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Creative Hypochondria – a reply to “Exploring Art in the City”

December 12, 2013

Sometimes you read something which unlocks a reaction, makes you think, and then makes you want to write something in response, or rather in addition or in harmony.

Last week, for me, that was Kate Withstandley’s post about writer’s block, here on ‘Exploring Art in the City’  An irony for both of us is that this was a piece about being unable to write!

My response to Kate’s post proved over-long as a comment. So I reproduce it here as a linked post:

Any response runs the risk, big time, of sounding patronising. “Hey, no, you’re doing the right thing… stick with it!” or “Why don’t you try this, or that?”.

I suppose the antidote to that is for me to say that I’m replying from a point of recognition. Not exactly the same things – but enough of a pattern to say, “Yes – I know” plus “I’m trying this at the moment”. Also important for it to be the ‘real’ me that’s saying it, and not the me that I want anyone who reads it to think I am.

I think that writing from wherever you are right now – is exactly the right thing to do – even if it feels like a paradox. It might be a song, or it might just be you singing ‘la la la la la la la’ to warm up your voice again. I see a lot of bloggers, for example, writing at intervals about not writing.

It also fits with an example I really like in Robert Pirsig’s, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. The central character is teaching creative writing. One member of the class is totally stuck. He suggests that they think of a building in the town that they like and to write about this. Still nothing. OK – just the physical facade of the building. Still nothing. Choose a brick, one brick, describe it… result, deluge of words, ideas, aspects…

So to find yourself sometimes back at the ‘brick’ of writing about not writing, is probably going to go with the territory.

I really identify with what you say about fitting into cuboids – and about the apparent ‘sub optimal’ nature of having lots of partial ‘ologies’. The ‘About Me’ in my own blog is, in essence, a study in reflecting on ‘all trades-ness’. For what it’s worth, I think that the internet is [still only just] starting to usher in a new set of rules. The effect of hyperlinks [to go back to the old language of when this was first mooted] is to create horizontal and networked connections between both ‘stuff’ and people. This is in contrast to where only hierarchical organisations, with serious resources, used to be able to hunt down that material, draw it up into the apex or the pyramid, process it with ‘specialists’ and then wield it to their advantage – albeit in deadpan language. That paradigm still prevails for now, and even seems to think it can appropriate the new networks. [In The Cluetrain Manifesto back in 1999, David Weinberger wrote – “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”]

I think that what’s just starting to happen is the emergence, on top of networked stuff and people, of networked agreeing and networked doing… which will need less and less infrastructure devoted to control. So it will need to classify people less – or just get to do so less often..

In practice, whilst we will always need experts to progress and deepen specific domains of knowledge and practice, these new networks are going to be desperate for people who can synthesise, contextualise and create(-ise?) by being able to navigate and curate across an ‘all-trades’ world. That includes being able to write about the connections and collisions, in ways that create multiple ways of seeing. No amount of stylistic grace, alone, is going to compare to the ability to ride the web this way. [I wonder if we’ve forgotten why it was called ‘surfing’].

In the face of so much – online and offline – that will offer to sweep us away as writers, we are going to need something to hang onto. I think ‘Authenticity’, having a ‘me’ that you know and believe in, will be vital. That’s why it’s far more important to write as you, than it is to measure up against some judges’ handbook. Authenticity isn’t easy. It’s probably a life’s work to know yourself – let alone transpose that into written output. But it’s as worthwhile a work as I can imagine. Again I think it helps to start from where you are right now. Maybe one brick for you to look at is ‘Purpose’. What is your writing for? It’s not impossible that you would know straight way – but I’d be surprised. it’s probably something to dwell on, leave running at the back of your mind, until the answer hits you when you’re not looking. Once you’ve got that, and can tap into it, everything else will follow. Even now, you actually radiate certainty about wanting to write. If you remember why – then the how, and the whether, will evaporate. [It’s probably the Authenticity – the openness and frankness – in your post that made me bother to respond for example.]

The new rules are coming. It’s not my phrase – it comes from a blog post I read by someone who felt that they had never really been able to function well under the ‘old rules’. They felt there was something more natural to them about this, difficult to pin down, decentralisation… along with a re-admission of the aesthetic and emotional to leaven all the rationality and systems we have been subject to for several generations. If that sounds a bit utopian, the other thing that struck her, and now strikes me, is that there seem to be a lot of people thinking similar things. So she felt less like a minority, and maybe even like someone who had just been a bit ahead of her time.

Is this really happening? My, all purpose, motto comes into play here – another trait of the networked jack of all trades – is that rather than say ‘do this’ or ‘follow me’ I’d say “Let’s find out together”.

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