Caged Creativity

The safety zone has moved. Conformity no longer leads to comfort. But the good news is that creativity is scarce and more valuable than ever. So is choosing to do something unpredictable and brave: Make art. Being an artist isn’t a genetic disposition or a specific talent. It’s an attitude we can all adopt. It’s a hunger to seize new ground, make connections, and work without a map. If you do those things you’re an artist, no matter what it says on your business card.

Seth Godin in The Icarus Deception

 I’m writing this on the island of Maui where it seems a different kind of conformity exists. I cannot help but notice, as we drive to the beach at Ho’okipa on the North Shore and especially in the little town of Paia that people here try oh-so-very-hard to be unique, to stand out from the crowd, to be non-conformist. Picturesque Paia is a magnet for surfers, bohemian-types that some might call neo-hippies, spiritual seekers, artists, and some folks who are a mix of all of these things. What I can’t help but notice is that the measure of non-conformity here appears to have shifted to something more extreme, that people apparently feel they must go further to stand out from the crowd. A visual illustration exists in the surprising number of people who sport tattoos over most of their bodies – not just their arms and legs, but entire chests, backs, and necks are covered thickly with images that have been scratched into the substratum of their skin. In some cases the ink has crept up onto their faces. It’s as though the one-upmanship of tattooing has reached its zenith. What will they do when they run out of blank canvas? [I also shudder at what all those dyes and inks are likely doing to their livers, but that’s besides the point.]

When I see these and the people trying so hard to be bohemian that they have eschewed the use of soaps, razors and hair brushes, I question whether they get any pleasure out of their quest for uniqueness or if all that inking and body odor is ultimately just unpleasant and depressing. Ultimately the question that arises in my mind every time I see someone who seems to be trying awfully hard to be different is whether this is an authentic form of self-expression or just another form of conformity within the ranks of the non-conformists. It just doesn’t look “real” to me. It smacks of an act.

Long before she wrote her famed memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote “The Last American Man,” a true story depicting Eustace Conway’s choice to live life in a back-to-nature, non-conformist, non-materialistic way that bucks the “norm” of modern American lifestyle. In one scene Gilbert describes the affect Conway had on a group of “loud, disrespectful, shoving, shrieking, laughing” teenaged boys:

Eustace was supposed to get these kids all excited about nature…[he] walked across the stage and toward the microphone. The shoving and shrieking and laughing continued.

Eustace stepped up to the microphone with his hands in his pockets. He stood there, thin and serious, for a long moment. Then he said, “I am a quiet-spoken man, so I am going to have to speak quietly to you tonight.”

The shoving and shrieking and laughing stopped. I swear to God. The jerky teenage kids stared at Eustace Conway, absolutely riveted.

When Gilbert inquired later, Eustace confirmed that this was not an uncommon occurrence. She asked him why he thought they responded to him the way they did and he replied:

“Because they recognized right away that I was a real person, and they’ve probably never met one before.”

Eustace Conway and the tattoo and dreadlock-festooned Paia hippies drove me to wonder, “How many “real” people do I actually meet in a day, a week, or will I meet in this lifetime?” Then the more pertinent question I needed to examine hit me square in the frontal lobe:

Am I living authentically?

When I question what people will think about what I write here or in my memoir and then allow it to influence the creative process, I’m not being authentic. When I allow external factors to alter how or what I create I am not being who I was put on this Earth to be. I’ll be the first to admit it’s not always easy to ignore the voice in my head that warns of potentially negative reactions to what I write. Similarly it’s hard to write just for the love of it without regard for the potential accolades.  Try as I might not to, I do give a shit how many people read and comment on my posts. I am guessing you have no idea how hard it was for me to post my previous entry or how astounded I was when it exceeded all the others in the number of hits it received (Really? Profanity was all that was necessary to get you to read? Well, I’ll be a goddamned, shitfaced and fucking astounded motherfucker!).

Speaking from my own experience, I have to conclude that over and above the social pressures we all feel to conform, authenticity has become endangered by the effects of unlimited access to mundane visual media and marketing that reinforce the tendency to conform and make fun of those who don’t. Add to that the systematic brainwashing of youth by systems of education that are outdated, conventional and dogmatic and authenticity gets a terminal diagnosis.

