Monday, July 26, 2010

More ideas about ideas...

I was just interviewed by Alec Patric on Verity La on the subject of the ideas that fiction springs from. You can read the interview here. I've had a few follow-up thoughts to that discussion which I thought I'd record here. What sparked this was the experience I had this morning of successfully bringing a song back from inside a dream, something I've never achieved before. I've actually quite often had the experience of hearing music in a dream and desperately wanting to be able to record it - but of course it evaporates like so much mist as soon as I wake up. This time I was actually able to hold onto the tune and the words - even if the words were a little strange upon waking. It certainly aint 'Yesterday', which was also born in the dreamworld, but it still seemed pretty good when I was singing it in the shower... Unlike dream jokes which are always so 'hilarious' at the time... Well, it will be interesting to see what I can make of it with my guitar.

Anyway, the upshot of this was that it caused me to reflect upon the source of ideas again, and the mysterious way they seem to come from both within and beyond us. The power of this song, regardless of whether or not it turns out to be any 'good' in a musical or poetic sense, was that it came straight out of my innermost being in response to certain things in my life I've been grappling with. It was in fact the answer to these questions, a sort of spontaneous soul-song that expressed the powers I needed to call forth in myself in order to overcome those particular struggles. Not an intellectual insight such as we might get out of therapy, but a sort of home-brewed musical-rhythmic-poetic medicine.

When something like that song comes in a dream, the 'otherness' of the creative source is very apparent. I didn't sit down and try to write a song, I just found my dream-self singing it, with intense emotion. The surrounding dream was permeated with a sense of beauty and mystery - that strange aura that Jung called the 'numinous'. I remember seeing white birds flying at an immense altitude, so high I at first mistook them for satellites or shooting stars against the backdrop of the night sky. This sight filled me with awe and joy. It's the sort of compelling vision we try to capture in poetry or fiction, even though our words always fall short.

The vision seems to come from beyond us, and we have the same sense when we are writing with inspiration, "in the zone". Words that give you chills as they come off your hands. But is it really beyond us? Only if we think of ourselves as that part of us that is made of the prosaic stuff of everyday life: our tired old thoughts and motivations and habits, everything circumscribed by the known. But take a look at any child and it is apparent that in our essential being we are made of something far more illustrious than that. We do get so encrusted with the detritus of accumulated life that we lose touch with the living substance that we are really made of. I'm thinking of Joni Mitchell and Shakespeare: we are stardust, we are such stuff as dreams... etc. We lose touch with it, but it is there under the surface, like a subterranean river, like lava beneath the crust: the inner process of our life, always flowing forward.

That is my argument against the notion of the short story writer "living off his principal", this scarcity idea. The literary agent who put forward this theory may well have been a lover of literature, but he was not a writer, he was not a creator. Under the surface there is always the stream of Images. And nor is it hard to find, not really. It's there like a silver vein running through that story or poem or song you're working on, that little glint of the numinous woven into the weft of the thing. You can always tug that thread, follow that vein down.

The thing is it takes courage to go there, because this liquid stuff is also destabilising, transformative, demanding. It undermines our comfortable lives, asks for more, reflects truths we'd rather not see. This is where our wounds and secrets and fears lie. It has real significance and moral weight. That's why we fear it and suppress it even while we pretend to cultivate our creativity as if it were a tame thing. Beware: here be sea monsters! But our folk tales tell us that where the monster is, there also is the treasure.

1 comment:

heidie said...

I purchased online singing courses earlier this year and am only on Lesson 5, but I already notice a difference!