Posts tagged creativity
I wrote this in a fever

(Apologies for incoherence)

I read a story about a man enslaved inside his own mind. Too much time spent in contemplation has made him view the world outside as foreign, irrational, dirty and repulsive. He has grown cynical and embittered, antisocial, morose and full of spite. He values nothing but a few timeless classics of literature and music which he worships as if they were infallible immortals. All else is shallow, disgusting, meaningless and abhorrent.

His name is Steppenwolf. To escape this despicable existence he resolves to kill himself, but is in the end too much a coward to pull through. As luck would have it, he is found by a girl who understands him. She pats him on the head and calls him silly. And slowly, one day at a time, she teaches him how to live again.

I have so much to say about this book yet somehow anything I write seems futile. Anyone can retreat into their mind and wallow in the fact that the society we have created for ourselves is one of suffering, abundance, trivialities and despair. Anyone can refuse to partake in the world and resolve to a life of cynicism. And anyone can do all this and blame it on the fact that they are merely too enlightened. Too aware to lead a normal, healthy life in this grotesque, shallow, complacent and ignorant world we have established for ourselves.

Anyone can fade away. It isn’t difficult to die. What’s difficult is to keep on living. You think you lock yourself up in your room because you are too damn good for the world? Because you are the only one wise enough to see this shallow, cosy, stupid world for what it is?

No. You lock yourself inside yourself because you are too afraid to go outside. You refuse the invitations, the singing crowds and dancing mobs because you are too damn frightened to encounter friction. To mess things up and deal with contradiction. To face yourself within the mirror of the people you encounter. To know yourself and all your flaws. “You are willing to die, you coward, but not to live.”

The problem is you are correct. This world is shallow, vulgar and obscene. Too much of what humanity admires are a pointless waste of time. “Do you think I’m incapable of understanding your fear of the foxtrot, your distaste for bars and dance floors, your resistance to jazz music and all that sort of stuff? I understand it only too well, just as I do your disgust with politics, your sadness at the way the parties and the press ramble on and kick up a fuss about things, your despair over wars, the one there has just been and those still to come, and about modern habits of thinking reading, building, making music, celebrating things and providing education!”

Humanity is too content with way too little. It has to be this way or else society wouldn’t function. If it were inhabited solely by individuals who think outside the norms it would collapse. Those people are too inquisitive. They ask too many questions. They don’t just swallow and accept things the way they are presented and as such they pose a threat to order. “You are right, Steppenwolf, a thousand times right, and yet you must perish…It is no home, this fine world, for people like us who, instead of nonsensical noise, demand music; instead of pleasure, joy; instead of money, soul; instead of industrial production, genuine labour; instead of frivolity, genuine passion…”

The fact that you struggle in this state is no surprise. That does not mean your place within it does not exist. It just means you have to search for it. You have to put in the work. You have to dig a little deeper. Deeper than the world as it appears. Deeper than your inclinations, your proclivities, your innate personality and whatever fiction you claim to constitute your self. “[T]he conquest of time and escape from reality…means simply the wish to be relieved of your so-called personality. That is the prison where you lie.”

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Discard your simplifications. Your life is no mere good or evil, true or false, wealth or worth or nature or reason. It is no mere struggle between opposing extremes where one trumps the other. It is all of those and infinities in between. “His life oscillates, as everyone's does, not merely between two poles, such as the body and the spirit, the saint and the sinner, but between thousands and thousands.”

Your quest for completion is a fiction. The self is no mere singular conquest of which once you’ve reached its peak you may retire. Simplifying the grandeur of a human mind to that extent is a mistake and grave disservice.

“[A] man consists of a multitude of souls, of numerous selves.” These selves overlap, contradict, rejoice and engage in combat. Anyone brave enough to venture into their unfettered mind is well aware of this. It is shunned and dubbed insane in our society because complexity invokes contradiction. Unsurprisingly. It is easier to herd a flock of sheep than a band of wolves. But in punishing the mad, you castigate the genius. “In consequence of this error many…are looked upon as mad who are geniuses”.

Never fear the irrational, the extraordinary, combative and complex. It is the friction of contradiction that birth the sparks of invention. “Just as madness, in a higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania the beginning of all art and all fantasy.”

Keep worshipping your idols. Praise them on your bruised black knees with bleeding hands and torn red nails. Lock yourself inside your room with nothing but your soul and blues, stacks of books by men you love and women you admire. Beating rhythms to whispered words, heaving lungs so violent your ribcage bursts and shatters. Do this. Do it all and then again.

Then go to bed. Sleep it off.

Your worship of the genius, breathless, ocean–deep and speechless is laudable and precious. But don’t take it so seriously. Perfection is a heavy burden and these saints are already weighed down by the stones above their graves. “Seriousness, young man, is an accident of time. It consists…in putting too high a value on time. […] In eternity, however, there is no time, you see. Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.”

