(c) 2005 J.D. Chapman All Rights Reserved
The author gratefully acknowledges assistance from the Center for Tactical Magic
--+ 1 +--
As it was my first time to a UCLA Extension and I wasn't actually sure where the class was located (or how far away the room was from my work) I arrived a bit early; I figured it would take me twenty minutes to walk there, but it only took ten. The catalog billed it as "Creativity 102: Unfurling Your Outposts", with a blurb stressing courtesy and what the class was /not/: "Not another Deconstruction, Not a HyperMeditative Technique, Not a Pop Psychology Pageant." Heck, it was only three sessions three hours apiece today (a Tuesday) and then another session in a couple of weeks, and then one the Tuesday after that, for ninety-five dollars. What did I have to lose?
I don't bill myself as a media type even though I'm in the center of the world as far as cinema goes. Half the people I know are either jockeying screenwriters or struggling actors, but I'm just a regular Joe studying to be a lawyer. I do have my amateur creative side I niggle upon the guitar and I build some small ceramic stuff: formed slabs with various hypnotic glazes. So for those reasons and just to have something reasonably mind-expanding and different to do after my part-time paralegal work (instead of sitting in traffic) I thought that I would take this Extension. It /was/ the 102 class; as I hadn't taken the 101 I thought I might be a bit out of my league, but at the same time how complicated could a person's imagination be?
The venue was one of the off-campus buildings with a good deal of art and architecture classes; the entry hallway was decorated with various cardboard and plaster models, a variety of taupe and umber sitescapes, layers of contours and fragmented elevations of interesting-to-look-at but impossible-to-build structures, and steel tubes connected into a geodesic air-frame ceiling sculpture. A gentleman with a backpack and dreadlocks was reading an art magazine with his foot propped up and his back against the wall, partially ignoring me. A girl with loopy earrings and pink eyeshadow smiled at me and then looked away in mock shyness. After a moment she stepped toward me and said "Hi, I'm Kristen. Did you, uhm, take the 101 class?"
I smiled and looked at the color of her eyes light blue with green speckles. "No, 'fraid I missed it." I gave her a restrained smile back Suzanne, the love of my life, waits for me at home. "What was it about?"
"I don't know," she shrugged, "I was hoping to find out from you. Are you an artist?"
The tone of her voice indicated that she was just being polite though obviously I looked nothing like an artist: my clothes were clean and neat, my beard was closely trimmed, and my hair was straight out of a barbershop headshot. I toyed for a couple of seconds with the idea of leading her on, but then thought better of it. "Nah, I do some ceramic work... small stuff really: nothing that I sell. How 'bout you?"
She grinned over sparkling white teeth, "I'm a set designer." The gentleman leaning up against the wall pursed his lips to keep from smirking, but as her attention was focused on me she continued without seeing him, "I've done some things down at the UnUrban. You been there?" When I didn't answer right away she added Its on Pico in Santa Monica.
"Eh, I've driven past the place a couple of times, but I've never seen anything there."
She smiles, "Well, it's a coffee shop mostly. But they do these little productions in the back room theatre once a month or so . . . it's quite a blast really."
We have an awkward pause as we search for something in common to talk about. She finds the topic first. "You work around here then?"
"Yeah, I'm over on Wilshire, at Gayley. Up on the tenth floor... man, nice view from there." I don't know why I am trying to impress her. In my head I visualize the view: the long sunrise over Wilshire and the Hollywood Hills, the view North to the Getty reflecting its subtle wanna-be-a-hill curves and white walls with gold-trimmed windows. She reads my mind and comments, "nice..." but then stops herself from asking whatever she had planned. I am just about to ask her about her work when another young lady walks in behind us and recognizes her. "Kristen!" she gives the gal I was talking to a faux cheek kiss and they close into a self-contained gabbing unit. I shrug and head over to the gentleman reading up against the wall... he gives me a pert nod of acknowledgment but doesn't face my gaze, so I stand quiet.
