Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tugging and Prying, in its Subtler Forms

            Thoughts on Chapter 10 of The Artist's Way.  Part ten of twelve on creativity.

            Humans (I'm told) are a social species.  I happen to be human.  Also, I'm a heterosexual and a woman (or maybe cis female would be a little more accurate), and these aspects of my social identity have contributed significantly to shaping me into someone who is nigh-on obsessed with social cues and norms.
            I've been on two silent meditation retreats now*.  Both were only five days long.  On neither of them did I achieve anything like the blissful state of calm I hear so many people describe.  I was definitely calmer by the end, but mostly that just made me realize how hopped up I am for 99% of my life.  And I have a pretty good guess what I'm hopped up on:  socialization.  Not because I like it.  I hate it.  I would almost go so far as to say I hate humans, if I wasn't afraid of alienating my readership.  (God how I aspire to having whales who would take my work seriously.)  But think about it.  This whole smile, make eye contact, then listen and talk thing is beyond exhausting.  I don't know how I manage it.  Because on both of my silent retreats, I spent the whole time on one loop:
            "Oh, no!  Should I have held the door/waited for him to take a bowl first/left my shoes outside/done my hair better/been quieter when I moved my eyeball?  They must be so irritated with me!  I'm sorry!  I'm so, so — Oh, wait!  We're in silence!  No one cares what I do!  I can relax!!"
            I relax for five seconds.
            Then, "Oh, no!  Should I have..."
            That is how I spend my life.  And I will go out on a limb and say that I suspect it is how you spend a large portion of your life, too, whether you're conscious of it or not.  Because I had absolutely no idea how I spent most of my life until I went on a meditation retreat and discovered that my universe turns on the axis of what people think of me.
            Obsessing about social cues, pressures, and norms looks different on different people.  I think it's important to realize that always pushing against the norm is still a way of defining oneself according to the norm.  Two of the many little boys in my life were recently discussing this with me.  Keshav, the elder brother, pointed out that his younger brother could be pretty easily manipulated by using reverse psychology.  Just say, "Ishaan, you better grab my car!  Or else!"  And, presto!  Ishi will stand defiantly over the car refusing to touch it for the rest of his life.  So I asked Ishi what was going on when people told him to do things.  He couldn't explain it (he's four years old, so such an explanation is probably a couple of years away), but he affirmed that no matter what, he always has to do the opposite of what he's told to do.  When I asked Keshav how he feels when grown-ups give him instructions, he got wide-eyed and a little serious and said, "Oh, I do what they say."  He also couldn't explain why; he just said that he felt like he really needed to do what the grown-ups told him to do.
            As Keshav's observation about manipulability demonstrates, Ishaan doesn't free himself by being so contrarian.  Both boys are making decisions, and the opinions of grown-ups weigh heavily in the scales.
            In Week 10 of The Artist's Way, Cameron discusses some of the most common blocks that people turn to in order to stifle their own creativity.  Two of them, erm, rang a bell with me:  relationships, and their best friend, sexuality.  I'm using the term "sexuality," and not "sex," because I'm not really talking about coitus.  I'm talking more about the mating game.  The relentless energy drain that is worrying about the bloody opposite sex/sex of interest.**
            When combined with the myriad other subtle pressures to smile, dress appropriately, not raise your voice in public anywhere ever on the West Coast, and rave about Mad Men/Breaking Bad/Walking Dead/insert popular show Leigh either despises or knows nothing about — these things add up.  As in, get heavy.  Get heavy and occupy the almost immeasurable quantities of mental energy we have, and never know we have, because they are always preoccupied with the things we're not conscious of.
            There's another trick to beware of here:  as soon as we hear the phrase "sex and relationships" we lie to/console ourselves by saying that's just a part of our life.  Like, somehow we compartmentalize sex and relationships (both the sexual and the non-) into these little, well-controlled sectors and don't let them interfere with the really important stuff.  This attitude is dangerous for at least two very obvious reasons:  it denigrates relationality/sexuality, by making them into distractions from the supposedly important stuff; and secondly, it's just not true.  You — the mass of creative, spiritual, intellectual, physical, and mental energy that you are — you are relational.  In other words, your relational and sexual qualities are not just a couple of the compartments, like intellect and physicality.  (The debate about the above list and which parts of it constitute "parts" and "wholes" will have to wait for another day.)  The you that is you is not even exclusively one you; it's a part of a whole.  By definition.
            The problem when you're talking about creativity and this relational aspect of us humans, is that frequently they directly conflict.  For one thing, there's time and energy.  Everyone in the world thinks they have a claim on your time, whether you've met them or not, and that goes about ten times over for women.  But beyond that, there's the weird, insistent tug that relationality exerts on our psyches.  You can kick everyone out of the room, for an indefinite period of time, and yet you know they will keep prying into parts of your head, the subtle desires and fears of approval and rejection, the obligations will never relent even in your own goddamn head.
            And of course, do you even want to kick everyone out of the room?  I, for one, do not.  I actually love some of those weirdos and wallflowers, and some of the rest I can even stand with measurable pleasure.
            But if I'm supposed to be writing about creativity (which I am), I have to say:  sometimes you gotta kick those guys out.  Like, everyone.  Everyone, even at the risk of making some people mad.  Even at the risk of making some people not like you, which is terrifying.  Even at the risk of kick them all out, to attempt (and fail) to clear some head space, so you can attempt to make an artifact that you will look at afterwards and know immediately:  it's a failure.
            Still, I stand by it.  Sometimes, you gotta kick those guys out.  Even the best of them.  Because not one person who has a claim on your love, affection, time, energy, interest, etc. — not one of them can live your life, can make the things you can make.  Not one can give you back that time later on so you can finally get to the work you've always been meaning to get to.

*  The silence of a meditation retreat is often called Noble Silence, and it means more than just not talking.  It means not talking, but also not listening in if/when you hear others talk, not reading or writing, and (blissfully) no eye contact.  No eye contact!!!   NO EYE CONTACT!!  That is what heaven is for me.  An eternity of being left alone.

**  Okay, so I assume heterosexuality when I say "opposite sex," and I'm not totally happy with the replacement, "sex of interest."  But for now, it's what I've got.  If someone could suggest a term that includes both opposite and same sex objects of interest and torment, please do.


  1. You've just described the predicament of a creative introvert. Other things, too, but very much that. I relate to this so much.

    One uber-conclusion I've come to in so much of my life experience is that we are made to need each other. That comes from lovers, from friends, from dying parents, from children, from teachers, from students, from desert rescue parties...

    But here's the kicker, at least for people like you and me. We are created to need each other WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT.

    So, yeah, actually having an internal creative life while also having this tension with the world... Let's just call it interesting.

    Great stuff once again, Leigh. Thank you.