Happy New Year 2018! Let’s raise a glass of champagne to our favourite friend, a writer’s indisputable nemesis: that heathen God of War, Creativity.
This article has been composed in honour of Kim Jonghyun – a creative genius, and an irreplaceable member of the musical world – and to mark my return to the folios of cyberspace. Certainly, it’s the only place a writer can occupy a rightful, permanent residence, unencumbered by paper and blotches of ink, nothing but the silken, seductive touch of the keypad present beneath one’s fingertips.
Creative composition, in all its forms, from the written magnum opus to the operatic masterpiece, is dominated by emotion. The hippocampus is the central point, seething regret, desire, determination, fervour – a veritable miasma of condensed emotions, each striving for control. It can be a battle to squeeze a single phrase, an iota of sound from such a pool of turbulence. Creativity: an eternal cycle of intense joy, and crippling despair – polarised sensations, deeply intertwined. Both are essential. Both are deadly.
Creativity: it’s a brutal war against the mediocre. A spectre is present at the heart of each creation, a kernel of self-doubt which can rapidly expand, reaching gargantuan proportions if not swiftly curtailed. Call it an infection, an epidemic, an unalterable affliction. With every publication, an instantaneous flood of uncertainty oozes behind, trailing upon the throes of each exalted release. When you scrutinise each, the taint is evident – a misplaced phrase, the incorrect intonation, an unnoticed tautology. Submerged in self-disdain, almost crippled by anxiety, panting for release – yet the brain will not relinquish its hold, will not cease its urge to dissemble every painstakingly produced creation.
As artists, we are all expected to sublimate our own desires for the good of our craft. And we freely comply with these severe regulations: a silken yoke is fastened uncomplainingly around our willing wrists. Every second of every day must be accounted for, spent productively – skills must be honed, articles composed – another golden star to notch onto the wooden wall. If not, you’re condemned to spend the remainder of the evening – and most of the night – locked within a self-imposed torture, unable to escape from the venomous, repetitive internal chorus.
Leave me alone, you cry out, and the voice will respond. Leave? How can I leave? Without me, you are nothing.
The inner voice – your own, at its very ugliest – is never wrong. How can it be wrong? It’s you. Only you know the truth. Only you are privy to your innermost thoughts. Your lifelong partner, your companion until death – it’s you. Stalwart companions or violent enemies, you’re mortally bound, shackled tightly together until the last trump sounds, when you haul your complaining flesh from the throes of a concrete coffin. Bones have crumbled, resembling a glutinous dust – the jellies of your eyes are shrivelled, all plump, juicy remnants of flesh evaporated. But the brain is still present, oozing turgid clumps of neuronic transmissions, palpitating in a frenzy, picking up the last traces of thought still etched upon its coils. Ready, once again, to fasten its teeth into the meat of the soul.
The personality, as Freud observed, is tripartite. We are burdened with not only the ego, which is a vile monster in itself, but the superego, and the “id”. The id: a repulsive creature of base instincts, drunken upon the fruits of excess, and nursing within its craven bosom two entirely separate components: Eros and Thanatos. The inherited, biological components of the id battle for dominance: the hapless libido, encased beside its far more malign, sinister brother – the Reaper, stretching out its welcoming hand, oozing the promise of release.
All creative outlets demand an investment of one’s essence. This sort of relationship cannot be maintained upon an unhealthy foundation; at the first push, the slightest external impression, the structure will fall. Creativity: it cannot be forced. It must be softly coaxed from its shell, in the guise of a prone animal, offered the occasional titbit as a form of temptation. The creative part of the brain, after working itself into an orgy of anticipation, leaps forth, flinging itself headfirst into the nearest ravine at the promise of release. It has to be carefully monitored, otherwise it’ll drown itself in excess. Once unleashed, it cannot be subdued, exuding obedience, to the depths of its cage.
Neurological findings have pinpointed the true biological accelerators, aiding and abetting the creative process. Firstly, the prefrontal cortex must be thoroughly suppressed – at least, for the duration of spontaneous invention. We must lose the ability to look forward, to predict the consequences of our actions – we must be firmly anchored within the present, confined to the four walls of the left hemisphere. Woe betide you if those walls are painted black.
Another trait which must be expelled with haste: the long-term memory. Surprising, I know, but essential. We must forget what we know, and wipe away the viscous coating of past experiences, in order to form fresh realisations upon an untarnished landscape. The last is perhaps the most predictable: an absence of critical thinking. We must scrape away the last vestiges of constraint, and abandon all self-awareness, in order to achieve true creative independence.
Of course, we cannot escape our constant companion, riding upon the coat-tails of creativity – emotionalism. As is evident – particularly within the performance world – heightened emotional activity is an arbiter of creative function. Without it, all publications lose a semblance of zest; in the area of performance, it is mandatory. Above it all, the super ego presides, conducting its behemoth orchestra without pause, whilst the rest of the soul writhes upon searing coals.
I’m not afraid of Death. I’m terrified of the Living Death – the death of the soul, the demise of ingenuity, the bright shades of invention: extinguished. And that’s my “resolution” of 2018 – to eradicate all semblance of this from my own internal amphitheatre.