The hair stands up on the back of my neck and I raise my hand to brush away... what is it, a moth of some sort?... but nothing is there. I feel as if I'm suddenly and briefly in a different place, a cactus-strewn desert, but then I'm back under the tubular air-sculpture waiting for the classroom door to open. A couple of other students wander in from the street: a gentleman with his long black hair in a ponytail, an older fellow with scraggly gray hair in two slanting drifts from his thinning scalp, a shorter completely bald man in pressed slacks and an old sweater with a couple of holes on the sleeves, a fiftyish woman facelifted to thirty-five with ebullient dyed red curls, a lithe black man with his hair in corn rows.
The black man raises his head to me, "Yo." "Howdy," I reply back. "Hey, what'd I miss in 101?" I ask, just to have something nonconfronting to talk about.
"Heh heh," he smiles a wide grin, "not too much dude. 101 was mostly exercises for the imagination, you know, draw something blobbly and purple with your mind's eye, and then compare it to the other folks purple blobbies, tinka tinka tao. It was kinda fun, but you could get the same effect by smoking a couple of funny cigarettes man, if you get my drift." Out of the corner of my eye I see people entering the classroom I give a thumbs-up gesture to the black gentleman and follow the students inside.
I don't want to sit way down in front too much pressure. But I don't want to sit too far up either... I figure that the fourth or fifth row leaves me close enough to the smarter students and the instructor to absorb the course without feeling like I'm going to get picked on for answering all of the questions. I pull out my cellphone and turn the ringer to vibrate Suzanne knows I'm going to class tonight so I'm not expecting any inbounds. I place my backpack down on the floor next to my writing desk and look up to see the completely bald short man with the old sweater writing on a touchpad on top of the lectern his words appear projected behind him on the overhead screen.
He puts down his stylus and walks over to the window; while more students trickle in he stares outside intently. I imagine myself holding an espresso in an Italian plaza of ornate fountains with stylish young ladies and tacky tourists and windblown high-gloss advertisements. Nearby a young man sits on the fountain abutment while a young brunette woman stands between his legs and leans upon him; he is playing with her hair and she is giving him a hug. The air smells vaguely salty (the ocean ten miles away) and the sun beats down in a diffuse clarity. The fountain shoots water in several different streams along with a burbling mushroom at its top that splashes and cascades down over figurines. The hexagonal paving stones have marginally different colors, creating a slight mottling effect. A chic businesswoman in a pinstriped skirt and low heels stops by another lady dressed in demure summer pastels and air kisses her on both cheeks. The mottling of the plaza begins to take form, morphing, rising in three dimensions from the pavement and turning into a leopard that tracks my watching. My hair stands on end and I raise a shield of my soul, the leopard bares his teeth and...
As a student takes the writing desk to my left she smiles; I sigh, her blue-gray eyes bringing me back to class. I'm suddenly conscious of background music verging on native Indian: slow flutes mixed in with sitar overtones. Now the seats of the classroom are about three-fourths taken, although nobody is to my right. I feel the general consensus of the class as it rumbles and settles in; the instructor clears his throat and draws the accumulated attention of the class toward the front screen.
"Howdy. I am Mr. Reynolds, and I'll be your instructor for this class." As he dims the lights the screen flashes up a PowerPoint slide of the class schedule; coincidentally a stack of the printed versions cross my desk. I take the top one and stretch over past the vacant seat to hand the pile down to the gentleman wearing a beret down on my right. He nods.
-- Course Outline --
-- First Session --
-- Second Session --
-- Third Session --
"First we will review the contents of this course. We will go over our expectations for your attendance, and then we will briefly dispel any myths or misimpressions that you may harbor about what this class is about. Although I wish that all of you had attended the first course in this series, we recognize this isn't possible for everyone, so we will spend several minutes reviewing the contents of Creativity 101. Then we will talk about some of the impediments, some of the distractions of your imagination. I will then cover some of the guiding principles of this class, both in my expectations for your work and the teaching principles by which we operate. Then we'll go more into aspects of creativity that touch upon sociology; the interaction of you as a creator with other members of society and with other creators. After that we will have a bit of an open discussion about equity and fairness, trying to steer clear of the onerous legal aspects of creativity, although I am open to any of your more base feelings about what is happening politically in this regard at the moment."
