featured in Mark's Morning Listen column. I now have an actual workspace.

I am tickled shitless.

PS: Don't worry Monsignor Berlin and Mr. Saleski: I did not tell the wife the desk was your idea.

From: Mat Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

I am first, and foremost a consumer of artistic endeavors. My home is literally littered with media of the things I love. Books, DVDs, CDs, and tapes are strewn from here to Valhalla, otherwise known as my bathroom. Every free moment that I have, I spend reading, listening and watching nearly every kind of art form.

I try to be a critical, educated consumer. I am eternally interested in the craft behind the creation. I am fascinated by the way Martin Scorsese creates a coke-addled odyssey at the end of Goodfellas by means of rock music and fast editing. I am in awe at the means in which John Steinbeck can both fill me with utter disgust over the depravity of man, and swell my heart at the eternal spirit of mankind; all within the same page of The Grapes of Wrath. Just why is it that I weep every time I hear Johnny Cash sing Long Black Veil?

The ability of the artist to movethose who partake in their art, in some fundamental way is nothing short of awesome.

As both a consumer of these endeavors and a student of the craft, I am often desirous to become creator.

Why do I write? In short, because it is the most accessible of the arts for me. I neither have the cash, the crew, or the equipment to make movies. I do not have either the ability or the instruments to play music. I can't draw for crap. Yet I have a grasp of the language, and the only instruments needed to write are pen and pad.

I take some amount of pride in my ability to tell a tale. I have a small amount of gift in which to take something mundane and ordinary and turn it into a grand tale of action and humor. Though, I must admit, I have struggled in transforming an oral story into the written page. The gesture of the hand, the intonation of the voice is difficult to transform into words on the page.

I must confess, I had all but given up on ever writing something worth the time of a bored gnat. The ideas were all there, but the stamina to put them down and -by gawd- edit them, never seemed to happen.

Then there was blog. My wife and I did a ten-month stint in Strasbourg, France this past year. This was at the height of the blog craze. Politicians were set spinning by bloggers worldwide. I decided to journal the experience of my time abroad through blog. At first it was diary, then I began inviting friends and family to read and see just what I was up to. In time, the newness of my days wore thin. No longer was the daily trip to the boulangerie for a baguette of any interest to anyone but the breadmaker.

The blog then became a place to tell stories, review movies, and discuss the book I had just read. Unknowingly, I had become a writer. Do I have dreams of becoming the next Hemmingway, Faulkner or Steinbeck? Do I dare to believe that my little place in the blogosphere will somehow become the mecca for all great artists? No I do not dare.

Yet, in writing, I share a little piece of myself. I become a member of a community. And in the end, that is all I need.

From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Creativity

Looks like I'm riding in on the Hot Topic caboose once again. Great topic!

Drawing back to the good Sir Fleming's definition of creativity, I'd actually broaden it out substantially. It always pains me to hear people say, "I'm not a creative person." To me, that's the same thing as I'm saying, "I'm not a passionate person - there's nothing in the world I care about." Sure, writing and painting and acting is "creative," but I think any act of creating is creative.

Forming new ideas about the world, coming up with an inventive solution to a problem, figuring out the right words to form so that your date, instead of throwing Chablis in your face, laughs ever so slyly and runs her well-maintained Lee press-ons through her hair. You know; you get the picture.

In terms of my own creative process, I really subscribe to many of the ideas put forth in the brilliant On Writing, by Stephen King. (And anyone who tries to tell me that that cat ain't creative will have one bearded mystic figure in the West to contend with, I dare say.) Ideas come from nowhere, Mr. King states, but you have to constantly and forever more be open to receiving the transmissions from the cosmos and harnessing them, wrassling them to the Junior High foam mat with heroic will and concentration, even though everything smells like old tuna and your one-piece is shifting into areas highly uncomfortable and unsettling. That's the time to really shine, in my experience.

I also like Sir Fleming's take on entertainment. I grew up hanging about with a bunch of guys in Long Island, New York who were (and are, I'm honored to still keep in touch with every and one) smart as hell and absolutely hell-bent on making you piss your panties with laughter at a given opportunity. Conversations were zing-fests, cut-ins and cut-overs other shouted commentary and build-upons and rising inflections and chord-shifts like songs, epic songs, kicking into high gear. Led Zeppelin's In My Time of Dying, where death was laughter, if you can dig.

One day, whilst in the throes of my early 20s let's say, I tentatively and gently placed the label of writer upon my chest, the heaviest and most serious and intensely visionary thing one can do after working all day stuffing envelopes and wishing to The Lords that you were high even though you weren't into pot. Writers, the thought went, are serious folk. They write about serious shit, and blow people's minds and change the world and are associated with exotic symbology that eventually ends up on vintage tee-shirts that the hipster kids wear while buying far-too-expensive cocktails at the trendy-trashy lounge.

So that was going to be me, Serious Writer, with gravitas pouring out of me as though out of Kiefer Sutherland's pretentious lips. And a ten-year quest ensued, fraught with peril and mountainous expeditions and anxiety-extra shot sessions at local coffee shops where I sweated profusely in an agony of frustration over: talk to the girl with the glasses and pretty eyes reading the fancy-looking book or write one lousy more page no one's ever going to read, let alone care about, one or the other, man!

Now, wizened and sun-washed from years of California walks under palm trees with trusty if mischievous dog Chelsea at my side, I'm a little bit more cool with the whole deal. My creative path has taught me that I like to make the other kids laugh, and if I can't do that at the least I aspire to be clever.

Writing is an intensely egotistic activity. Take seconds from your life to read combinations of letters and symbols and spaces that I have put in front of you. Trust me to keep you interested and things place right order in the, eh? I do it in the neurotic hope that people will trail the word path and come to the conclusion and sigh softly and take that final and best sip of that latte and say: "Wow, that was really clever."

Pat me on my head - that's all I can ask of the world.

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