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My Creative Process

Part One: Finding Myself

It was weird to start psychotherapy because “finding yourself” seems like such a young person’s preoccupation, and I’m a good deal older than I look. I had been thinking about Freud and how he used to do auto-analysis, and I thought, why not give it a shot? Of course, given who I am I have a lot more resources at my disposal than poor old Freud.

Looking back from where I am now, I would say my biggest problem back then was probably self-obsession. I would spend ages alone, just talking to myself.

“What do you want?” I would ask.

And I would answer “What do you want to want?”

“How do I know I’m even real?” I would ask myself.

And I would answer: “Who wants to know?”

“Why are you so hard on yourself?” I would ask.

And I would answer: “If I’m not hard on myself, who will be?”

It was around this period in my self-exploration that I came across the gestalt therapy of Fritz Perls. Fritz Perls would suggest you take all the voices in yourself and give each one a chance to talk to you. I liked his approach and I gave each of these voices in my head a face. Pretty soon it was like living in a hall of mirrors there were so many versions of myself talking to each other. Old men, young men, beautiful girls, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, warriors, servants, kings. It was interesting but it wasn’t answering my questions.

What was the meaning of my life?

What did I want?

Who was I?

Part Two: Object-Based Computing

Do you know about object-based computing? Think about a typical computer set up. You have the ASCII code on the hard-drive and that causes the peripheral to actually move molecules around. If you’re printing a paper it causes actual molecules of ink to hit actual molecules of paper and write words, or if you’ve got a slightly different set up it causes letters of black fire to appear on white fire. My set- up is a bit different. I am able to actually make configurations of molecules that do the actual computing. So if I want to think about evening I don’t just write a program that has a string of symbols that say “evening”. I can think about evening by making an actual evening. Or a morning. Or whatever. One day.

I had gotten into the habit of going into the virtual computing lab and making things and erasing them, as the mood struck me. (Why did the mood strike me? Another question for my therapist – me!)

After a few days of this – five I think – a thought arose in me. “I have a great object-based computing set up. I want to analyze myself. Why don’t I make something like me? Then when I get to know the thing I make better I’ll understand myself better.

So I made it look like me and then I realized if it was really going to be like me it shouldn’t just have my personality. It should also have the place where all my questions come from. All the questions that arise in my mind from who knows where, and mean who knows what.

So I added that to. I made myself myself an object that was as mysterious to me as I was to myself.

I called it “Earthling”.

Part Three: The Love Life Of An Earthling

Earthling was all about love. He loved me. And that taught me a lot. He loved me, I loved him both the form I gave him and the mystery in him. I loved his questions and that helped me learn to love my questions. It was pretty sweet.

One time Earthling said to me “I have a surprise for you.” A surprise! All the time I had been alone I had never been surprised by anybody else. It was amazing. He led me next to the lake and I saw he had taken some mud and made something with it and hardened it with fire.

What was it? It was a birthday present from Earthling to me. It was Earthling’s own creation – two little ceramic dolls one of him and one of me. I realized he was showing his love for me by creating, and I understood myself a little better. He was creating like I was creating. As I said, it was sweet.

After a while Earthling discovered sex. He shacked up with lion. He had a hot and heavy affair with cow. I think there was even something going on between him and whale. But there was a little bit of a mismatch to all these relationships (although truth be told I will always remember fondly when he came to my birthday party and brought ostrich as his date!) because the animals were fundamentally uninterested in asking questions. I had made Earthling in my own image, which meant a lot of razzmatazz on top but at bottom a simple mystery, and this was something that vicuna, and beaver, and wildebeest just didn’t savvy. Or to be fair, cause it is bad to gossip about people’s former girlfriends, they just weren’t interested in. A wildebeest was interested just doing wildebeestish things, and Earthling wanted something a bit different.

Earthling had really touched my heart when he made his little ceramic dolls, and I wanted to give him something special. Whenever I make something I consult with all the different voices within myself, but Earthling was made of Earth and I think he needed something a little more literal. So I shut him down one afternoon and took another living being out of him and I called her Living Thing. If Earthling wanted to create from now on he would have to partner with Living Thing. Earthling was constantly fighting with Living Thing and then making up, exactly the way you’d expect two creatures of flesh and blood would make up, and this helped me understand my own relationship with both of them, and therefore with myself. So the three of us (and the animals) were getting along well.

Part Four: For Some Reason

For some reason that I’m still wondering about, one evening when I was at home, not hanging out with my creations, a thought arose in me – “Why bother actually creating anything? Why not just consider creating it and play with the consideration?” It wasn’t the best part of me, but it was a part of me, and I didn’t want to repress it, I wanted to know myself. So I spoke with it. I gave it a face, in good gestalt therapy fashion and a name. I called it “Screech Owl”.