"Then comes the more provocative part of the class, where I'll learn what you have found to be inspirational. I'll also share with you some of what we have found in the past to be the more unusual piquants. Finally we will discuss your projects the assignments that you will be required to present for the second class."
My feet suddenly disappear. Not actually, but they go numb I can't feel them. For some reason this doesn't particularly surprise me: I figure right off the top that it is a magic spell of some sort (a sit-in-this-class no matter what spell) and so I just sit.
"The second session two weeks from today will consist completely of your presentations. Later we will discuss what these shall consist of; suffice it to say for now that you will find your assignments challenging and, when you are watching rather than presenting, entertaining. Then I will give you all a week to digest what you have seen, and in the third and final session we will review your presentations, first in general, and then across the dimensions of Beauty, Magick, and Spirituality. We will then progress into a discussion of these dimensions themselves, talk a bit about ethics as it applies to the creative arts, discuss our intentions as artists, and then finally wrap up with a course review."
The screen goes blank; in the darkness I see swirls of ocean, then Poseidon breaking above the seething waves and powerfully parting the sea his chariot pulled by three gigantic strident seahorses. One of the seahorses stares me straight in the eye and something inside of me changes, like a person's first experience with Wasabi.
The instructor brings the lights back up. "As you know, this is a three-session class, we meet only three times, three hours each. Because our curriculum is so concentrated, and because the topics of each session naturally lead into the topics of the next assembly, attendance at each session is mandatory. Absences will not be tolerated if you are absent from a session then you have failed the class, so if you get sick or otherwise can't attend one of the meetings please write an e-mail to the bursar who will gladly refund your tuition. But do not skip the second session thinking that we will let you into the third. At the end of this class, if you feel that you have somehow selected the incorrect seminar for your needs, please write an e-mail to the bursar who will gladly refund your tuition."
"Let me begin by explaining to you what this class is NOT. Many of you are here because you are looking for something, you are looking for a muse, you are looking for a soul mate, you are looking for a good time. You will not find those things here. Some of you have maybe talked to other students who have taken this class, and you are looking for a 'high' a mind fuck. There will not be any mental titillation in this class, and I will not tolerate your onanism."
The beret gentleman to my right snickers.
"We will be covering various aspects of creativity in this class, but this is not Creativity 101. Although listed on the syllabus as a requirement, we don't particularly verify whether or not you attended 101; those of you without the prerequisites 'in kind' will find this initial session boring enough that you won't want to continue in any effect. So this is not Creativity 101 what we don't do in this class is teach you about your imagination, for by now, for you to be sitting here while I drone on incessantly about the schedule, you will already have found your imagination, as you are probably imagining yourself someplace else. Any questions?"
As the class sits quietly a tiny murmur off to the side develops into a speckle of laughter.
"By sitting through this class, however, please be advised that you indemnify both the instructor and the school. We are not responsible for whatever you may experience here you are not to hold us at fault theoretically, psychically, magically, or in any other L-Y ending fashion. We are here to open up your mind to possibilities and restrictions, but these possibilities and restrictions are part of you, they are part of your own path, and whereas we are sensitive to the risks involved in revealing them to you, you agree to be completely obligated to ensure that the path does not lead you into danger. In fact, more than that, I hereby empower all of you, each and every one individually, with the capabilities to abandon this class at any time should you feel threatened or feel that you have passed beyond the control of your own safety."
My feet come back. I look down at them and wiggle my toes. A telepathic hush empties into a numbing brown while Mr. Reynolds dims the lights and again switches slides on the screen; the background music breaks through again, a chant of a lone native.
"Let's take a quick look back at the prerequisite, shall we?"
"In the previous course, sometimes taught by Miss Randall, and sometimes by Mrs. Mendez, you walked through various steps to gain back your imagination. You reviewed how children are creative, you did exercises to explore various parts of your own creative mind, and you talked about some of the scarier parts of your imagination, especially when you were a child. Then you reviewed some of the slings and arrows of the modern world, the expectations of your peers or your parents or your teachers about your homework, and the admonitions of the hazards of daydreaming. You engaged in some additional exercises to recapture the joys of playing and letting go."