It takes guts to be authentic in a world where the pressure to conform and the desire for love and acceptance are powerful forces pushing us in the opposite direction. In the face of so much conformance to non-conformity here on Maui, I found myself asking, “How much time and energy do I spend worrying about and trying to live up to others’ expectations? And what would happen if I just stopped doing that and instead started using that energy to express my own most creative ideas?”

Like Godin’s quote at the beginning of this post states, being artistic requires nothing more and nothing less than acting on the “hunger to seize new ground, make connections, and work without a map.” I believe we all possess that hunger. Courage and strength are the ingredients that will allow us to escape the cage of conformity repressing the creative artistry inherent in each of our brains. Doing that will make the world a better place.

Lost Connections

ImageA disturbing thing has happened. My internet connection isn’t working. As the only “phone” I have is Skype and there’s no cell signal in Vinorama, it’s not like I can just pick up the phone to call the local repair person. Not to mention I am that person.

Living down here has turned me into a “Jill of All Trades.” I manage properties, construction projects and vacation rentals, provide translation services and install and repair satellite internet systems. Oh and I’ve recently (blush) taken to working in real estate (more on that in some future post). I took a course on how to install internet systems, but learning to fix them when they go down has been more trial by fire. There’s a troubleshooting manual, but I’ve never seen the modem do what it’s doing and it’s the one thing not described in the manual.

As I watch the lights on the modem come on, one at a time, I feel the choking sensation of panic rise in my chest. As all four light there is a flash and they all disappear. All of them but the power light. Then the process begins again – two lights, pause, three lights, long pause…

It’s in moments like these that I become aware of how addicted I am to my connection with the outside world. The thought of not being able to check my email, pick up the Skype phone and call someone, or see what’s happening on Facebook or Twitter gets me surprisingly uptight. Okay, maybe I’m not that surprised. I know I have an addiction to being connected, but is that so unusual considering how physically isolated I am?

When the system threatens to fail like this I start thinking about all the work I could get done if I wasn’t reading and writing emails, checking on my homies on Facebook or sending typo-tweets to Alec Baldwin so he can belittle me to his hundreds of thousands of followers (true story). I’m writing right now aren’t I? If the internet was up I’d be on Skype. Instead I’ve edited one piece I wrote last week and written 335 words of this blog post. Make that 343…oh I can see this could become much like a dog chasing it’s tail (357 and counting).

I know I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to ask the question, “Is the internet a boon or a bust to the quality of our lives?”  I know in no uncertain terms that it makes my life in the Middle of Nowhere manageable by keeping me connected to the rest of the world. I want to believe that people having cell phones has saved more lives than it’s ended (please let that be true or we are in trouble). But it’s also taking an inordinate amount of time away from things that are arguably more important. Our creativity can be sparked by the internet, but then the time it takes to follow through on the creation is often sucked up by social media.

There are only two lights lit on the modem now and it’s been over an hour since the problem began. What happened between 9:45am, when the system was working fine and 10:00am to make it go squirrelly?

Perhaps a pelican flew over the dish and deposited a poop so big it’s messing with the signal. That would be in line with how the rest my morning has gone. It’s literally been full of poop. And pee. I came downstairs to two large piles of the stuff in the guest bedroom and a throw rug soaked in pee. Then when I went into the garage to get the necessary cleaning tools, I found a dog bed soaked in so much pee I wonder if it’s salvageable and a pool of urine by the door. Then I found two more puddles of pee in the house. Living with five senior dogs means I’m going through white vinegar by the gallon. So the possibility of excrement being involved in my internet woes seems distinctly possible. Except that my training tells me that if all four lights manage to come on, even if they don’t stay on, the problem lies somewhere other than the dish.

If all else fails, I’ll have to drive down the road to the Crossroads Country Club, the local wi-fi enabled restaurant that is about as far from being a country club as could be, to send an email to someone at the internet company who might be able to help. And so I can post this long overdue blog post.