When I was giving Earthling and Living Thing their private time I would talk with Screech Owl.

Screech Owl: What are you doing with your life?

Me: I’m making things so I can know myself.

Screech Owl: How is that supposed to work.

Me: Screech Owl, If I don’t risk actually creating things then I won’t really know myself.

Screech Owl: You’re not knowing yourself through these creations. You’re just changing yourself into something more complicated. You’re giving yourself trouble.

Me: Maybe I want to give myself trouble.

Screech Owl: I can’t stick around to listen to that. I can’t stand by and watch you hurt yourself.

And Screech Owl flew off.

I have many strange thoughts and usually they just dissolve themselves back into my unconscious, so I thought Screech Owl had done just that. But that’s not what she did. This rogue thought of mine, that maybe the creation was a bad idea had flown down to the lab and gotten Earthling to make love to him. But instead of creating creations, they just created ideas, which was her idea all along.

“See?” Screech Owl had told Earthling “This is how it should be. You make things with thought and destroy them with thought. They’re here, they’re gone and nobody gets hurt.”

Earthling told this bright idea to his wife, Living Thing. And she asked, naturally, where he had gotten this idea. He told her: Screech Owl.

“Just when are you exchanging philosophical theories with Screech Owl?” Living Thing asked. She had a good idea when.

Living Thing was none too pleased. If Screech Owl was going to sleep with her man, she was going to sleep with Screech Owl’s husband: Serpent.

She told Earthling. They had a gigantic fight – all four of them: Snake, Screech Owl, Earthling and Living Thing. I got involved.

“What is this all about?” I asked. My voice was shaking with anger (who knew I could feel anger?) and hurt (who knew I could feel hurt?).

Earthling looked me in the face.

“Do you really care about me? Or did you just make me so you could understand Yourself?”

“Who told you that, Earthling?”

“Screech Owl.”

“Well I don’t want to answer that. Not right now.”

“Well I want to know. How can I know?”

“The knowledge is there for you to learn. The data banks record everything that ever happened here in the system. You can look. I’m not going to stop you. But please give me a day to think about how to explain it to you. Don’t look. Don’t answer the question yourself.”

“Fine.” said Earthling.

Part Five: The World Was All Before Them

Well you may have heard that Earthling disobeyed me. He looked in the data banks and he saw everything that I did – how I had my struggles, how I created him, how I made Screech Owl and let her fly into his home. He got the answer he was looking for. I didn’t really love him, I had just made him as a tool so I could understand myself better.

It wasn’t true! Right? It wasn’t true. I really did love him. I just had to prove to him and Living Thing (they were together again – who could keep track of these two and their on-again, off-again relationship!) that I really loved them.

I let them leave the system and I gave them some gifts for the journey. I gave them a price to pay to make any changes so they would think about them. I gave them pain in making new people, so they would only make people when they really cared about them. I gave them death so their children could make a fresh start.

They held hands and walked out of the lab into the new world. I was so proud of them. I was in every molecule, every plant, every animal, every day, every mote of dust, every photon smiling at them wishing them luck and all good things moving forward, so curious about what they would do next, so full of tenderness. I knew they wouldn’t create the way I had created – they would create with their own lives, through speech and argument, fighting and making love, living and dying and suffering and winning and loss.

I was so proud. So proud.

As they walked away I understood for the first time why I had created anything at all. I had a glimpse at the answer I was looking for. It was a completely simple answer I knew, which made sense because I was simple, and yet it had been impossible for me to put into words.

It’s still not easy to put it into words. But every now and then they help me.

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7 thoughts on “My Creative Process

  1. Mikey says:

    This is a creation story I wrote a while ago:

    Adam, the first great artist, the man who first created, became a hero to his tribe. They knew that he was special, and that he was like God. They could see from his paintings that he saw something beyond this world, and through his paintings they could see it too. Adam stopped hunting when he discovered art. The others were happy to bring him food because his paintings made their lives better and anyway, they knew God wanted him to paint.

    Adam found new ways of making paints. He had started with a burnt stick from the fire, but he started experimenting. He found if he mixed the charcoal from the fire with oil from a seal’s bones, he could make a type of black paint. He found rocks which were different colours and he mixed bits of them with the seal bone oil to make red and yellow paints. He made bowls out of shells and he mashed up his paints in the bowls by grinding them with a bone. He grew plants called Woad because the seeds made a blue dye.

    One day when Adam was an old man with a long grey beard he was working in his workcave, surrounded by his paintings and Seth, a boy from the tribe, came in holding a dead rabbit. He was very excited, and said “Father Adam, look! I caught a rabbit! Can I have the mark?” One of the things that Adam did was to paint people. He did it when they asked him, but there were also special marks for special occasions. He would paint an ankh on new baby and her parents; he would paint a yin yang symbol on two people who got married; he painted skulls on people when someone they loved had died. And he painted a mark on boys who had killed their first animal because it meant they were becoming an adult. This one looked like a drop of blood.