"You experimented with the limits of your senses. You reviewed some of the commonalties of creative processes, rhythm, symmetry, and then looked at their application to one of the creative arts, music. Finally you explored how nature interacts both organically and experientially with the expressions of your imagination. Yes, some of this was painful, but at a certain point you should have gained a rather facile entry and exit from that part of your brain that synthesizes and creates, that is sensitive, intuitional, receptive." A bolt of lightning flashes through the room, kaboom! The students shriek and jump as one unit and from the heavens comes a deep rolling laughter. Mr. Reynolds gradually raises the lights back up.
"Let me see a show of hands: how many of you felt somewhat overwhelmed by your own imagination?" A few students raise their hands and then more, and soon half the class concedes a certain uneasiness. "And then what did you do about it?" Mr. Reynolds continues. "Most of you, I presume, smoked a couple of joints with your friends and discussed your difficulties amongst yourselves." The snickering passes like ocean waves in the distance. "Okay, and so what... did you reach any earth-shattering conclusions? Most probably not. Suffering at the hands of your imagination is a common trait of artists, and yet covering all of the aspects necessary to assuage that suffering is not part of your typical curriculum. That is what we are here for today. No, we are not going to let you off the bus. But, if you desire, we will deliver the tools that will allow you to learn how to drive the bus for yourself."
"Let's spend some time as a group discussing the distractions caused by this enhanced imaginational ability. One of the common complaints I hear after 101 is that it doesn't directly benefit the types of creative processes for which the students initially sought the class. They think that they need more color in their landscapes, but infallibly they end up with a desire to play guitar instead of paint. Or, in the more severe cases, they become so self-absorbed with their own mental creations that they lose their ability to create anything at all in their physical reality. How about you " Mr. Reynolds nods to a gentleman with a moustache in the first row "what was your experience of the effect of that first course?"
The gentleman raises his long white neck, turning into a feathered swan. He gracefully paddles about the class leaving his coat of feathers aside becoming a beautiful woman. The souls of several of the men in the class leave their eyes to accompany the beautiful woman; the lithe black man with corn rows picks up the feather coat and hides it behind his chair, but as the beautiful woman passes by his side she reaches behind the chair, grasps back her feathers, flaps her wings, lifts into flight, and flies away.
The man with the moustache shrugs. "Somewhat ambivalent, I suppose," he answers. "I figured that if I was /searching/ then I wouldn't /find/, so I was rather taking it all in as a new experience, more or less open to whatever became revealed. I am a potter by trade, and after 101 I could still settle into my old ways, my previous designs. But somehow I felt a bit less original, not quite as satisfied with my work as before. I kept having these ideas, but I couldn't figure out how to execute them with the clay. It was a bit annoying, like trying to run underwater." He pauses and then adds, "frustrating."
Mr. Reynolds nods as he walks between the seats up the aisle. He stops half way up and turns to an older woman on the aisle, "and you young lady? What was your experience after the completion of 101?"
The lady flirts her eyelashes a bit (just as thanks for Mr. Reynolds noticing her). "I own a florist shop, well, if you must know it's Natalie's flowers over on Lincoln, and, well, frankly, I can't say that the 101 course was much in the way of inspiration. I mean, I already know about the beauty of Nature, it's hard to make an orchid more ornate or mysterious than what it attains by itself already." The class is silent while she thinks a bit more. "You know, I think that the class affected me less in my actual creative arts than in how I viewed other people. My customers. They would walk in and order a bouquet for a loved one or somebody in the hospital and I would think different things about them than I might have thought previously... I would be curious about their aura, their dress, their demeanor, how they were dealing in a creative fashion with their love or their sorrows."
My mouth tastes a bit like a sweet pickle, a tad in between the salty dill and the sweetness of relish, even though I had dinner an hour ago it makes my salivary glands start. It is a taste without a smell though just the sense of eating, hmm, maybe coleslaw. As I look around the room everyone seems to be thinking about food, something that they haven't eaten in awhile (not unusual fare but just out of the way), something that they wouldn't necessarily make for themselves but could still get at a down-home restaurant.
