Friday, June 14, 2013

Creativity: Writing, rather than Writing About Writing

This week I have been sorting through piles of books and CDs, deciding what I can live without. I need to thin the herd, lighten the load, divest. Yesterday I unloaded a satchel full of books at a used book store, one friendly to the obscure, the academic, the poetic, the literary.

I realized, in my sorting, that I have over time amassed an entire library on LGBT/queer/gender theory and LGBT history, all these heavy-duty big books written from an academic and philosophical viewpoint. I've read them all, and realize I'm not going to read them again. There are a very few of these that I will keep, as the only ones I'm ever likely to re-read or consult ever again (like John Boswell's books, Martin Duberman's history of Stonewall, etc.). But most of these need to find another home. Yesterday, the used book store took them all in, and will pass them on. (The recycling of ideas.)

But in truth, the more important realization here is: I'm an artist.

To engage with LGBT studies in future for me is to make art about it, rather than to read or write a dissertation about it. Now that I've embraced being an artist, it's time to let go of my academic background.

And one way I do that is to make art about how I respond to LGBT life, rather than to write a theoretical paper about it. Thus, I have a two-page spread of artwork in the current issue of RFD Magazine, in their brand new "Qweer Arts Issue." (And I plan to participate in the art gallery show that is being planned to highlight artists from the issue.)

Writing, rather than writing about writing.

There are limits to the intellectual and academic study and analysis of the way we live our lives. There are limits to talking about it, as opposed to doing it. I went through graduate school. I can actually read and understand these kinds of heavy-duty high-theory academic books. I know the lingo, I know the theories, and I know the history. (I am a data sponge.) I was actually read good in graduate school: I was an excellent, thorough researcher, and a good writer of thesis-like papers. I got good grades, and was well-liked by most of my professors, one or two of whom thought I could be a brilliant scholar in future.

But that's no what happened. Academia, the university as an educational and research institution, has its own rules of survival, "publish or perish" being only the most famous example, that I could not adhere to, in the end. Grad school politics did not engage my heart, and so I did it poorly. Even though I was very good at the scholarly side of academic life, I failed at the political side.

Most importantly, however, I left grad school, I now believe, because I knew on some level, at the time still a pre-verbal level, that I'd rather write music than write about music, I'd rather make art than write about making art. Making art is what I do best. I'm pretty good at writing about making art, too. But I never wanted to be a Critic, an intellectual who analyzes the artwork of others and never makes his own. I know now that I never would have fit in, in academia; I might have been a good teacher, but probably not a good Professor.

I still write about making art and making music, although I write about it because I'm interested in the creative process as a process. I make notes. I leave breadcrumbs. I document and study the process itself, out of fascination. I have written a great deal about the creative process, and the arts. It's one of my main topics as an essayist.

And I enjoy reading what other artists and writers and poets and composers have to say about their own creative processes. (Stephen King's book On Writing is a wonderful book, even if you don't like anything else he writes.) I love that kind of book, and have an entire library of "poets on poetry, writers on writing" sort of books. I have an entire library of John Cage's books.

But I don't want to read another academic book about queer theory, LGBT theory, or theoretical models of queer living, when what I'd rather do is go live life as a creative gay shaman artist poet composer painter, and respond to life lived as an artist instead of an academic.

I have no regrets about the academic period of my life—except perhaps for one: I never should have let anyone convince me that I was supposed to write ABOUT music, rather than writing music. But even that is a minor regret, because it was part of the path that led me to where I am now.

I embrace that I am a maker, not one of those who talks about makers, although I think it's okay for makers to talk about what makers do. I write, rather than write about writers writing. I embrace the paradox that I am writing, now, about writing about writing. But I'm still writing about the creative process, not about the "product" that I produce. I have little interest in telling you how to think about the art I make, or telling you what to believe it means: I'd rather you discovered that on your own.

As the haiku master said, centuries ago: The poem is only fulfilled when the reader completes the poem by bringing his own life-experience to the reading, filling in the gaps with those things we all have in common, just because we are human.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

When I started having to come up with ideas to keep my blog going I found myself asking questions of myself and, for the most part, finding myself wanting. The questions were the kind of things you might expect a writer to know the answers to—e.g. What is a poem?—and I did know the answers but had never before had to actually put those answers into words. Of course as soon as you start trying to answer a question like What is a poem? you realise just how hard it is to provide an answer that covers all the bases. And the same goes for gender. Virtually no one I grew up with would have felt the need to question their gender. I had a penis therefore I was male therefore I was heterosexual. Why waste time questioning the obvious? The thing is, as the years slouched on, I started to realise that I wasn’t an especially male male. I looked male enough and I have a nice deep voice to go along with the hair and the build but there was an affinity with females that I began to realise was uncharacteristic of male males. To the best of my knowledge only one of my classmates turned out to have homosexual leanings but I’ve no idea what happened to him as an adult; perhaps he caved to peer pressure; perhaps he’s still in his little Scottish closet. I never questioned my sexuality but as I’ve learned since gender is something else. I like being an honorary woman. And since I’m attracted to females that would probably make me an honorary lesbian too. You don’t need to have a qualification in Mechanics or Physics to drive a car. Knowing all that stuff won’t hurt but I actually suspect knowing too much might even be a hindrance, a distraction. I’m not saying there’s no technique to the writing of poetry but before that there’s the poetic nature. The desire to write poetry is something that’s natural for me. That I can apply techniques and improve on how I write is nice but the techniques on their own aren’t much use. Genders though are like genres; they’re restrictive and cause unnecessary confusion. As I said in a poem recently: “Poems are flat. / Poetry’s not.”

12:28 PM  

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