Every Wednesday I choose a topic for the Basilique Chat Salon. About a dozen people gather to discuss it over 2 hours. This week’s subject was Creativity – where does it come from, and where does it go, when it seems unavailable?
I wasn’t sure how this topic would go because I handled it differently in two ways.
First, it’s the first I tried that wasn’t explicitly comparing our experiences in Second Life to its less virtual counterpart.
Second, I typically start things by explaining the topic and invite the person to my left take the first turn. Because I’ve been ruminating on this particular topic very much lately, I decided to take the first step.
I thought I’d just do my 5 minutes, and in 10 minutes we’d be on to the next person. What I didn’t expect, was 30 minutes in the hot seat:
Uprooting creative block
“Some of you who know me may know that a big part of my day job involves writing. It happens from time to time, but I’ve not been able to get much down in about 6 days (either at work or blogging), and that’s very scary.
“Of course, I worry about my deadlines, but I think (this recent writer’s block) is layering on top of a bigger fear that I’ve felt.
“In here, I’d say my biggest creative achievement has been Paradise Lost. I’ve talked about how that came to me: I was sitting down and listening to Mozart’s Requiem and the story, Milton’s poem, just unfolded right in front of my closed eyes. And I honestly don’t think I had much to do with it. It was very strange.
“So my worry now with what I do here, and it’s been accentuated by this past week, is that I’ll never again be able to come up with anything as good as that.”
Mona was first to respond by asking if I thought this might be my only real hit.
“I think it’s similar Mona.” I answered. “In all honesty, I’m really not sure how to do the next thing.”
Juliette, a newcomer to our group, followed up: “One thing that happens as you grow, Becky, is that your idea of “as good as” changes and evolves. What you think is the most amazing creation ever (TODAY) is completely different from what you might think is the best even a few years from now. Have you looked back on older work, that at the time you thought was amazing, and realize just how much you’ve improved since then?”
“Yes, Juliette, I’ve done that, and you are right.” I replied, “When we made Romeo + Juliet in Second Life, I thought then that was as good as it could get. And then of course, Paradise Lost is ten times bigger on every level. But in a way, that makes it even harder. Because I won’t be satisfied with making another Paradise Lost. I want, I need, to exceed it.”
I could feel Mona’s stare as she told me: “Ok, what you must do right now… is grab a sharp implement. Use it open up your skull and pry this thought out.”
Caity laughed from the other side of the room.
“Exorcise it?” I asked.
“No. Uproot it.” replied Mona.
“Who says it has to be another Paradise Lost, though?” asked Juliette. “Who’s to say that you won’t come up with something just as incredible, in an entirely different direction? What you are influenced by right now (for example, you mentioned The Requiem) isn’t the same as what might influence, or inspire, you later.”
“Paradise Lost was yesterday. Today is another day. Tomorrow’s another.” said Mona.
“Becky,” started Caitin. “You are currently worrying and trying to force creativity – while you just said PL…happened out of nowhere…” I nodded in agreement. “The next thing,” she continued, “will happen again, out of nowhere.”
Vainly forcing the fire to burn
“Cait’s right.” Agreed Mona, “you can’t force creativity.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I think you are right Caity, but I have set a deadline. I must have a source, a concept, a treatment, by August 1 to start production development. The best time to launch a new show is late January.”
“Eric Johnson took 6 years to record another album after his acclaimed Ah Via Musicom.” said Mona.
“Oh my god!” I cried. “I can’t wait that long!”
“I think you need to let go of Paradise Lost first. It is in your system.” said Caitlin. “Seriously, I think you are overthinking and forcing yourself.”
“Yes, our last performance is Saturday – for a while at least – and I have from that day to August 1st.”
“What you need to do,” said Mona, “is expose yourself to ideas and impulses.”
“To ignite something in my head…” I considered, as I thought of a few of the plans I’d made which included spending time with people I hadn’t spent much time with in a while, going to shows, just being out of world in different ways than I’m used to.
“Good point, Mona.” I said. “Read more, watch more.”
“Discuss more. Explore different themes,” she added.
“You said how the idea of Paradise Lost came to you,” said Josh. “Are there other ideas that have come to you before, that weren’t as strong as it was with Paradise Lost, but that might still be lurking inside you to work with?”
