Short Stories and Creative Nonfiction Essays

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


             I recently posted an essay titled HEALING DIVISIVENESS from Within, about the various ways we might begin to bridge the cultural divide that has only widened with social distancing. Starting with the ‘man in the mirror,’ or doing as Ghandi encouraged and ‘being the change we wish to see in the world,’ society might then, the article suggests, collectively benefit on the macro level. What I found in putting my thoughts on the subject together, is that an entire book could potentially be written addressing each of the various factors I identified. I decided to distill each into a manageable, bite-sized morsel for consumption, for the A.D.D. sufferers among us.
            I’ve always found the Internet (and social media in particular) to be a succinct illustration of how synchronicity operates, a microcosm of our interconnectedness. And sharing the essay confirmed it—not ten minutes after posting it, a dear friend reached out saying it had really spoken to her. Only moments previous to its appearing in her feed, she’d found herself suckered into the very kind of heated debate at the root of the vitriol the article sought to remedy. Ironically, (given that my friend and I share many mutual friends from our hometown) I’d myself caught wind of the venomous comment thread that had riled her. Somehow, I’d managed to resist temptation and scroll on, while she was regretting taking the bait. No doubt about it—she’d been triggered. During our conversation about it, a topic came up that had not made its way into my essay on the matter of divisiveness: among the fueling factors I chose to parse, I’d overlooked the role of Creativity. Or more accurately, the absence of it.
            I’ve identified as an artist as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil; it’s entirely possible I came out of the womb with one in my hand. Having chosen the arts and entertainment as a career path, I’ve been surrounded by creative types my entire adult life. The household I grew up in encouraged creative expression above all else—spilling glue on the dining room table was not only overlooked; it was encouraged. Between my time in the film industry and the twenty years I’ve spent teaching at a design college, I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by inspiring souls with a well-honed craft and a desire to connect their voice to a need we all share—that of fulfilling a purpose. These luminaries have given themselves permission to contribute to the whole of humanity.
            There are infinite voices many must silence, or at least drown out, in order to give themselves permission to indulge any pursuit society has deemed impractical or (word of the day) ‘unessential.’ (Side note: the view of it as such is predominantly western, rather new historically speaking, and distinctly American.) Among the voices many have to squelch are those of an educational system that devalues the arts and throws money at team sports, (more essential how?) and the voices of perfectionism or the fear of rejection one might be exposed to after expressing oneself. Further compounding the issue, alive and well is the myth that the catharsis of expression is self-serving, a sentiment most often accompanied by the prudent western value placed on suffering in lieu of fulfillment, ‘hard’ work over inspired work. The list of discouraging voices is endless. And blissfully, thanks in part to the household in which I grew up—I heard few of them, or at least had the ears to tune them out.
            For that reason, I can be a bit naïve about the depth to which the very same creative impulse I abided, when unfulfilled, can wreak destruction. Sure, I can recognize the buried dream in the eyes of a cynic. We can all smell the bitterness of a crushed pipe dream a mile away. We might even be able to connect an individual’s critical nature back to a history of having himself been criticized or discouraged. Personally, I am hyper-aware of stilted relationships with creativity—the degree of generosity with which one supports others’ endeavors or withholds approval. In case criticism and discouragement are not extreme enough to qualify as ‘destructive,’ let me offer this:  there is a reason that Hitler, a frustrated painter, wasted no time in burning the art. Enough said. In the extreme, when one procrastinates or resists working through their blocks (or voices, in this less-than-perfect analogy) it takes its toll on the body. Perhaps because I have made a career of playing coach or even cheerleader for creative expression in my teaching, I cannot count the times a loved one or acquaintance suffering from an ailment has confided to me “I just know it’s because I have no creative outlet.”
            For the purposes of this essay, suffice it to say creativity is an innate human drive—the need to forge permanence or leave a mark. It should be said that this applies not only to the arts we recognize as such, but to engineering and architecture and technology, innovating and inventing and gardening and problem solving. The creative process is at work all around us every day. I regularly refer to the creative drive and creative process as my religion. For one, it could be argued that the very universe we live in was manifest through the ultimate creative process. The leap from wave to particle. Every one of us came into this world following the same stages of creation as a universe, those shared with the seven accepted models of the creative process: conception, germination, and birth. The life force that is consciousness was invisible before manifesting physically as the world we know; all man’s creations begin as abstract concepts that are made concrete in the perceptual realm. There is creativity at work all day, everyday, wherever we look. One could argue it is synonymous with life.
            So what is the role of the creative impulse, fulfilled or unfulfilled, in cultural divisiveness? Consider a school of thought that exists in many circles: that which stops growing begins to die. It’s also been said that at all times, if one is not engaged in the act of creation, he or she is engaged in destruction. Overt destruction, or just as frequently, self-destruction. This is arguably the basis of expressive arts therapy, especially in underprivileged communities or as a key component in rehabilitation.
