Nordpolen Journal: 5/12/13- Creativity and Pain

Nordpolen Journal: 5/12/13- Creativity and Pain

What is the Nordpolen Journal?

San Francisco, California

There is a kind of stereotype of writers who suffer for their work. It’s romantic. It looks like a gaunt, bearded man in an unheated garret room eating stale bread crusts for dinner. Or it looks like a not particularly attractive woman sitting at a writing desk with a fountain pen. It sometimes looks like a prisoner scratching walls in a cell, or an alienated young person furiously scribbling in a notebook, or a man at a typewriter, pounding away at the keys and trying to ride the delicate equilibrium between inspiration and inebriation.

I grew up with this stereotype, but I always thought that the pain was not a result of the writing itself, but the thing that fueled it. All the best stories seemed to have, at their core, a terrible nugget of unspeakable pain. But I have found that the opposite is actually true. No matter how emotionally difficult the subject, it is the act of writing that is the source of the pain. My mind does not work in a linear fashion. For me, every word is not a single note but a chord. One idea creates instant echoes of other ideas. Even typing as fast as I can, I can’t keep up with the glimpses and connections, and it is so difficult to find the right words. Sometimes I spend whole days actively avoiding writing, because I so dread the frustration of not being able to translate what I am seeing and feeling in my head, yet the whole day is defined by that avoidance. There is work that needs to be done… things that need to be resolved… images that want to reveal themselves… voices with a story or an idea that need to be written down.

It’s not that I feel that my thoughts and visions and ideas are so important because they are mine. They are important because they really aren’t mine. They come out of me, but they also lead me in directions I can’t predict. If I try to direct them too much, they evaporate like something important that you know you have forgotten. If I try to ignore them they nag and nag at me all day in the background- urgent and unspecific. When I do sit down to write I find my way in what feels like darkness along a path that keeps changing, and never ends up where it seems like it was headed at the beginning. It never gets easier to sit down and write.

I have spoken to other writers about this intense desire to avoid being creative, and I’ve heard a spectrum of responses. Some people have told me they would write all day long if given the chance, and that it’s something they take great pleasure in. To me, these people are like impossibly beautiful cylons: you just look at them and think… ?????

I know other writers who have gone so far the other direction that they have given up writing altogether. They carry the non-writing around like a vestigial limb. At first they talk about how they’ll take it out again and use it when they are ready, but after awhile it becomes the thing you politely don’t talk about. You can see the shape of it under their skin and in the things they don’t say out loud but are shouting silently all the time. Writers who are not writing are like haunted houses.

I want to know if this pain, this uncomfortable-yet-compelling feeling that writing produces in me is common for all artists and all creative people. I have a suspicion that it is a necessary part of the process, maybe even the reason we do it. There’s something about relieving the pain that is addictive. There’s something about dredging something out of the unconscious and into the world that is somehow so rewarding that it never loses its attraction.

There is some reward: the sensation of finding words for something that was, a moment before, ineffable. The feeling of hope that another person might read those words and experience the same internal moment of transport. But any sense of accomplishment fades almost immediately, and the need to keep traveling those internal spaces returns.

What is it, writer?

What is it, writer?

Everybody is a writer. On Saturdays, they are in cafes with their laptops. They’re waiting on your table at brunch, refilling your mimosas. At night they’re scribbling, scribbling, scribbling and waking up with a sore third eye and mistaking it for a common hangover. These writers work in offices, in the daytime sitting at a desk and keeping a blank spreadsheet open on the computer desktop to hide what they are actually doing… which might be writing to other writers they know who work desk jobs. These writers pass hilarious dog and cat animated .gifs to one another… like that one where the girl dancing across the farmyard is suddenly side-butted by an annoyed sheep. Or that dramatic prairie dog. Writers are not writing at work, because work is full of distractions, and distracted writing is like bad ironing… it’s worse than if you didn’t do it at all.

