A few years ago, in the hope they would secretly fix all my problems, I attended this cult-like training program called ‘Landmark Education.’
One of the coaches told me that I identified with being “creative” because my 2nd grade teacher misinterpreted my Christmas tree painting. “Look at this beautiful rocket ship Anthony painted! He is very creative!” (Kids cheering). This also lead to a life-long fear of being exposed as a fraud. So, thanks Landmark, for showing me why I can’t enjoy a normal job without feeling like a Prole.
For a few explorative teenage years my social circle had fondness for LSD. Pot has always triggered slight anxiety, and I wasn’t experienced in the effects of mixing. The first and only time I attempted this combo meal was a warm summer evening, and I lay down shuddering on the floor of a storage shed to make my descent to Hades. In my hallucination I was escorted by thousands of skeleton hands, guiding me down to a void; the stark whiteness of their bones contrasting with the black of the eternal abyss while I drifted into another dimension of consciousness.
Yeah. I don’t do that anymore.
I can’t remember all that happened down there, tripping in the dirt, but every time I go into a creative trance, where my best ideas come from, I feel like I’m taking that skeleton ride back to the underworld, battling demons to emerge with gold. The skeletons are always waiting, but the same hands that pull me down, help me back out. That’s how I produce my work. I go down to bring back entertainment for surface dwellers.
Haruki Murakami, in his bestselling novel “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle,” presents this space as a deep, dark, well, buried behind an abandoned house in a quiet and forgotten alleyway in suburban Tokyo. Throughout the story the protagonist, Toru Okada, climbs down a rope ladder to sit in the cool dark, on the moist dirt, and after thoroughly checking and rechecking the rope, waits to be offered entrance into the dream world.
Though the story isn’t explicit in stating the well’s function, the metaphor stands as the somnambulistic state between awake and asleep, and the artist’s need for solitude, and isolation from interference during the creative process. It’s a place where one can access the past, present, and future, as well as the space in-between.
There’s a notion that “deep” is where great ideas come from. In order to fly, we must first sink, sink, sink down and pull them by the roots from another reality. Most of us can’t find the time to sit in silence and dig. A good artist is terrified to stop digging, because they may never start again. Some people are addicted to this place, like a Moloko nipple. And some are scared to spend too much time there—because we might like it so much we’ll neglect our distractions, attachments, habits and addictions.
While in the well, Toru never fully isolates himself. He is always conscious of human noise above, and he constantly checks the rope. He doesn’t want to abandon humanity. Because the artist who cannot escape isolation, or cannot remain connected to the outside, cuts himself off from the source, and risks insanity…even death. The source of inspiration is not the dark, warm solitude—it’s more like the studio where you prepare, and simulate art. You have to go outside yourself to find the raw material, you have to climb up and out to live life. You need to keep one hand on the ladder, the other in the mud.
At least, that’s what I got from it. Murakami probably just has a thing for wells.
I like it down in the well. Up here, nobody cares what your potential is. Nobody cares how hard things are. They want only to share what you’ve brought back. So go deep into your well, as often as possible—haul that gold to the highest peak and thrust it like Simba. If your creation turns out to be a stinking turd…go back down and polish that shit until it’s the most lovely, emotional, thought provoking turd in the Universe. At least let it be a lesson. Let it be a call to action. Let it tell a story.
If you’re creatively stunted, you don’t need a dose of acid, or a trip down a well, or a Landmark Education. But you must make time in the creative space. Write a letter to a friend, draw stick men, take pictures of your feet, make a movie on your smart phone, work in your garden, flirt with someone, make a snowman. Do something. Make your own descent to Hades. Whatever it is you choose as your work, go deeper, deeper, deeper. And when you return from your descent—create, and share your work. Just make something. And then do it again, and again, and again. Now you can call yourself creative.