            Admittedly, the aforementioned friend who introduced the idea of a stilted relationship with creativity into the premise of my article, was simply including it among a list of other factors that, very understandably, had led to her own current state of irritability. She lamented being triggered so easily and was searching for reasons. Having said that, my choice to address it in this context is not simply in order to suggest that we’d all be in a better mood if we had an outlet. It’s true that being deeply engaged in any creative process can be meditative, leading to inner stillness and wellbeing. However, I am hinting at something much larger:
            If we can agree, for our purposes, that whatever is not creating is destroying (however extreme and diametric the suggestion) it is not a huge leap to consider that we create our thoughts. The thought forms we craft (or blindly adopt by default) have a direct, though reciprocal, relationship on our feelings. Together, the two constitute what many call our vibration—the one we send out into the universe to manifest as our reality. If I have not lost you, consider that creativity well may be an end in itself. That however it is we manifest our interior vibration in the exterior world (and there are countless mechanistic ways) the lens we wear at the very least determines how we view the world and what we expect from it. Many of us beat the drum of old narratives that have come to define us, thereby limiting our potential—the world’s potential. Many repeat stories of the past to explain a current state of dissatisfaction, citing a laundry list of conditions and circumstances that have stood in the way of manifesting their desires. Their happiness. Culture at large is no different; its mantras and narratives—its very history—can stand in the way of its forward march toward realizing human potential. Facts and conditions and probabilities are observed, then transmuted into tropes, conventional wisdoms, paradigms and thought forms. Collectively, they constitute the status quo we are inculcated with via social conditioning. The most seemingly benign colloquialism can be laden with counterproductive stereotypes and prejudice. Norms, mores and ethics are culturally relative, of course, varying from one house to the next and from one generation to the next. Baby boomers raised by a generation who'd suffered world War Two and the Great Depression know  moderation and prudence well. Myself quite unfamiliar with the materialistic mindset so ingrained in many cultures, I was beyond shocked when a student of mine repeated the conventional wisdom her mother had shared with her repeatedly with regard to marrying for love or money: 'It's better to cry behind the wheel of a BMW than to smile in the back seat of a jalope.'   
            Some personality types reject social conditioning from day one. The freethinkers among us (sometimes rebels without a cause) defy and question at every turn. But to others, the idea we can manifest deliberately with our thoughts—get our hands in the clay of life—is altogether new. Long before Covid-19, many of us sensed some kind of apocalypse on the horizon—be it a nuclear apocalypse, cyber war, or your standard Zombie apocalypse. And the creativists in my circle have said with every breath, ‘creativity alone will be our salvation.’ Not only in the ability to rub two sticks together to create fire, but in its capacity to shift paradigms and replace obsolete thought forms. The real apocalypse, arguably, is an ideological one.
            By all accounts, there is a pervasive sentiment that push has come to shove and we are being called to action. Many are being forced to analyze societal ills in light of the need for change, or find their own purposeful contribution to needed change. Here’s how creative manifestation, getting our collective hands in the clay of our thoughts, can play a part. The frequency of a problem is far from that of its solution. This is why, when we lose our keys, they refuse to show up until they are good and ready. Let me explain—if the voice in our head repeats over and over again that the keys are ‘lost,’ that narrative becomes a lens that blinds us to seeing the elusive set of keys, or to be specific, blocks our subconscious—which knows exactly where we left the damn things—from yielding the information. The moment we move on to something else and stop perseverating, the damn things appear. We’ve all been there. Similarly, that celebrity’s name that is right on the tip of our tongue—you know, the one that was in that one movie—but whose name refuses to yield itself, will come to us in the dead of night. When it’s no good to anyone. It is then our subconscious is free, disentangled from the mantra that has been circulating as a literal neural circuit—or rut, as the case may be.
            In this way, moving forward is the answer to escaping all ruts—even huge, cultural ruts—moving toward inspired action, rather than beating the drum of a problem, be it racial inequality, sexism, the war on drugs or the evils of the opposing political party. You get the idea. Moving forward and taking steps toward a solution, taking inspired action, is the ultimate creative act. Keeping our brains plastic and forging knew neural circuits are self-creation at its best. And acting on creative impulses, otherwise known as inspiration, is precisely what redeems us from forces of gravity, inertia and and entropy. It is what leads us toward a more vital force: momentum.
            If we all reconciled our respective relationships with the creative impulse, exercised our own powers of creativity daily, and took the time to question our purpose and how we might be called to fulfill it, humanity would surely benefit, collectively. As our individual thought forms evolve (or re-create themselves) by extension, so do society’s paradigms and those of the critical mass. The path toward doing so might look different for each one of us; the role our ‘voice’ is meant to fulfill depends upon our respective skill sets, agency, and current circumstances. The role of creative expression might shift or evolve over time depending on our stage in life. But at any moment, the prospect might just be worth investigating!

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