Category Archives: Observations

General observations about people, places, life, the Universe and many things

Is creativity a symptom of madness?

According to a newly published study, it is mooted that being creative is symptomatic of insanity. So, by this line of reasoning, we can derive the conclusion that being above average at problem solving, lateral thinking, and seeking new and better ways of doing anything marks a person out for starters under sedation, with a main course of a spell in the rubber room, straitjacket on the side, with electroshock for dessert.

Media commentators on the report cite various creative folk who went off the rails like Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and others. Some say that being creative is ‘closely intertwined’ with insanity.

As a writer, and by association a creative, therefore (According to media commentaries of the reports findings) more likely to be unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy, I’d like to look at it via another perspective. What if being a creative person can drive you crazy? Driven nuts by all the non creatives who want to mess around with the original concept to the point where the creator is literally tearing his or her hair out and screaming at them to stop. All because they are the ones who think they know what is more likely to sell. Anyone who has had work published generally finds a perfectly acceptable piece of prose perverted by a busybody who thinks they know better.

Taking the last short story I had published in a magazine back in 2006 as an example, I remember being asked for multiple rewrites to hit the constantly shifting wordage limit because someone had done a ‘really nice picture’ to go with the story. Of course, said rewrites (All four of them) had to be done within a Seventy two hour period when the story editor already had taken two months beforehand to faff around with my stuttering prose. I was really ticked off when I saw the size of the cheque. Seventy five pounds for thirteen hundred and forty two (After four rewrites) words. I did the sums afterwards and reckoned I’d worked for twenty five pence an hour. All for what I thought was a fairly workmanlike and unremarkable ghost story. If that experience is indicative of what happens to authors, is it any wonder so many end up candidates for psychiatric treatment?

I think being creative doesn’t mean you are nuts, my experience would indicate you’re more likely to get driven round the twist by efforts to get your work into the public marketplace. The whole process can be so Byzantine it makes Quantum theory look like childs play.

On the other hand, why pay any attention to my point of view? Being a creative, I’m probably a complete barmcake anyway, so why bother listening to anything I have to say?

Can’t win really. Might as well just kick back and enjoy the ride. Pass me a flapjack, I’m flying down to Rio for the Winter.

Spam, Twitter and spam

This whole social media thing can get a little intrusive as far as the writing process is concerned, and I’m currently tempted to direct all Twitter messages directly into a special mailbox. This is because I’m currently under siege, getting dozens of messages inviting me to join some club for Internet sex dating. Really? Why in the name of Satan’s right nipple would I be interested in that? Maybe if I were still the testosterone driven 23 I once was I might, but now? My interests have always been a little more cerebral, but nowadays I am even more interested in a broader range of experiences than mere sex.

No doubt the transmitted link also leads into a repository for malware, trojans, and all the other little ‘ickys’ that swim around the Internet, looking for PC’s to infest. So the link will go forlornly unclicked, and those who send these kind of messages via Twitter will automatically get ‘unfollowed’.

Canine Quantum Mechanics

Experimental proof of the work that just got David Wineland and France’s Serge Haroche the 2012 Nobel prize for Physics.

Proof is as follows. Dog is lying at my feet as I am working.

Wife enters room to fuss over printer / scanner, and asks me to move my old crash helmet into next room.  Dog is still in position and does not move a muscle as I step over him.  Wife accidentally kicks a lamp over and curses it.  I leave room to move crash helmet to back bedroom.

Upon entering back bedroom two seconds later, Dogs bum is observed, quivering slightly and sticking out from behind bed. The physical act of movement between the two positions (Under my feet in my office and behind bed in back bedroom some twenty linear feet away) was not observed.  Ergo, there must have been a moment when he was simultaneously lying at my feet and quivering behind the bed in the back bedroom.  Good gravy!  Canine Quantum Mechanics has just been experimentally demonstrated.  Move over Schrodinger’s cat.

‘Superposition’ is a real phenomenon. My Dog proves it. Now where’s my Nobel prize?

A worthwhile read

To try and combat the post submission jitters, and the post natal (For writing in some respects is like giving birth – without the hospitals, screams, or sensation of trying to pass a bowling ball) depressions, augmented by the sense of; “Oh hell, was it really ready?” or the “Did I miss anything?”. I have been reading Mark Rowlands; The Philosopher and the Wolf.

