October 13, 2012
244 days until the Arctic Circle expedition
It was my intention from the start to write every day in the days before the journey to the Arctic Circle, and yet I should have known I would fail at that from the get-go. I’ve never been a good journal-keeper: I’ve tried numerous times, but I have this perverse rebellion against approaching things as chores. If I tell myself I have to do something, I instantly don’t want to do it. In the world of obligations, I simply override that rebellion with an act of will: I have to go to work, and sometimes I don’t want to go, but I go anyway. Sometimes I don’t want to go for a run, or to the gym, but I go anyway.
But creativity, for me, is only partly harnessed through discipline. Strike that, it is never harnessed… it’s not the kind of animal that can stand to live in a cage. Take a cat for example. A cat in a cage is simply a bad idea: while some animals might recognize a cage as a home, like we recognize a large wood and plaster box as an apartment, a cat sees a cage for what it is: an act of hubris toward it’s nature so unforgivable, you may as well have declared an outright war.
A cat is only ever pretending to be controlled. Really, what it is doing is tricking you into believing it does what you want it to. This is how it gets what it wants. This is creativity. You must love it, feed it, show up every day after work and even though you are exhausted and just want to drink a glass of wine and read a book or play Halo 4, you must pet the cat first, until it is done with you. The cat will crawl up and sit in the middle of your book. It will head butt your controller and make you screw up and die in your game just when you were about to get past a level you have been trying to get past for months. And when you give in and put everything down and finally give it the attention it demands, it will still bite you, show you it’s ass, or hide under a bed and growl if you come anywhere near it. Sometimes it will run away and pretend to be someone else’s cat for awhile. This is creativity.
But don’t despair. I have an idea for you that has saved me in the past few years. It came from a Roger Miller song. It is a song about what you cannot do:
1. You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd.
2. You can’t go fishing in a baseball pool.
3. You can’t change film with a kid on your back
4. You can’t drive around with a tiger in your car.
It is because of listening to this song, I had a revelation about the nature of cats, (which are just slightly less deadly versions of tigers) and of my own relationship to the untameable nature of creativity.
I first started writing when I was too young to know that it would later become an identity, a calling, a vocation, a curse, a “thing” as opposed to an action like crying or running or breathing. When I was a kid, I wrote because I saw things in my head and I was able to capture them before they disappeared by writing them down. When I would lay on the floor and close my eyes and listen to music: the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies, or Ride of the Valkyries, I saw birds chasing each other through underground tunnels, jellyfish sailing through the night sky like illuminated lanterns, whole stories of death and shapeshifting and rebirth and flight and pursuit. Yes, I was a trippy kid, but looking back at it, there were examples that led me. The early Merry Melodies cartoons, which were often fantastical depictions of nature set to classical music. I remember one that was a bunch of workmen (dogs in hardhats with a bulldog as the boss), building a skyscraper, and all the action was dictated by the very industrial composition of the music.
The point of all this, is that the roots of creativity: it was never meant to be about controlling, taming, harnessing. It was not about dictating, it was about transcribing. It was about receiving and repeating. It was about closing your eyes and listening, and doing your damnedest to bring back to the open-eyed world, the things you saw in that other place.
How in the hell is this like driving around with a tiger in your car?
It’s like this: a tiger sitting in the passenger seat of your car, (or maybe stretched out in the back seat, because it’s my understanding that full-grown tigers are pretty big) would be, if it happened, a visitation upon you of the unexpected, the magical, the potentially dangerous, if not fatal. Being told that you cannot do it is an invitation to try, or to at least entertain the idea that yes, that could happen.
That, is creativity. It is an act of conscious rebellion, of daring, but most of all, of listening, and being receptive. You don’t make the tiger get in your car. That would be disappointing, and not magical at all. That’s like trying to make someone love you.
What you can do, is wait for it… wait for it… wait for it, and when you close your eyes and see the tiger waiting for you to get in and drive…. get in and drive.