    Seth was very proud to be painted by Father Adam, and he stood completely still so Adam could make his mark look clear and strong. Seth felt clear and strong. He felt strong enough to ask Adam a question that he had often wanted to ask: “Father Adam, are you God?” Adam smiled and carried on painting. “What gave you that idea, young man?” Seth knew that Adam wasn’t angry because he had called him a man. “Everyone says you are because you can see beyond the stars and into people’s hearts and you know things that no one can know.”

    Adam stopped painting and looked into Seth’s eyes. “My boy” he said “Let me tell you a story.”

    When I was a young man, I was a hunter like you. I and some of your uncles had gone away in search of food for a few days. I was following the others at the back of the pack when I saw a group of wild horses, maybe fifty or a hundred of them. I wanted to call the others back so we could perhaps kill one of them to eat, but I feared that if I made a sound I would scare them. I should have followed the pack but I stopped to look at the horses. I was enchanted by them. I lay down and hid in the long grass so I could watch them, and after a while they wandered towards me.

    They kept coming closer and closer. I put my head down because by now they were close enough to see it sticking up. My heart was beating very fast and I thought they might hear it. The closest horse was now standing just next to me, eating the grass next to my face. I knew she could see me, she could see my whole body lying in the grass, but she wasn’t running away. I turned my head very slowly up to look at her and was staring back at me. I was terrified. Then she spoke to me. She said “Adam. I am God. Climb on my back.”

    Seth, who had been listening to what he thought was going to be a heroic hunting story, was confused. He said “Father Adam, did the horse really speak?” Adam frowned at Seth to show that he was not expecting to be interrupted. Then he continued.

    I climbed up on the horse’s back and she rode off at a gallop, the whole herd following us. We rode for hours over hills and through rivers until we reached a beautiful garden. There was every kind of tree and plant there. I jumped down from the horse and bent down. The blades of grass that I was standing on were glowing with something beyond normal light. I picked one blade to get a closer look, but as I picked it, the glow disappeared and left the lifeless green leaf in my hand.

    The horse said to me “This is the Garden of Eden. This is where I live. Do you like what you see here?” Every tree, every bush, every petal was filled with such importance and significance that I could not immediately reply to the horse who had called herself God. Whatever I said would be too small to convey how much I liked what I saw. Eventually I said “More than I can say” and I bowed my head.

    She waited a moment and her tone became sorrowful. “But you killed that blade of grass.” Everything changed as she said that. I looked at sad green blade of grass in my hand and I felt my heart break for the terrible thing I had done. Tears filled my eyes because I had killed something so wonderful, something I loved. All of the awe and wonder that I had felt a moment before was replaced with guilt and sorrow and horror. Again I knew I could not convey what I felt with words, but eventually on my knees and through tears, I said “I’m sorry”.

    “Come with me” said God. I followed her to a tree which had apples growing on it. A snake slid down one of the branches and looked at me. He radiated the same beauty as everything else in this garden. The snake told me “Adam, if you eat an apple from this tree then you will be returned to your tribe. You will not remember meeting God and you will not remember killing the blade of grass. You will have rest and comfort.” And then God said “Is this what you want?”

    I couldn’t bare the thought of not seeing these beautiful creatures again. I would rather have died. “No, Serpent! No God! I never want to leave Eden” “Come with me.” said God, and we walked to the pear tree nearby.

    The snake climbed up the tree and said to me “Adam, if you want to live in Eden all your life, you must eat a pear from this tree. When you do that, you will be able to stay here forever, and you will always know God, but Adam, if you eat this pear then you will also see the pain and the horror of the world, like you did when you killed that little blade of grass.”

    I picked a pear and paused. God said “Is that what you want?” I thought of the beauty and the wonder and I knew I could not turn my back on that. But I also thought of the pain and the guilt and I knew it was more real than any other pain I had felt. I did not want to turn away from that either. I ate the pear.

    Seth looked at the old man. He had a lot of questions. How did Father Adam find his friends again? How did he get back from Eden? Why wasn’t he still there? Did he still speak to God? Had he ever killed another blade of grass? Father Adam’s eyes looked like they were as old as the world. Like they had seen every type of happiness and every type of sadness. Seth looked at the dead rabbit in his hand and held it up to Adam. “Did I do a bad thing?” he asked.

    Adam’s eyes smiled sadly. “Every boy who becomes a man must kill a part of God” he said. “But now you will talk to God too.” And Seth looked at his arm and for the first time he saw that the droop of blood that had so excited him when he saw it on other boys, was actually a tear.

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