P.S. After writing this instead of going to the Crossroads and posting it, I read my current read “The Help” for a while and then remembering that someone once said, “No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap,” I proceeded to nap for the next three hours. I don’t normally take naps because waking up is one of my least favorite things to do, but I’ve been missing out on a lot of sleep lately. Seems it was the right thing to do because when I woke up I was back on line. Phew! Crisis averted. For now.

Paradox and Purpose

Each person comes into this world with a specific destiny – he has something to fulfill, some message has to be delivered, some work has to be completed. You are not here accidentally – you are here meaningfully. There is a purpose behind you. The whole intends to do something through you.

Osho


Osho was a 20th century Indian mystic who had a profound impact on the international community, particularly artists and the intelligentsia of the western nations . His teachings were discovered through the highly regarded photographic Dutch-Polish artist Michel Schulc Krzyzanowski, who frequents the region of Baja California Sur where life is lived much of the time. Osho is credited with having a profound influence on the artist’s life, turning it around 180 degrees. Naturally, there was curiosity to know the teacher of the artist who encouraged new thinking and writing.

And so the teachings of Osho were sought with his lectures on “Creativity” currently being read. In the hopes that, like the profound photographic artist, the dream of experiencing deep levels of creativity will be realized.

The dates on each entry to this blog indicate that it has been quite a long while since writing this blog. There are many reasons for this lack of productivity, but the bottom line is that writing has not been happening in the life of the aspiring writer. To her great dismay.


Blame could be laid at the feet of the heat – a summer that was so hot that the brain cells went on strike and the entire body’s energy systems seemed to be failing. Attempts at actions requiring any effort at all were invariably derailed by a sense of impending heat stroke. Followed by a heavy depression resulting from the sense of isolation and inaction, leading further to yet more inaction.

Or a preoccupation throughout the period could be presented as cause – what was an overwhelming sense of urgency to know what the purpose of this life is. A sense that the destiny of which Osho spoke has not been realized. A great questioning of the value of any writing that might be done now or in the future. This then, in addition to the heat and the depression, further paralyzed the writer from writing. Consumed by a fear that to think writing is the destiny is arrogant and foolhardy, way beyond the capability.


I’m pretty sure it’s been said here before:

Fear is a poor motivator.


During this period, the sense of needing to know what is the “calling in life” became like a nagging voice over which nothing else could be heard. The brain was filled with confusion and doubt and the white noise of wanting to know with certainty that the life would contain some meaning for someone other than the one living it.


And then an accomplished astrologer was met, serendipitously, who examined what “planetary aspects” might currently be the cause of the extremely heavy inertia experienced.

Yes, an astrologer. [it’s a science, you know]

After some consideration, he stated matter-of-factly, “all of your personal growth results from your love affairs.” Interesting, but not the stuff of destiny, or at least I don’t think so.

He then went on to point out that currently Uranus is squaring Uranus in my birthchart and Saturn is messing with all sorts of planets…big stuff, all related to the need to find the purpose in life. Precisely the preoccupation.

“You need music…in life, you need music to be balanced.” He explained he didn’t mean there was a need to play music, but that music was needed in the surroundings for personal balance. So, in the days that followed music was incorporated into the listening instead of news. It was noticed immediately that the mood improved. The mood enhancement likely also resulted from knowing that the heavy cloud of uncertainty that was weighing on my soul was not imagined but planetarily, astrologically induced.


The astrologer did however finish his reading with one rather heavy cautionary note:

“If you are not currently on the path to realize your destiny or find that path in this period, the rest of your life will lack meaning and be full of emptiness.”


Full of emptiness? Horrible. As was already stated, precisely the preoccupation, that at the end of life it would be seen to have been empty and void of any real meaning. Worse than horrible.

But the contradictory nature of his statement – “full” being the opposite of “empty” – illustrated something Osho delighted in pointing out to his followers:

Life is paradox.


In the days and weeks that followed meeting with the astrologer, a sense was had of turning a corner and the energy spent in finding the purpose in life ratcheted up a notch or two. It was recognized, for the first time without anxiety, that meditation is the only path to the truth that is the purpose of this life. The connection to the open soul induced through the act of meditating creates action with inherent purpose.

The writing begins anew, this time filled with a greater sense of purpose and an awareness of the paradox that is life.

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More info on Osho can be found HERE.