I know a writer who never writes. Or let me correct that… he has an ongoing masterpiece that is invisible except, maybe, to me… because he is always telling me about the thing he is writing that he never writes. And it changes. It has an arc, the thing that is going to be written… the thing that is about to be written… the thing that starts out in a few tentative sentences… and then decides it wants to be something else. Journals filled with descriptions of what the writing will be about, once he actually starts writing it.  Whenever he tells me about it.. whenever he shows me a few lines… there is a feeling at the back of my neck that travels into my chest, and I repress telling him that his writing is about thinking about writing, something that I once would have called a cop-out, or post-modern, or very French in some way. But now… now I think it’s just another form of writing.

I used to resent that everyone is a writer in this city. I used to feel, whenever I went into a bookstore or a library… walls and walls ceiling to floor filled with people’s lives, this utter despair. Then the internet came along and the writing filled the invisible space. The writing began to pass through my body, relayed in waves I sometimes wonder if I can feel, as someone orders frozen burritos on Instacart, or someone in a basement in Daly City texts their boyfriend in Detroit, or someone updates Facebook with a picture of their pug. People write while they walk, while they sit on the toilet, while they wait for the bus. People write while they skateboard and while they stand in line, and while they shop. People walk into poles and crash their cars writing. It’s like a spring morning so full of birds there is no longer any silence from which to distinguish the sound of words and words and words and words and words.

Shakespeare Revealed in Edward de Vere

People at parties sometimes ask me, “so what do you do?” And I know they mean, “what’s your job?” And I used to tell them what I do for money, and then for awhile I would say I am a writer, and when I got really brave I started to be even more honest and tell them I am a poet. But it never had the effect I thought it would. I never thought that the same questions would arrive in response again and again… the kind of questions that make me drink.

What, writer, have you done of merit with your life. What have you written down that I might have heard of. Have I heard of you? Have you broken hearts and sewed them back together? Did you say that thing that became an internet meme? Did the New Yorker have to ask their cartoonist to create something inspired by your lines about cancer and dogwood blossoms? Or did you break some rules with your mighty wit? What is it writer? What is your writing about?

An Evening of Adventure with Chicken John, Tupelo Hassman, Joshua Mohr and Sarah Fran Wisby

An Evening of Adventure with Chicken John, Tupelo Hassman, Joshua Mohr and Sarah Fran Wisby


An Evening of Adventure with Chicken John, Tupelo Hassman, Joshua Mohr and Sarah Fran Wisby

  • Join us for an Evening of Adventure inspired by the creative process and the spirit of exploration. Hosted by Evan Karp and LJ Moore, the evening will feature interactive performances by Chicken John Rinaldi, Tupelo Hassman, Joshua Mohr, and Sarah Fran Wisby, as well as short interviews with each performer, and a chance for the audience to creatively respond and interact.The event is a mini-fundraiser for LJ’s Moore’s upcoming expedition to sail the arctic circle on a tall ship, where she will document the effect of isolation and extreme environment on the creative process of a group of artists and scientists aboard the ship.The arctic has long symbolized the spirit of adventure for the sake of adventure itself… to get to a place because no one has been there, and a place that is completely conceptual… a point on the globe that means something to us not because of what’s there, but because of what it means as an idea. This reaching toward the unknown is at the heart of the creative process, and in that spirit, we want to create an evening based around the idea of adventure and creativity.Want to be part of this adventure?Equipment List:
    1. shoes you can walk in
    2. a paper and pen/pencil
    3. a warm jacket
    4. a flask (with water or spirits, whatever you like)
    5. a sense of adventure

    Tickets are $10 at the door.

    Chicken John Rinaldi

    Tupelo Hassman

    Suzanne Kleid
    Suzanne Kleid writes, and sells things, in San Francisco.

    Joshua Mohr

    Sarah Fran Wisby

    Evan Karp

    LJ Moore

80 Fresno Street, San Francisco, California 94133