I thought about all the ideas I’d had, some that I ran with, others I’d cast aside. Some ideas were just not as big as the others.
“Yes, Josh, other ideas have come from other places… Well,” I resumed, “Paradise Lost is what I would call a “big idea”, and there is a school of thought that you might get one of those a year, if you are really lucky.”
“It’s your character and how you are and past expectations (that) don’t make it easy eh?” asked Caitlin.
I agreed. “I suppose,” I continued, “I look at creativity as something out there.” There was a pause as the group dug deep to help me.
“I had talked to you about it before,” started Mona “have you considered Lucian’s ‘The Dialogues of the Dead’? You could combine streamed vocal renditions of the dialogues with choreography. And I’m sure it’d be as funny as it is to read.”
“Is there a remote character concept of whose history you’ve always been curious to explore?” offered Juliette. “Sometimes, the character comes first, and then their story unfolds. Instead of trying to write a story and populate it with characters. If that makes sense.”
“Sometimes writers and directors just change course and try something “smaller” after a string of ‘big’ things.” added Josh.
“I am too simple I guess,” said Caitlin, “I would – if I were Becky – not break my head yet on a new project but take the pause and time and empty my head first. I have never been able to start a new project before official closure of the previous one like… ending a job and start next day in a new company. I need to..empty myself first… let go.”
“I need a creative enema…” I mused, and soon noticed the room had gone silent.
Silent until Mona passed me a 5-pound bag of Haribo Sugarless Gummy Bears, accompanied by what I can only imagine in a flat deadpan:
“Guaranteed intestinal exorcism.”
Luring the Untamed Monster
“Maybe I can relate a bit.” said Kay. “I used to call my creative impulse ‘The Monster’. When it visited me, I was inspired and compelled to write, but when it left, I was useless no matter how I tried. So, my life became a quest to lure The Monster back.”
“Yes Kay!” I agreed. “That’s how I feel about it. I feel as if it’s out of my control. That it visits me, when it wants to.”
“Spolier:” warned Kay, “Forcing that bastard to come back doesn’t work.”
“Can anyone be creative on demand?” she asked the room.
“Yes,” answered Josh, “poet laureates used to be creative on demand – they had to write poems for occasions as they came up.”
“Only people who already have some templates for their work ready.” said Mona.
“Well,” I said, “I feel that in my job I have to be, but not at a big idea level.”
“I can’t.” answered Caitlin. “There are occasions I can ‘deliver’ what I know people want, as in Second Life pictures or something, but they lack my real spirit… My best work in SL is not planned, and I do not want to just ‘deliver’ in SL.”
“The spark for me is not planned, but the work is highly planned.” I said. “You cannot plan that spark”, concluded Caitlin.
Chasing our obsessions
“When I was a student (not that long ago),” said Mona, “I was a member of my university’s photography team. Our instructor kept telling us that the best way to be creative was to pursue our obsessions.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “That worked for me with the Requiem.” I remembered listening to the piece over and over and over again, never imagining something would come from it until it did.
“What if you’re currently not obsessed with anything?” asked Juliette.
“I’ve an obsession with all things Minoan,” responded Mona. “You might have an obsession with something else, Becky. You did the Requiem. Are there other obsessions you have? And if you don’t, get some.”
Josh asked: “Do you feel a need to create something right now, or do you think you should feel the need right now?”
“I have to do it in 6 weeks.” I answered.
“Or else my whole Second Life schedule will be off.” I noticed a pause in the room as I said this, and added “You have no idea how I plan.”
“Who makes your SL schedule?” he probed further.
“I do. I plan everything.” I responded.
“Maybe that’s a bit of the problem, Becky?” asked Mona. “This is coming from someone who is forced to plan everything.”
“Too much planning?” I asked.
“Maybe… but it depends on so many other things.”
“Ever asked yourself,” asked Caitlin, “suppose I don’t meet my own schedule, what is the absolute worst thing that would happen? Would it kill you?”
I agreed, it wouldn’t, but I was starting to feel we were spending too much time on my personal creative issue. So I pushed Josh to take up the next turn… and while he happily obliged, this wasn’t the last we spoke on the subject.
Part 2 follows on Friday.