Head outside in autumn rain. Call your sister. Claim a stranger in the street. Tell a man you met but once he reminds you of your soulmate. Make best friends with girls in nightclubs. Close your eyes. Flow along. It’s fine. It really is. To appreciate the depths of oceans you must first venture knee–deep into clear blue colourful lagoons. Set your anchor here. Make yourself at home and when the time feels right, dive into the depths. Find your jewels and return them to the surface. Yes, that is the point. To venture deep into the unknown and bring those treasures to the surface where they can be aired and dried and understood. “Your faith found no more air to breathe. And suffocation is a hard death.”

Be brave enough to venture into darkness. But do not forget that lightness has its value too. What else would the point be of all your crazed imaginations if not to realise them in the world? To help you make your life a little less confusing. A little less afraid. And a little more in love.

“A girl had bidden me eat and drink and sleep, and had shown me friendship and had laughed at me and had called me a silly little boy. And this wonderful friend had talked to me of the saints and shown me that even when I had outdone myself in absurdity I was not alone.”
"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself"
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Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars
 

I read Kerouac’s On the Road and Bukowski’s Ham on Rye back to back. It made me want to quit my life, steal a jeep and leave, somewhere, anywhere, it wouldn’t matter. Away from the fabrication we all so affectionately refer to as the system.

I never understood the sacredness of freedom until I spent an under–stimulated year of nine–to–five in a corporation. Clock in, clock out. Stamp your hours, crave the weekend. Northern winter Europe cubicle monotony, hurting strained computer eyes. Zero. One. Zero. And repeat.

Before this I had been a student my entire life, and it wasn’t until this point that I realized how happy that had made me. How happy I had been to spend my days in front of books, art, human beings and ideas. How valuable it is to spend one’s hours relentlessly pursuing whatever new obsession one may happen to come across. Finding connections between seemingly disparate interests and mould them into a coherence of something previously unfathomable.

Then you are done. You graduate and you are excited because finally you get to take these skills and contribute to the real world where it actually matters and – hang on. Reality.

Reality is the fact that grand utopian ideas of the poetic potential of creative madness has no value in a world of numbers. Reality is the fact that people don’t want the absurd and the sacred. They don’t want unbound creativity and invention and inquiry and ingenuity. They don’t want freedom.

People love their cages because within these they are safe. Trading the comfort of your bulletproof home for a life of unhinged unpredictability may sound appealing to some, but in practice, most humans value security. Ergo, that is the society we have constructed.

So is that it?

Is that the compromise? Is it really that dualistic? You sell yourself to the big man, earn your money, health and safety but in the process you give up the now, the creation, the madness and the screaming manic frenzies in raging desert towns. Kerouac makes it simple. There is no higher virtue than that on the road, off the grid. But the truth is less romantic. If you really dare to leave the system, the system will have you punished. And no wonder. You disturbed the order.

For Kerouac, freedom is a beautiful and dirty hustle. For Bukowski it is stupor, pain and death. It is a swimming pool of liquor, filthy bloodstained t–shirts and a bottomless contempt. Because despite the merit of being individual enough to dare reject the system you are still trapped within a society that submits to it. Maybe in a state of nature you would be the only sane one on the scene. But in a society of indoctrinated collectivists, you are a fatal liability.

Faced with that, then, is it really worth rejecting? For Bukowski, it was. For most people, it isn’t. Understandably. Most of us want happiness, not freedom. Comfort, not liberty. Achieving both seems an impossible contradiction.

Huxley knew this too. In the pursuit of happiness one must ban all suffering, but in so doing, one must also ban anything that carries meaning. Why? Because anything meaningful will inevitably also carry some form of distress. “To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise”, Dostoyevsky rightfully mused in his 1864 underground novella. The same is true of art, poetry and freedom.

But what if you think that is a sacrifice worth making? What if you are one of the few who thinks meaning is a concept worth preserving, despite its bitter tradeoffs?

In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer, the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’ 

There was a long silence. I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last.

True freedom isn’t your millennial dream of Paris cafes with a MacBook in your lap, sipping grande oat milk chai tea lattes and writing poetry amidst the city sounds and smells of buttered scones. You may think you are free. But do you understand what it took to make this privileged reality of yours possible? How many underpaid service people and overstressed labourers it took to create this polished world that you so casually enjoy?

You work hard. I know. You have had your struggles. The fact that you are sitting here today is a marvellous achievement. But you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Small, underpaid, overlooked giants. But giants nonetheless. Perhaps bigger than you and I will ever be.

Freedom is a fragile, delicate and abstract idea. It is that which we most strongly desire but also that which we most violently fear. It is painful, burdensome and difficult to carry. But in the end, it is the most valuable thing we possess. It is not enjoyed by everyone and it is never to be taken for granted. And we must fight to maintain it. Today, and in the future.

perspective
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You act almost as if matters have to hurt to be of value, a man of weakness told me once. Clearly overstepping his authority. Broad–brushed, over–simplified, untrue. But not entirely. Perhaps when battle is your default it is difficult to trust when someone offers you a deal too good to seem legit. Legend has it, when it sounds too grand, it usually is. Allow yourself sufficient relaxation and someone’s gonna jab you in the throat when you expect it the very least. It’s the natural order of things. Does it ever get easier? Will there ever come a time when you’ve passed the age of heartbreak? Probably not. It doesn’t matter, anyway. Your doomsday prophesies will do nothing but feed your worried soul. So what should you do, in the dawn of yet another imminent catastrophe?

