The lyric is from The Dropkick Murphys’ “The Dirty Glass”. There are days when I really feel that it could describe my relationship with creativity. That it could very easily be whatever passes for my “muse” talking to me.
[This is really quite long, and is basically self-indulgent/important introspection and self-examination. Although to give myself due credit, I’m not actually whining about anything – it’s not something I remotely need to whine about, just figure out a bit better. Skip it if you’re busy, or not remotely interested in listening to me work through a few thoughts on my relationship with creativity.]
This is prompted by my response to a question sushidog asked me in a comment thread on her journal. She asked me if I had to chose between only photography and only writing, which I’d go for. If found the answer much easier than I expected to on first glance – writing.
What made me stop to think, after the fact, was my choice of metaphor to describe it – I went for a relationship metaphor. That’s not terribly like me. I mean, I’m not, say childeric, for example. And I thought about it some more, and I realised that discussing creativity is perhaps the only time that I reach for a sexual/relationship metaphor regularly and without thinking about it. ( I do do it at other times, but not often, and it’s a much more deliberate choice, usually for a very specific effect.)
I accepted a good while back that a large part of my creative urge is a substitute for intimacy, although that’s perhaps not quite the right word – it implies that one’s a stopgap for the other, and that’s not how I feel about it. They’re two different things, each of which I like for different reasons, but they draw off the same pool of energies, to sound distressingly hippy about it. They both rest, to some extent, on the urge to communicate myself, and how I see the world with others, or a specific other, I suppose. I have a suspicion that were I to wind up in a relationship that lasted for more than a bit over a year, I might find that I naturally arrived at a point where the two balanced out, but well, I’ve not had the chance to find out. So, perhaps it’s not a surprise that I reach for the relationship metaphor.
But then I thought on it some more. (I went to the gym. I get a lot of thinking done there.) For someone as given to self-analysis (read: a bad combination of egomania and introspection) as I am, it’s not actually something I think about too much. I think about the mechanics of creation all the time. I think about creation as a magical act a lot (all Alan bloody Moore’s fault). I think about creation as a means to communicate a lot. (Those last two are some of the more minor reasons I’m perhaps less willing to share some of the things I come up with than I used to be, but more on that another time.) But I don’t tend to think about how I feel about “being creative” very much.
Actually, I don’t think of myself as creative, or talented, or any of the other words people have flatteringly used to describe me in the past. People describe me as those things, and I feel like a fraud. There was a point, when I was younger, and more arrogant/insecure, when, yes, I aspired to a creative career. But it requires a discipline that I don’t have – a willingness to sit down and force it, if you like.
These days, well, I take photos because I enjoy doing it. Because they’re the best way I know to communicate the beauty I see every damn day, just walking down the street. I’m afraid that I really do look at the world like some bloody great hippy – there’s almost nothing I see that I can’t find some element of beauty in, and my photography is an attempt to catch it. Sometimes it works better than others. (“There’s no such thing as bad weather. There’s only the wrong clothes!” is Billy Connolly’s quote, and I think, perhaps, it applies to the way I see the world, if you assume that I’m generally wearing the right clothes.) I’m also new enough to it that I’m still surprisingly happy with what I’m producing – still arrogant/clueless enough to think that maybe I do have some talent at this. Actually, that’s a little harsh – it might be fairer to say that I don’t yet feel I’ve reached the end of what I might one day get to. If and when that happens, well, then all there is is trying to live up to myself, but let’s not go getting depressing. I’m still having a stackload of fun.
Writing is more problematic. I’ve been at it for most of a decade now. And god knows, when I started, I was shit. Really, eye-gougingly poor. These days, I’m better. Not better enough to make me happy with what I’m writing, but I understand that’s normal. Healthy, even. But…
Writing isn’t about how I see the world. It’s about trying to understand it, and communicate my understanding of it. Faulkner said “I never know what I think about something until I read what I have written on it”, and I’ve always found that that’s very true for me, hence this bit of tedious introspection. But I think burning drive to communicate how one sees the world (or at least, the sort that ultimately produces any writing worth a damn) requires either an arrogance that’s not in me any more, or perhaps an insecurity, which I’ve also done a pretty reasonable job of showing the door. It seems to me that it’s either out of an urge to change people’s minds, to get them to see the world your way, or out of a need to be reassured that someone else sees the world the way you do.