For me, Marks recounting of his experiences and brotherhood with a wolf he called Brenin has led to a number of involved conversations over breakfast between Angie and myself. The ones you have about the cupidity of other mortals, the struggles of existence, and the sheer tsunami of oh-stuff-this-for-a-lark-what’s-the-bloody-point existential doubt and worries that threaten to overwhelm the day to day. For me his book confirmed that I wasn’t alone with some of my long-held suspicions about humanity, and along with reading about the motivations of those who commit mass murder, opened my eyes a little more regarding the dark side of our nature as humans. Although my cynicism on that score is pretty much hard wired nowadays.

Read it; Mr Rowlands work has just found a new bookshelf.

Shadows between rainbows

A great rainbow watching day today. Especially down in Dodd Narrows. While I was preparing supper there was one full bow that was almost so bright it hurt the eyes. Then I looked to the right, there was a fainter but definite arc about eight or nine degrees away from it. A double bow.

Mostly at this point we switch off. Double rainbow, isn’t that pretty? Yet this afternoon I took time out to look more closely and discovered for myself the dusky but distinct bands of colour between the two bow shapes, faint and very smokey but most definitely real. A pity I haven’t a camera good enough to record them.

I know a rainbow is only a trick of angle and diffraction through falling rain, but to me there is something magical in these arcs of disassembled light. They tell us that no matter who we are or what we do there is always wonder to lift hearts from the sameness of the day to day. A Te Deum against tedium.

To notice these vague coloured shadows was something of a minor revelation to me, and just to check that my mind wasn’t playing tricks, while we were having supper, I asked Angie what she could see. She gave me an odd look, concentrated for a few moments and then the light of revelation shone in her eyes. “I’d never noticed that before.” She said.
“Well that makes two of us.” I replied. “Shadows between rainbows, who would have thought?”

Up until then we’d both been a bit crabby and not our usual cheerful selves, but that simple act of observation lifted the mood of the dinner table. Amazing what a simple trick of the light can do for the human soul.

Moments of perfect stillness

Friday was a good day, despite a couple of hitches. The only Triumph dealership on Vancouver Island has no sales demo models of the type of sports tourers I’m looking at, and we had to go rushing around for an ATM at the Brentwood / Mill bay ferry, as they only take cash or prepaid tickets. No credit cards.

The majority of the day was taken up with an unscheduled side trip to Butchart Gardens, a gorgeous 55 Acre flower garden and Arboretum created in an old limestone quarry. Most of the blooms are typically North American, big, a trifle blowsy, but nonetheless quite wonderful. The air subtly scented except for the heady, musky sledgehammer between the sinuses that is the fragrance of a lily.

Angie and I continued one of our philosophical conversations about how to find what I call “Moments of perfect stillness” and their use in aiding the creative process. We walked barefoot on grass, simply stopped and looked, took pictures, and in between noisy knots of people tried to explore this notion. I feel the flowers helped her understand my occasional silences are never a rebuff, merely preoccupation.

For my own part I’ve always been concerned that the need to talk incessantly reveals a deep inner insecurity. A need for constant reassurance indicating that all is not well with them. For the interrupted, it breaks the flow of ideas, and can scatter the creative thought process like a thousand startled pigeons. It’s what I call being ‘Porlocked’ after Coleridges eponymous ‘person from Porlock‘.

When I feel sure of my territory, or need to test concepts out, I share them with friends, but not before. I’m also pretty careful who I share them with. There’s nothing worse than saying what’s on your mind when whoever you talk to isn’t in the mood, doesn’t take you seriously, and / or has a mind so closed it visibly clanks when the cogs start turning.

In seeking a ‘moment of stillness’, my way of ‘getting there’ is simply to focus on a sound or smell and close my eyes, or focus on a vague point in the middle distance. Then concentrate. What does your chosen sound or smell mean? What are its associations and how do you feel about them? There are a number of self help authors who recommend this approach, but I always found the superficial Mnemonics they recommend a little too flimsy for keeping stories about whole worlds in my head. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great for small stuff, but not so good for mentally bookmarking extended storylines and the ever branching tree of character development. I have to be able to see, hear, and almost touch these thought-avatars for this mental anchor to function.

What really works for me is to add layers of ideas until the base concept of the focus object / memory feels solid in my mind, and then use that specific memory as a kind of mental mooring post. From that point it becomes relatively easy to concentrate on other things because the moment centres your thoughts, not letting them drift aimlessly and lose the truly important stuff you wanted to think about in the first place. It’s a form of self hypnosis. One which seems to work when heavy duty cogitation is required, and especially in unknown or uncertain mental territory. An occupational hazard when trying to write speculative fiction.

