12th December 2014
So much depends upon the cry of a crow perched on a telegraph pole on a country trail in December with only the sound of tires on a distant road as faint backdrop. Such was my e.e. cummings moment while out walking my dogs today. The crow jolted me out of my ruminations just as the red wheelbarrow disturbed the poet. Cummings was right - it is these little epiphany moments that are the life-blood of the artist, the focal point of all of life right there in a black crow, in a wheelbarrow glazed with summer rain. So much depends upon it. I'm not sure if so much ultimately depends upon it, but for the artist, the poet, the writer the musician or sculptor, there is no urge to create without it. These are the moments that excite the creative quick.
If you're stuck for something to write, bare yourself to these moments, cherish them and tuck them away in a hidden pocket. Don't try to contrive them. Let them find you.
Many moons ago, when I was a philosophy student in Edinburgh, I was assigned weekly essays. My nemesis back then was a tall English aristocrat, an angular and rather handsome professor in her early forties. I won't name her because she went on to Yale and Princeton and could sue me if she is still alive (she is - I just looked her up and she looks like a nice old lady now!) At the time, Doctor W. suffered no fool gladly, and most definitely suffered from ye olde pogo stick up the rear end. Though it was not required at Edinburgh University, she wore scholars black weeds, and she scared the living bejesus out of me. I would feign all manner of illness just to get out of private tutorials with her. I don't know what I was doing in the field of philosophy exactly, because I was probably less suited to the art of dry argument than anyone I think of. But Doctor W. should have noted Scotland's motto, Nemo me impune lacessit. No one provokes me with impunity. Then she wouldn't have become a central, and not altogether sympathetic, character in one of my novels. But I digress...
What I would have to do to write these assigned essays was to find that spark that touched my creative quick and ride the wave from there. An essay on a Platonic dialogue would become a discussion of the novelist Robert Pirsig's distinction between logos and mythos. Doctor W. was squarely of the logos school, and I was definitely more in the field of mythos (which is why I shouldn't have been studying philosophy in the first place!) Her comment in red ink on that particular essay: This is the work of a person who is determined to remain an amateur.
Funny thing is, old Doctor W. was right. An amateur philosopher I surely was. But what I became in my profession of writer was a mythos-maker, turning my head on solitary walks to the crows, upon which so much depends.