"You see," Mr. Reynolds continues, dimming the lights again, "the imagination is distracting. And at the same time, the Distractions of the Imagination have a certain challenge all their own." His slide reads:
Distractions of the Imagination
"To start with, lets talk biologics. Now you can argue it anyway that you want, but this is a modern university, nay, this is UCLA, one of the premier campuses of one of the premier state universities, and we believe in evolution and the power of knowledge revealed from the inquiries of science. Any way that you cut it, no matter how you slice it, your imagination is something that has evolved as a means of attracting a mate. Plain and simple." I was expecting giggles and perhaps Mr. Reynolds was too, but as none was forthcoming he continued. "Sex. Yes, it's all about sex, basically. Ah, but you say, of course you already knew that. That is why art is associated strongly with those who abstain from sex. Fine. But the flip side of this, the part that you overlooked, is that now that the 101 course has set your imagination aflame once again, other people are beginning to view you as a potential mate, whether that was your intentions or not. You see, for them, for the non-initiates, it's only natural. It comes as part of the territory. Get your right earlobe pierced with a diamond stud, wear a beret, hang your keys off of the belt loop above your left rear pocket, but for God's sake indicate to the opposite sex through the accepted outward cultural signs that, no, you are not looking to get laid... plain and simple, you are an artist!"
Brief applause sparkles across the room; apparently Mr. Reynolds has hit a chord. A couple of people also clear their throats. I take my thumb and lightly rub my wedding band.
"You know, just because you know how, just because you have the capabilities, doesn't mean that you have to show off: there is something to be said for shouldering your imagination in reserve. There is something more alluring about it, something that can indicate /potential/ rather than rampant runaway creativity. You don't have to give folks the impression that you are constantly spaced out on drugs!" Mr. Reynolds begins to turn red in the face. He pauses at the lectern and takes a sip from a glass of water.
"You see, although the staff of the University is interested in your progress, we are foremost interested in your safety. We aren't looking to produce flamed-out dead artists. I don't want you driving down the freeway in your Mini or your Bug or your SUV while daydreaming pulsating purple stripes diagonally crossing the lanes. For Christ's sake, learn to keep it in the can, keep your zippers up!"
Little blotches of throat-clearing blossom in patches; Mr. Reynolds sips some more water. I look down upon the floor and spy a small beetle standing up on its hind legs. It is pushing something, a brown ball of sorts probably several times it's size, easily twice it's weight and as it disappears under the seat in front of me the sun sets outside, the sky turns to dusk, and the sound of the crickets from the background mood-music blends with the sound of the crickets actually outdoors.
"You've all seen the bumper sticker, the one with the two circles, Eat, Art. Presumably clear as mud, you need to sell your art in order to Eat. You can't continue to practice your art if you starve to death! But wait, you /do/ have to suffer for your art, don't you? But what comes first is it the suffering that creates the environment for your art, or is it your dedication to your art that inadvertently generates your suffering? Let me see a show of hands: how many of you feel that you must suffer in order to create your art?" Around half the class raises their hands. "Now the other side: how many of you suffer at the hands of your dedication?" The other half of the class, myself included. Mr. Reynolds lets out a guffaw. "The answer is... I don't know! The question is meaningless! The two are not linked in any way whatsoever!"
The room vanishes into smoke. As I roam through the haze I feel with my hands and my sixth sense... is there a desk here, is there a doorway there? I'm not scared the smoke is more a mist than particulates from a fire, more like a heavy orange London fog. For some reason I feel impelled to continue and as I gently ease myself down a stairway I enter into an outdoor amphitheater of sorts. I take a seat next to a woman with blue-gray eyes; past a vacant seat to my right a man with a beret nods to me.
"Now it's time for a bit of class participation. We'll start with you sir," Mr. Reynolds indicates a scrawny fellow at the far side of the first row, "and work our way across, then up a row, across again et cetera, all the way up to the top. When it's your turn I want a short answer to the question of your Muse, to wit: what is your muse, or who is your muse, just something short please, we have the whole class to go through so I don't need all of the colorations. Go ahead sir."
