Sunday, July 27, 2003

It's All a Mistake

I awoke from another set of bad dreams. Yesterday had been filled, possessed by an idea, which I worked out in some detail but did not speak of. It is a very delicate process. I was aware of my own instinct---supported by James Hillman and others who wrote on this subject---that these creative seeds are fragile and must be protected. We tend to dismiss the idea of anything being fragile, or being allowed to be, in our lives and work today. Get over it, is the refrain. The idea of harboring secrets is judged as criminal.

But closely holding the idea, it may then die for lack of outside air. Today it seems delusional. So who knows what the right decision is. If you speak it aloud and it gets shot down, a lot of the fledgling life in it dies, or is injured and perhaps warped in its development in some way. If you don’t speak of it, it is in danger of being overrun by other things, dismissed without a hearing as whim, a stupid idea, a delusion.

Especially an idea that has so many risks attached to it. An idea for a play---a play!---in this day and age, written by me, the very idea would make people blink three times, swallow hard and try a brave smile. Cause I'm not a playwright. That's not my slot.

On the other hand, what is my slot? Anyway, the time to do it, the risk that it will come to nothing, that it will fail on its own terms and then in the world, is what dominates my mood today. Yesterday I lived in its aura, it seemed so perfect, and of course the dream extended to transformative success. There's some sense in that, of course. Most creative careers are based on one successful idea. Other ideas or variations on that idea aside, there is usually one, that at some point makes the difference and defines everything else. There's no law, fortunately or not, that says when this idea may come. And then the carrying out of the idea must be successful. That's the rub for many, the people with ideas and longings, but not the wherewithal to carry them through successfully, in their own terms as well as convincingly to others.

But the investment of time and concentration and writing energy, it all seems so foolhardy. And then, in some crucial way, it doesn't quite work. Which you don't discover until it's done.
There is a kind of goal outside the play itself, and a deadline, of little more than a month. A full-length play in a month? Well, why not? (Lots of reasons why not. Many more than why.)

What I thought of, however, as I got up was something I'd read yesterday, an account of Jung's last informal talk to friends and supporters at the end of his last visit to America. He told them it was important for each to live his or her life as fully as possible, even if it is based on a mistake. Life is full of errors, no one has found the whole truth, but the point is to live with integrity and devotion.

This idea of mine is a dramatic one, but it is in keeping with a lot of the work I've attempted to do in the past several years in non-fictional ways. I keep inventing variations, re-combinations of this work. This week I came up with two new approaches to it that might work quite well as books.

This too is another nerve-wracking part of the process, which at times seems absolutely crazy. Again, it is so counter to today's received wisdom, which is: move on. If it isn't working, move on. Of course, there is always a time to move on. But there is also a process of finding the best way into it, the best way to express it and communicate it, which is also another way of understanding it, or in fact of defining it.

This thought reminded me of one of the first passages from James Hillman's work I copied out. In fact I remember that I printed the long quotation and tacked it on the wall next to my computer in the room where I wrote in my late lamented apartment in Pittsburgh. I searched it out again today in my computer files, though without a citation. Hillman is writing about psychological analysis, using creativity in the arts as a metaphor. But it was the description of the artistic activity that I was interested in: that is, the literal meaning of the metaphor. I hadn't thought of this "amplification" process in that way before. I knew that more and more I was beginning to orbit my ideas, revisit them and work on them, rather than trying the idea out once and moving on. There's no support for this from the business side of things, to say the least. Work it took years to shape gets dismissed in a nanosecond. Anyway, here it is:

"The method of amplification is rather like the methods of the humanities and the arts. By revolving around the matter under surveillance one amplifies a problem exhaustively. This activity is like a prolonged meditation, or variations on a theme of music, or the patterns of dance or brush-strokes. It has a ritualistic aspect as well, because the dignity of the problem which is being amplified is never wholly claimed by knowledge. One starts off knowing that one cannot know it; one can only hover over it, thrust at it, and pay respects through devoted attention. This permits the levels of meaning in any problem to reveal themselves, and it corresponds to the way the soul itself presents its demands by its iterative returning to basic complexes to elaborate a new variation and urge consciousness on.

Analysis is better served by amplification, because it pries things loose from their habitual rigid frames. Amplification confronts the mind with paradoxes and tensions; it reveals complexities. It tends even to build symbols. This gets us closer to psychological truth, which always has a paradoxical unconscious aspect, than does definition with its exclusively conscious rationality."
James Hillman

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