Creative types are meant to bleed onto the canvas, or the page, or the screen. It’s how we supposedly give. It’s such a pretty, neat description: the heart beating, the blood spilling, the art appearing. As if everything we offer has been with us since birth.
I don’t believe it. I know what we give, and it isn’t blood. It’s breath, heavy and stinking of our last bite. It’s spit and vomit, the rejection of a meal, or it’s snot and tears when we’re sick with something. It’s shit, processed and presented again. We consume and consume and consume the world and then we return the result, returned but transformed, and that’s how we survive.
When you’re so full your gut is hard, so stoppered up and bloated and cramping with everything you can’t process and can’t eject, that’s when you know none of us were born with this. We’re just passing it on as we pass on through.
What scale would you use to answer the question, “Why are you here?” where why means for what purpose? Here in this place right now, or here in your current situation this season, or living on the planet at all, ever?
For me, for many scales, these answers have recently changed very quickly. I live somewhere new and most of my habits have been forced to adapt. This new setting has encouraged me to examine my life by the largest scale. To look not at what I want to do tonight or this weekend, but at what I want my situation to be ten or twenty years from now, or further. Where do I want to be in the world as well as what person do I want to be in the world? And how do I get there?
Like most people I dynamically create assumptions about where I’m heading from day to day, without paying much attention to the why. So what’s interesting now is realizing I can take control and change the result. It feels like knowing there’s an extra line of text beneath the words I’m reading, and I’ve suddenly remembered to read it too.
I find the supernatural fascinating, but the Holy Grail is a ghost. Getting the creeps is nothing compared to evidence of a real human person appearing in the world after death.
I don’t believe in ghosts. My closest friends can tell me their experiences and I love to hear them, but I’m thinking, You were tired, or You were dreaming, not You actually saw a ghost. Noises are the best. It’s easy to dismiss a noise without finding its source. You heard creaking in an old house at night? Wow, let me call Zelda Rubinstein.
When I moved to the UK from Canada I thought it was a great opportunity. Despite films’ attempts to show “old Indian burial grounds” as the most haunted of places, I can’t say I’ve ever encountered that phenomenon. And as much as there are thousands of years of human occupation in North America, most of that time has been lightly populated, so it’s difficult to say There have always been people in exactly this location. Contrast the UK. Any given space in Edinburgh or London has been crowded with thousands of people living and dying for a very long time. Not passing over that land, but living in that actual building. So many spirits attached to those rooms. Statistically, it was a good shot. If I was going to see a ghost anywhere I’d see one there, right?
I lived in houses that were older than Canada and saw nothing supernatural. I wandered places where the bones of hundreds were stashed and they were silent. One might say dead. Despite the population, despite the age of things, reports of actual ghosts were no more numerous than in the NA. And I’d say the reports sounded about as believable on either continent. Which is to say they were bullshit everywhere.
There was just once I found a place I’d believe was haunted. Driving in Tyrone after visiting family I went to find the Cooneen ghost house. I got a little lost, and I passed it without realizing I was passing the driveway. Down a corridor between the trees I saw it for a moment looking back at me. And it did look. It saw me. It had all the presence and personality of Leatherface.
A friend shared a post with me on Facebook the other day, an exaggeration of the creative writing process meant to elicit a laugh and nothing else. I immediately tore the thing to shreds. Not in a reply–it was quicker than that. In the moment I’d finished reading it, I was already thinking, This is wrong in a large number of ways and it teaches me nothing. I’m not laughing.
Then, Oh crap. I’ve lost my sense of humour.
I knew it was supposed to be funny and nothing else. I knew it wasn’t supposed to teach me anything and it wasn’t meant to be entirely correct. It had been designed to refer to generalizations and poke fun at something that’s usually serious. That’s what a joke does. What the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t even laugh?
I didn’t reply to my friend that day. I didn’t trust myself to reply. The next day I read the post again, and hey! It was funny. It hadn’t changed, but I had. I hadn’t lost my sense of humour. I was just having a bad day, a day when I couldn’t see my life for the days in it.
We’re rarely the same people from day to day. Every part of living involves processing and reacting to the world around us, and that reaction can change, sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot, depending on how much sleep we’ve had, what stress we’re under, even if the caffeine flowed a little too well that morning. Another popular Facebook post says “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” Seriously, I can only just handle me at my worst. What should I expect from my friends?