The scrawny man scrunches up his lips at the same time that the whole class unseeably scrunches up theirs, thinking in advance of their turn. "My girlfriend," he cops out; the whole class knows it but the threat of unclothing our muse scares us into thinking about whether or not we should come clean or fib. Well for me it's Suzanne, definitely. I fell in love with her at the first sight of her: her long neck, her big round eyes. She was a bit gangly, yeah, but something about her said Spiritual Artist all over. Without asking I knew she would have a small tattoo of a butterfly on her tailbone. When I'm pooped out or wandering aimlessly through my law books, she'll sneak up and blow in my ear or give me a surprise tickle, or maybe play a CD from some local band that I've never heard of, getting me to stand up to dance a bit. When I am lost in the deepest part of my creative forest I can follow the breadcrumb trail of her thoughts to arrive again back in the clear. Mostly she motivates me without speaking, just by her expectations and by my love for her desires to be associated with the famous and the entertaining.
"Thank you all," Mr. Reynolds picks up the ball again, "and I know what most of you are thinking. You are thinking that those fifteen or twenty people who /did/ tell the truth, and that had a muse in line with what you envision as an appropriate muse, were brave souls to admit it. But I've got news for you... you've got absolutely no clue. Half the people you think were telling the truth weren't, and half the cockamamie answers that you thought were made up on the spot were in actuality one hundred percent true. So there you go. But that is beside the point. What I really want you to think about here, to examine, is how you interact with your muse. You can only answer this question each and every one of you truthfully to your own self, and I'm not requesting that you share it with the class. But I want you to ask yourself, does your muse own you, or do you own your muse? In your search for inspiration, do you find yourself chasing your muse? Or when you are sitting idly reading your Sunday comics, does your muse grab you by the nape of your neck and drag you to the canvas?"
"You see, establishing the fitting and proper relationship with your muse is part and parcel of becoming a mature and respectable artist. You mustn't allow the concept of chasing your muse to overcome your other sensibilities in regards to your art or in regards to your life. It is similar to the correct perspective dealing with beauty... if you spend all of your effort focused on glamour magazines, makeup, and beauty parlors, you might look good one or two evenings a month when you go out on a big date, but you won't be a beautiful person. And so it is the same with your muse. Respect it, entice it, give it a rest, allow it its own space. But also have a regular life. Take care of your muse like you take care of your skin. For your skin that means healthy eating, exercising, nightly cleansing, an occasional steam sauna. For your muse that means forays into other realms of the imagination, challenging it, regular cleansing, and an occasional college extension class on Creativity." From the corners of the room a few students uncomfortably chuckle.
An owl swoops down from the upper rafters, lands next to the lectern, and transforms into a dark and beautiful woman. As she stares into my soul I try to resist to no avail; she excites me at the same time that she hold me in her talon grip. I shriek in released excitement and then she is gone; chasing her would be senseless... hers are the ways of the night creatures. I feel drained and quietly relaxed rather humbled actually.
The lights suddenly snap back on; Mr. Reynolds is pacing in front of the class. "All this is fine and good, but what about that other life? What about those times when your muse is off-and-about and you are stuck serving dinner to table 5, or digging the trenches for the sprinkler line, or collecting the movie tickets? Does having a muse some of the time affect the rest of your life most of the time?"
We stop and think about it a minute... there's a bit of social interplay as to who should answer first in some respects this will be the first person to take initiative and answer the question directly. A smattering of hands go up. Mr. Reynolds raises his head and points with his chin to a gentleman wearing a green floppy hat up midway toward the back. "You there."
The gentleman stands and removes his hat. "Partly
it's an entertaining diversion, and allows me to withstand an otherwise
worthless and demeaning job. Anyone can push buttons and twiddle dials
on a copy machine; my muse keeps my brain occupied and entertained where
otherwise I would be bored to tears." The man places his hat back on and
scrunches down its front and back, shrinking, wrinkling the whole of
him turning emerald, his mouth pouching frontward into an arc of green,
bumps protruding on his chin, his legs shortening with strong thigh muscles,
his gurgling transforming into the grunts of croaking. As he takes a couple
of hops down the stairs (looking left and right) he unleashes a terrific
long flexible tongue, groans a couple of more chin-expanding croaks, and
then hops out of the window.