1.30.2012

Surely the Darkness Shall Cover Me: Dealing with Creative Block

“Some must "stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you" (Ray Bradbury), others insist that "One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot" (Lev Tolstoy).”

"...to be an artist meant: not to reckon and count, to ripen like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without fear lest no summer might come after." ~Rainier Maria Rilke
Source.

"Moonlight is dangerous, but beautiful, essential for artistic dreamings, which is why, this week, in the darkness of the moon, I'm bringing the discussion over to the lack of dreams. What happens when the artist loses sight of the moon and flounders for awhile?" ~Masha

The moonless, starless darkening of the creative power terrorizes most artists from time to time. Sometimes it's simply indecision in the midst of a work. Sometimes it happens because of distracting circumstances, and sometimes the soul shuts down its own productivity in an all-hands-on-deck attempt to heal some wound. Whatever the cause, we who create all eventually face Masha's question, wondering not only what to do when the moon disappears, but whether we dare hope it will ever return.

Says Masha, speaking for herself:
In the dark nights, I wait, words ripening within, for the moon to light a new path. Not forcing words or faking inspiration. But I'm a part-time writer at best, with no deadlines to follow, and I have the luxury of time.
Says Mr. Pond, responding to Rilke's words:
This creative desperation seems in itself a fertile ground [where] an artist can take root. The challenge [to] any artist is not to be too afraid in the dark, moonless nights, to learn to welcome winters, and doubts and questioning. To find and love the hidden lights of winter, the darkest nights of stillness and starlight. To learn to whistle in the teeth of despair.
No two artists will handle the absence of the dreamer's moon in quite the same way. Perhaps we may not handle it the same way twice within our own lives. But we may take encouragement from those who have tried to walk in that darkness before us.

Bradbury’s suggestion of staying ginned up on writing holds a surprising amount of meaning for me, perhaps because I’ve used creativity as a tool to stave off destructive sorrow. Now, alcohol makes me first dizzy and then sleepy; it doesn't seem to affect reality for me very much—perhaps because I've never drunk enough at one time to, as Mr. Pond put it, use the karaoke machine. Intoxication may not be the best analogy for me. All my life, though, I've dealt with the troubles of reality by turning to the pen. On account of which, total writer's block has rarely come over me.

Tolstoy’s quote, however, baffles me a little. Perhaps that is because for better or for worse, my inkpot adamantly refuses to give forth its contents unless a bit of my own flesh goes in. It’s hard and confusing and often even embarrassing, but it’s the only way I can make the pen leave any kind of mark on the paper.

On second thought, perhaps I understand Tolstoy after all.

Rilke is a little more obtuse—the prerogative of modern poets—but if I stare long enough, I think I get what he means. It’s a slow and steady gain, not forcing what cannot be forced, but holding firm despite the powers moving against you. A wise path, that.

Because every artist and every time of creative darkness is unique, it's hard to prescribe any one remedy. A word, an idea, a change of place, a song, some contemplation of unexpected loveliness—any of these may inspire. Better yet may be an experience of art that holds the sort of beauty and truth the artist most hopes to capture in his own work. But sometimes the artist simply needs rest and refreshment, and nothing else will do.

One never quite knows what winds will blow the clouds away from the moon. But some wind generally does.

“This place of which you say ‘It is a waste’… 
There shall be heard again the voice
Of mirth and the voice of gladness.”
  ~Jeremiah 33:10-11

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