Be grateful. It’s all you have. Take a breath and open your eyes. It is Sunday afternoon in a place of clear blue skies. Your city is at rest and your country in repose. No one is bombing one another. You aren’t slaughtering each other in the streets. In a moment you are buying food not because you need to but because you can. You never go hungry and you never fear for famine. Do you realise, you millennial child of avocado–toasts and extra cream hot chocolate–you, the absolute incredible and god damn other–worldly bloody wonder that is? The fact that you never have to go hungry.

I’m reading The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński. About a wartime child abandoned by his guardians, wandering the villages of a haunted winter Poland. Everyone hates him. They think he’s cursed, a demon, the devil. His hair is dark and eyes black, of course they do. Everyone is trying to kill him. Everyone is trying to kill everyone, actually. It was the fashion of the time. People are poor, desolate, desperate. Beating each other, raping each other, their wives, their children, their horses. Abusing animals for enjoyment. Instilling madness in their eyes and watching slaughter for amusement.

But you don’t live there. You live here. In a city where the only reason people cuss off strangers is when they cut each other off in traffic. In their shining fancy leather–seated eco–driven cars that everyone can afford because humanity brought poverty to extinction and replaced it with endless opportunity to anyone with enough sense and free will to grab it. Where spoon–fed spoiled children complain of not knowing what to make of themselves because they can’t stand sitting in an office eight hours a day for the rest of their lives (I admit guilt) despite the money, the stillness and the unbound security and peace of heart and mind. No, my darling, we want freedom, you see, we want adventure and creativity, liberty, fear and madness. You know what adventure meant eighty years ago? Getting eaten alive by rats because you blacked out from cold and hunger in the wrong place at the wrong time. This dear hunger of yours for adventure, this thirst for fear and freedom and the unknown?

It’s a damn privilege. Remember that.

approximations

A friend asked for my advice the other day. I am trapped in a place I hate and don’t know how to move along. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I love.

She has voiced the same concerns before, and I gave her the same advice as always. It basically doesn’t matter what you do. As long as you do better than the thing you hate. You’ve set the baseline. Now move away from that. Somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t matter. But you have to move. You have to do something.

But then again, what do I know. I speak from no authority. Be extremely cognizant of the advice you take from mentors a mentor once advised me. People mean well, I’m sure of that. But they are shaped by inclinations. Their own biases and fears and faulty minds. Take advice on practicalities, sure. No harm in seizing guidance in matters of logistics. But on actual creation, the heart and passions and which path to move along? No one knows that but yourself.

So follow your dreams, basically. Right. If only life was as simple as the inspirational posters make it out to be. Follow your dreams. How? People don’t know their dreams. It’s the reason they are dreams. They are sensations, inclinations, dispositions in the realm of the unknown.

You do, however, know in which direction they are pointed. And that’s where you have to go. That’s the yardstick. Do whatever it is you fragmentarily prefer over something else. Turn your gaze toward whichever light shines the brightest at the moment, whichever star stand out the most. Scrape your way through the dirt and thorns towards it and once you’re halfway there and realise it wasn’t what you wanted – celebrate. It means you can check another thing off your list.

Do this passively and violently and over time, all those tiny scraps of sunshine glare and rainbow dust you gathered along the way will mould themselves into an approximation of the thing you may become.

The mistake you make is this: you think your passion already exists and all you have to do it find it. I repeat: if it only were that simple. No, you have you mould it yourself. You have to mix your hands deep within the dirt and filth and shape that thing yourself. Just as there is only one of you there is only one of your passions. No one else has found it because it is not theirs to be found.

I’m not there. Not in the slightest. But I don’t mind. I’m on my way. My mind is open and I am lucky to be brave enough to let my heart enjoy authority. I’m getting there.

On the other hand my speech is false. I’m getting there. There. Where? Which location precisely? Some magical nirvana of bliss and clear blue skies?

This where does not exist. It is no location, activity nor person. It is all of those and none at all. Patriotism is not enough, Huxley wrote. But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics is not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.

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Your where is your self, your soul and your unhinged pure true senses. But this self cannot be caught. It is too transient, too malleable, too ephemeral and interchangeable. It can never be captured because it never stays the same. Drown yourself in art until you’ve lost your senses, lose yourself in love until the world outside dissolves, sacrifice your worth for a pompous great grand scheme – it doesn’t matter. Your fictions may be worth their salt right now. But reality always catches up.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try? Absolutely not. Just because you never get there doesn’t mean you can’t approximate. And like the great Camus so famously asserted, that’s not the point anyway. If you do get there, you will realise it wasn’t what you wanted. And you will be on your way once more. As you should.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.