It’s normal to choose favourites for everything the way you’d choose your favourite ice cream, even if it’s effectively irrelevant. Favourite colour, favourite season, favourite planet. The latter, of course, is Pluto. A mysterious, frozen landscape spinning so far from here even the centre of the universe seems closer (but that is wrong, for the record.)
In 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a collection of stuffy jerks who probably don’t even like ice cream, suddenly announced that Pluto is not a planet. Why? Apart from the stuffy jerk thing, the truth is “a planet” had not been properly defined before this. I guess for the first few thousand years of stargazing it seemed obvious enough to say “big spherical thing spinning around a star” without writing that down.
So Pluto was no longer a planet, specifically because it hadn’t cleared its orbit of debris. It was a dwarf planet, which sounded a lot to me like the IAU’s way of saying “Okay guys, we know you’re going to hate this, so we’re going to keep planet in its designation anyway, because we’re tired of never being invited to parties, and we do like ice cream a little bit, well, we like frozen yogurt, that’s nearly the same thing.” And the kerfuffle settled for a decade.
This week two astronomers have announced a new ninth planet far, far beyond Pluto, at a distance of 200 to 1200 AUs (1 AU = the distance from Earth to the sun) compared to Pluto’s puny 40 AUs. Astronomers have been announcing a possible Planet X for most of my lifetime, but this time it’s more or less confirmed. And it’s exciting. Very exciting. I should be over the moon (ha!) but I find myself irrationally resistant to the hype. One of the astronomers who found this new planet is the very same who made the discovery that led to Pluto’s reclassification as a dwarf planet. He’s even quoted as saying, “Killing Pluto was fun.”
It’s normal to feel defensive on behalf of a frozen ball of dirt 6 billion kilometres away, right?
Santa Claus has got to be one of the biggest crocks in the western world. Otherwise level-headed parents encourage their children to believe a man comes down their chimney once a year and leaves gifts. And for what? So children can have a little magic in their world?
Children have magic without Santa Claus. Usually their magic is better. There’s nothing they won’t believe and can’t imagine, until the monotony of day by day wears them down. Why does a sleigh and elves and magical presents have to be the most important thing? Why is it better if a stranger leaves them a magical elf-made gift rather than a parent giving something they worked for?
My favourite winter movie is How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original, not the live action abomination) because it addresses my main issue with this holiday: it’s all about the presents. It should not be all about the presents. “More stuff” is not a thing to base a national holiday around. And there is nothing warm and happy about the stress and disappointment involved in buying presents because it’s a certain day, rather than because someone needs something. Even films about Santa Claus accept this, exploiting our year-round guilt about not spending time with family rather than admitting Santa Claus is a vehicle for bribing kids to behave. Yet the connection between the jolly ol’ crock and the guilt is never really explained. We simply accept it, like we accept that Wil Ferrell will win Zooey Deschanel’s heart by being unceasingly quirky.
When I was younger than I am now I had the idea I’d live in a motor home. Where everything is small and tidy and takes up exactly the amount of space it needs and no more. Beds turn into tables, cupboards fix shut, the television and toilet disappear when not in use. The only variable in the home would be me.
We have scientifically calculated exactly how many litres of water each fish needs in a bowl, but it’s not clear what space humans need. The US government doesn’t define how many square feet prisoners need. There’s a rumour that 35 square feet is needed per child in school, but that’s not official. In any case, I was always confident I needed as little room as possible to be happy. In fact, the smaller and more contained I was, the happier I was. And I, personally, wanted to be as neat and tidy as the places I lived. I wanted to be a container with no loose hinges or uncertain fixtures.
There’s a “Colour outside the lines” movement that suggests to be creative you must be a mess, you must not care if you don’t hang up your jacket or put your shoes in the closet. You must live with abandon, and accept the chaos others throw into your life. Fight that chaos and you reveal yourself to be part of a system of repression that kills artists. You will never be an artist yourself. You’re too structured. You’re too dull.
Bullshit. A seed is a very neat container. A flower bud, too. A neat container does not mean the contents are dull or stunted. They might be the beginnings of a universe. I begin with everything in its place and from there I can go anywhere. I am contained, my creativity is not. I have a little space, I have a lot of imagination. I am the variable and I always will be.