Then, Kent State and the despair and grief of that young woman with the long dark hair, arms upraised in ancient keening why, why, why and we can nearly hear her through the grainy image on the front page of the Long Island Press.
I've had a request to write about the 'creative process' sitting in my suggestion box for several months now. Mea culpa. When my spouse (who got me started on this adventure) pointed out that I have not yet answered the request for a blog on Creative Process, I countered with my argument that I write about the creative process all the time. But, I am informed, I need to be more direct. So, here's direct.
The 'creative process' is a bit of a slippery fish. It starts early. In infancy. In very young childhood. In all the reflection and memories and dinner table anecdotes that happen at every holiday and family/friend get togethers. The creative process takes shape in sitting around with friends and having a beer or a cup of coffee. We cannot help but engage in the creative process if we tune into life at all. It is a default setting for anyone with a brain wave. But for those of us who want to take the raw materials that life hands us and turn them into something more, we pay attention, tune in, remember just a bit more acutely than others.
What if we would like to capture that process on 'paper' though? Turn the process into something a bit more tangible, like a short story, a novel, an essay? That's where the work comes in.
And it is work. It is a re-shaping, selection, a series of decisions about what to include and what to leave out. It cannot merely be a rambling, every detail re-telling of some long ago event. That's what unedited video cameras are for, and no one really wants to spend time with unedited video.
In order to take the raw materials of life and turn them into something resembling 'art' we must ruminate, cogitate, write, re-write, edit and edit again before we present the stuff of life and transform them into a gem that we would like to share. We must 'cook' our thoughts and pay attention to our dreams, where we are off guard enough to let some whispers through. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, imagination and selection are essential.
In a recent article, Digging to China, I wrote about playing in the mud. In the creative process you have to get a little muddy-- you have to feel the dirt ooze between your fingers and watch as the worms wriggle to freedom. You have to slap the mud into cakes and have enough imagination to believe they are hamburgers or cupcakes or mashed potatoes or weapons to lob at your brother. You have to not mind getting messy and dropping down into that experience. You have to 'make believe' as most young children do naturally, whether what you are aiming at is memoir or the next great novel.
The creative process is not some mystical whoo-whoo encounter with a muse. Many of us wish it were. Many of us would like to take dictation from some higher elusive being than slog through memories, create or re-create characters, situations, events. Many of us would like to wake up in the morning and just type out a fabulous dream that is a little gem ready for publication. Some writers do seem so gifted. Most of us, I'm afraid, have to work a little harder and do the digging the old fashioned way. When we get to the place of exotic treasure and work it into something we are proud of it does feel like we dug all the way to China.
I am now part of Alltop - Top Writing News . I mention this for two reasons: 1- because they asked me to; and 2- because Networking is what we do on the Internet, is it not? Since writers are in the communication 'business', sharing ideas, tips, just having a conversation, a disagreement, an explanation, an elucidation, etc., etc., this being part of a circle that gets larger and larger helps shrink the world a bit. The setting for telling stories changes from sitting around the campfire to the kitchen table and so on down through our history, but the need to tell stories is a very human. We can cross cultures and generations at such speed, you would hope we could all understand one another better. Hope, too, is a very human quality.
I read through a few of the other writing sites on Alltop and came across this thought on Writing Forward comparing the ancient pursuit of alchemy to the creative process:
In the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, alchemy was a form of chemistry and philosophy that sought to turn baser metals into gold and discover the elixir of life. A more modern definition of alchemy is the magical ability to change a common substance of little value into a substance of great value.
Creativity is inherently linked to alchemy. Our life experiences, thoughts, and ideas are of little value until we channel them into something of substance — a compelling book, a mesmerizing piece of art, or a dazzling performance. Creative people, such as writers, artists, and performers, are alchemists on a quest to transform the stuff of the mind and body into something that others can experience and enjoy. (How to Be More Creative)
From what I gather, most writers churn and tumble and cook and let settle our own life experiences and the observations and confessions we have been privy to. Whether what we have been bouncing around our brains turns into fiction, non-fiction or poetry, we have done something to those gems of memory and transformed them into something new. And in the process, we the writer, the storyteller, the artist or the grandma telling stories of way back when to her descendants, are shaped and changed by the reflection and the re-working of the story into something that is our own. And we have to let it go, because it will be something new again to those we hand it on to.
I rather like that thought. That if we take the stuff of our lives to create a story, a painting, a poem, we have worked it with our 'hands' the way a potter turns mud into a pitcher, or a jeweler takes a rock and turns it into a ring. We all do that in some form, whether we label ourselves writers or not.
9:26 am feet on the desk, coffee cup handy, keyboard on my lap---- morning light casting a pleasant glow---- good way to start the day. Been thinking 'bout developing voice, or finding voice might be more accurate. A writer's voice should be authentic, shouldn't be a trumpet for some cause. Are some people born with the courage to stand up and speak their mind, or is that trait nurtured by the right environment? Stand up, speak, write, proclaim, question: all that kind of activity stirs the pot, the pot of contentment and stability, the pot of appeasement. This musing led me to remember a story we read in grade school, maybe the 4th or 5th grade, called A Man Without a Country. I remember the illustration for that story in our reader: a young hearty man looking longingly at a shore, a shore where he was never to set foot. From what I remember this man had uttered words of disloyalty to the new brand new United States of America--- I do not recall what he was supposed to have said, but the words, the words, were considered treasonous. His punishment was to board a ship and sail the waters of the world, never allowed to set foot on any soil. Any soil. He was permanently adrift, rootless, homeless, friendless.
We had been studying the American Revolution at the time of reading this story, so my young brain was cast in confusion. On the one hand we were studying heroes who used words to incite the people to Revolution, but once the Revolution was won, the man in this story could not use his voice to proclaim his opposition. It's been a long time since I read this work, but the diptych of the Glorious American Revolution side by side with this cautionary tale to youngsters to not take their opinions, their voices, their words, too far, has stayed with me through the years. And taking one's voice too far, of course, will be decided by whoever happens to hold the power.
The threat of being cast off has quite a chilling effect not only on the words spoken, but the thoughts pursued, the dare to color outside the lines kinds of thought, the whys, the what ifs.
Why am I thinking about a story I read so many years ago when I tackle the problem of voice in writing? I think, dare I say, I think that cautionary tale worked on me so long ago, and all these years since I have been trying to find a way to speak my mind--- whether in writing or out loud--- and still have a place to call home. At some point, though, I believe, we must be willing to join that man sailing around the world getting no closer than a port to plant our feet. And that takes a different kind of courage.