Take this blog post. I started it on Saturday, and picked at it through multiple interruptions, my over excitable dog, a couple of domestic dramas, a heavy duty conversation about email functionality, impending flights, other peoples preoccupations, travel plans for the next five years, a reorganisation of my kitchen and telephone calls from friends, family and various automated autodiallers. Using the moment of perfect stillness that I constructed as an anchor point, I can still flip up the memory of Butchart Gardens. Amongst other things; including story lines and character trees.

I’ve even managed to keep up a consistent 1 – 2000 words per day on ‘Darkness’ and ‘Cerberus’. Rugged.

A quantum of zen

The past few mornings, Angie and I have been having one of our philosophical conversations. About who we are, where we are going, what we really want, and about how to find the answers to these vexatious questions. Having made time to think about it for a few days I said; “There’s a one word answer to all of what we’ve been discussing.”
“What’s that?” She asked.
“Discrimination.” I replied. Which seems a bit glib until you actually put it in context.

One of the things I practice now and again is a little something picked up from Lyall Watson’s ‘Gifts of unknown things‘. Lyall described what some might describe as paranormal abilities displayed by the islanders he lived with at the time. He wrote about fishermen who could stick their head underwater to hear where the fish were, by ‘listening between the sounds’. As Lyall observed, the sea is a very noisy place, and understanding what each sound means is a complex business. Essentially what he described is an old hunters trick, which is to simply stand absolutely still and listen. Letting the consciousness spread. Paying attention to what can be heard, putting it in context. Applying a where, what and when to each individual noise.

For a city dweller, who hears mainly Traffic noise, the art is the same; to dissect and recognise sounds from a tumult. The bass rumble of a truck, the snap-snap-snap of a loose cargo strap in a vehicles slipstream. Shouts, horns, voices, snatches of conversation. The grumble-whoosh of the subway, grunt-squeal whistle and whine-thump of buses as they stop and their doors open. Snatches of sounds from open windows and shop doorways. The noise gravel stuck in tyre treads makes on ashphalt. How far away is it, what direction is it in? Which way is it going? Does it pose a threat? The same principle of listening applies. Hint; it is wise not to try this on pedestrian crossings at first until you can listen on the move and still pay attention to your immediate surroundings.

This is only some of the music the world makes all around us, all of the time. Like single melodies in an orchestral score, it takes an educated ear to separate them out. Where the uneducated can only hear the overall sound, the trained ear can pick up a dissonance in a heartbeat. At first, to be able to do this seems insuperable, the wall of sound is too high, too wide and deep. Yet to eat this metaphorical elephant simply requires a slow but sure ‘one bite at a time’ approach.

The good news is that people come with this ability built in as a feature, courtesy of several million years of evolution. The bad news is that like all vices, it takes practice and patience to perfect. Some people will never learn because they are afraid of silence, impatient with the enormity of the task, failing to appreciate is that there is no such thing as absolute silence. Others will pick up the skill without a thought and look surprised when others ask “How do you do that?”

All that is required is the motivation to sit quietly and open oneself up to the world, to drink it all in, take pleasure in learning a new ability. Learn that there is no such thing as silence. Even in the quietest moments your pulsing bloodflow thunders in your ears, breath rasps in your nose and throat. A leaf falls ten, twenty, thirty feet away. Air flowing makes noise, anything moving makes a sound, a tiny careening of air molecules spreading out to trigger a response. Caught by the pinnae, transmitted to inner ears via the tympanum and malleus, incus and stapes, tiny little bones forming a linkage to the inner ear and sensory nerves. So incredibly delicate and sensitive is this apparatus that anyone can train themself to hear all manner of things in the sounds between the noise.

Where to begin? With your favourite piece of music, your most loved sounds. Which bit do you like most? focus in on that one musical phrase. Which notes does it contain played on what instruments? How is it played? Now what are the surrounding musical phrases harmonies, beats and melodies? Once this is learned, moving to more complicated listening becomes easier. All it takes is practice.

The same principles can be applied to the other senses. Smell and taste can be similarly trained. Even sight. Being observant takes practice and time, but these are skills well worth developing, no matter what your time of life. Plato wrote in his dialogues that Socrates said; “the unexamined life is not worth living”. To examine life, we must practice sensory discrimination, like Lyall described in his book. This is the process I call ‘a quantum of Zen’, and oddly enough, anyone can do it. Anyone at all. No Zen master required.

We can all learn to discriminate, and in the process find out what we really want from life. I suppose you could call it part of the art of becoming truly human.