Actually, I think I might refine that suggestion of arrogance, not least because there are a number of writers of various stripes (many of whom do produce stuff I think is very definitely worth a damn) on my friends list, and I’d like them to keep talking to me and more importantly because I’m not remotely convinced that I’d characterise them as arrogant (and they certainly don’t seem insecure). Let’s say it requires a demagogic urge to make people think.
Which I probably do still have. But I’m just not sure I can find better ways to make them think about some of the topics I’d like people to think about than stuff I’ve already read, the things that have shaped a lot of the way I see the world. (Alan bloody Moore, again. Someone stop the hairy bastard.)
For example: the single public bit of my writing I’m happiest with in the last six months is Quicksilver. And to be honest, it really doesn’t seem like much more to me that a bad Moore pastiche, now. And that’s something I was confident enough of to make public.
There’re other things I’ve written that I like more. But they’re too fucking honest. I can see much too much of myself in them too easily, and, to tell god’s honest truth, I don’t want people to see that much of me. As I’m sure most of you have noticed, I’m a fairly private person. I need to find a way to balance my urge to communicate what I think about the world and the things I experience, with the need to be fictive about it. Too much fiction, and I don’t feel I’m communicating clearly enough. Not enough fiction, and I feel naked on a stage, and refuse to let others see it.
Yeah. So. Where’ve I got to?
Oh, yeah, the Dropkicks. I suppose I’d better explain that one, although I’m not sure there’s a way to do it without sounding arrogant. Let’s just all agree that it’s not (too much) arrogance on my part to say that I’ve a certain amount of ability with language, and an imagination that, well, it might be battered and beaten, but it’s still got three wheels left on it, and it’ll more or less go forward, and god, I seem to have just described my imagination at the fucking Trotters’ van. Help me.
Ahem. Anyway. Yeah. Even if I don’t think I could hold up to the discipline of a full time creative career (at the moment – I’m not saying I couldn’t develop the discipline to do it) I could probably write still at least one comic I could sell (it’d be pretty pathetic if I couldn’t given some of the shit that gets published). So, let’s leave on one side the fact that honestly, I just can’t be arsed to jump through the hoops. I can’t be arsed to pitch and struggle and them try and convince people to buy the damn thing and all the rest of it.
Leaving that aside: why don’t I? Why haven’t I?
Honestly: never come up with anything, that, three months later, I’m happy enough with to let anyone else see.
Maybe one day I’ll get to a point where I think my talent/execution is equal to the basic ideas that I come up with (in the few cases that I think the idea is definitely strong enough). That I’ve done the job well enough to satisfy myself, not just “better than some of the other people out there manage”.
Remember how I said I didn’t have that arrogance? I think perhaps I might have got the wrong sort. Or maybe I just bit off more than I could chew the first day I met her. But still, I haven’t completely stopped writing and thinking about ways of doing it, for all I’m more private about it. It’s too rewarding for that. And while I’m not wild about the idea of being creative without an audience – if I want to masturbate, I have a whole internet full of porn at my disposal, as well as the aformentioned crappy yellow van of my imagination – I guess it’s still better than nothing at all. But it still feels a bit like cheating. So I suppose I haev to keep telling myself that one day, I’ll get there. I’ll get that one piece right, and I’ll get it ought into the world somehow, and it’ll justify all this furtive shuffling behind closed doors. And now I really need to stop with this metaphor, because I’m starting to bug me never mind the rest of you.
And besides, how would I ever know what I thought about anything, if I stopped?
Anyway. I think maybe I understand things a little better now. And so I should probably go to bed.