Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Olé: On Hitting the Wall, Faith and Nurturing Creativity [a thesis-update, some questions and a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert]

In Buddhist thought, we learn from the "Four Noble Truths" that everything is transient and transitory, like an ensemble of infinite elements that come together and then break apart to mould themselves into something else. In fact learning about and accepting transience as the very nature of things represents the first (and only?) major step to finding Enlightenment.

So there I was, on thesis mode for the past week or so, where everything seemed to flow in and out of me: the pouring over texts for hours altogether; the underlining and highlighting; the thinking through and the links to be drawn; the symptoms, causes and the effects to be located; the figures to be sketched and fleshed out; the gaps to be identified and filled not too clumsily; and the tensions and contradictions to be touched and subtly unfolded... All the processes have had the feel of a silk sash on thick velvet. And the writing? Well let's not even get there! Writing as a process had never been as delightful, elegant and bracing as it has been over the past week or so.

And then, somewhere between yesterday and today (probably in that lost daylight-saving hour where we switched from winter-time to summer-time: an instant there, but not quite there; an hour that existed without existing; a clocked that ticked both forwards and backwards), I hit the wall. A foggy silence draped itself around my mind and as it entered my body, all things seemingly interesting became inarticulable. It was indeed naive of me to think I would write an entire chapter without encountering one of these typical moments where everything comes to a standstill, and where one stands at a crossroad, filled with anxiety and demons, not knowing how to transcend the moment. So here I am, stuck in an empty frame for the past 24 hours.

I have been productive, mind you: doing other readings, cleaning the house, sorting out my bookshelves etc. till I find my way back to a calm state of mind that will allow me to sit still and get back to it. In the midst of all this, I found this interesting talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity. It's barely 20 minutes long, and particularly if you are a creative artist of any sorts you may want to watch/listen to it. Elizabeth Gilbert is a contemporary American writer (by this, see novelist, essayist, biographer etc.) who is more prominently known for being the author of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (Viking, 2006), but who also published two novels in the late 90s-early 00s.

In this talk, she speaks about the various anxieties that artists generally have to face when it comes to their creativity. It is true that people are often scared of speaking of this creative process. I would even say that it's almost a taboo outside of artistic circles. With this said, the common common vision is that artists have a talent that lie deep inside, and when they feel inspired, they create something. Let me dissipate this myth by saying the truth: It's all bullshit! All artists, across the board, be they writers, painters, sculptors, dancers etc. all of them across the board, simply discipline themselves and diligently work, re-work and re-re-work their craft for innumerable hours till they have something that is good enough to be put in public. There's no secret here: that's how it works. And it works just as well when you are attempting to craft a thesis too.

Now, I may not agree with everything that Gilbert mentions in her talk. Though the metaphor of the lil'spirit probably comfortably lying on the couch that's in my room makes me smile, I don't believe I could catch it with the left hand and type with the right hand. However, my half-African and half-Indian ancestry, along with my Buddhist beliefs do allow me to strongly have faith (yes, I always bet on faith because faith is the only thing that can never be undermined-- however many counter-arguments of alternative ways of thinking you may want to put against) in a universe that conspires to bring me what I need in a particular space and time. Cringe if you want: all these years spent studying Enlightenment philosophy and swearing by the name of Kant, and here I am having esoteric beliefs that I had when I was 17 years old! I do ask myself: if there is any form of Enlightenment to be obtained in human life, why does this "light" need to come from that same supposedly-universal human reason: a rationality that is not so rational de par its contradictions, and let's not forget that this "universal reason" has constantly failed and still entails blood being poured into our oceans and lands on a daily basis.

If the universe conspires, I conspire with it. With almost two years of research, the writing ought to have been as sublime as it has been over the past week. It is part of the pact between my subjectivity, faith, the way I act upon this faith, what I believe in and what I love, and the rest of the universe that allows things to fall into place when they least look like they will. But I've hit the wall? Yes, I've hit the wall and if we remember Buddhist philosophy, everything is transient and there is not point craving a presence or desiring an absence. As Gilbert puts it, all I can do is sit, be at the rendez-vous, and do my work.

One last note: having been (trained as) a dancer for a number of years, I know so well what Gilbert means when she says that the dancer transcends space and time, and becomes the dance. (I even wrote a sonnet on it almost three years ago: here.) It suddenly struck me when I heard Gilbert: Can the writer ever transcend the moment of writing and become the words, become the text itself?

Link to the video here.

1 comment:

Rick Modien said...
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