Creativity 102 (... continued)
Mr. Reynolds strokes his chin. "Part of the problem wearing your muse on your sleeve in your 'day job' is that it denigrates your non-creative work... as the gentleman in green just indicated, a job that most people in the world would be quite happy to perform becomes mundane and inconsequential. Believe me, for people without an imagination, for people that spend all day wrestling with pain or sorrow or hunger or AIDS or worries about their kids, having a regular job where you can move stuff from point A to point B without too much thought or backbreaking lifting and bending would be a royal godsend." He singles out a lady in a tube-top who had raised her hand earlier and lifts his eyebrows in her direction. "And you?"
She hesitates, opens her mouth, closes it, opens it again "It makes me stand out too much. Like I have purple hair or something. Sometimes people are jealous of it."
"Ah yes," Mr. Reynolds concurs, "the other risks of displaying your muse in public is that it makes you a target, it marks you as inappropriate for the job you are performing." I see several heads nod in agreement. "And sometimes it traps you into a competitive environment that you might be better to avoid." Here Mr. Reynolds clears his throat. We wait in anticipation for something obscure to happen to Tube Top, but somewhat to our relief she sits quietly and remains normally in place. "You see, despite everything that you understand about your imagination being a personal place, something that you create from the juxtaposition of your senses and your culture, something that is uniquely YOU, there's still this carryover from every other evolutionary force that makes people want to /compete/ with you."
I think back to my daily grind: competition is as much a natural part of entertainment law as breathing so much so that I stopped thinking about it after my first couple of days as a paralegal. Of course I knew the nature of the business from Law school and the friends that I had talked to who were already practicing. After seeing our counsel in action for a couple of days I could see that they had snatched competitiveness and two derivatives of it (positioning and politics) and knit them completely into their psyches; the language of the office used arcane indicatives of personality such that we could read into a description how a person would respond and whether the staff could move them toward any particular direction. I realized early on that in my work environment any artistic leanings I might exhibit would be immediately counterproductive, so Ive built a brick wall between my workaday legal help and my home-life creativities.
Mr. Reynolds continues, "Yes we know that you do your art to free your soul, that it is an expression of what your soul desires, what your soul could be if it wasn't hindered by your body or the necessities of survival, but then you start to wonder, how do I /compare/. How is my guitar playing compared to this friend that I know. How do my earrings rate on the scale of desirability compared to the vendor over /there/. In other words, is my art any good?" Mr. Reynolds turns with his back to the class and unfurls a beautiful multicolored long-feathered tail, each feather with an exquisite florescent blue-green eye at its center, the vanes leading upward shimmering purple and blue. He looks back over his wide fan of plumage: "your soul just wants to enter the gates of heaven."
He turns the lights back on and faces us a totally normal small bald man again. "Do you think peacocks care about whether their feathers are any prettier than the other male peacocks? Of course not! They have no greater choice in their plumage than you do in the qualities of your imagination!"
The class rumbles uneasily. "We'll take a 15 minute bio-break now... go out and hit the restrooms or enjoy a smoke if you need to. Be back here at..." he looks up at the wall clock "7:30".
I wander out to the hallway in a bit of a daze. Well this class is certainly turning out to be a bit beyond what I had otherwise expected. Having learnt to always expect a surprise amongst a group of my artistic peers I'm not completely overwhelmed. Smart and vivid people always concoct a certain kind of magic amongst themselves what was most interesting though was identifying with the instructor and how he was rolling with the punches, rather accepting of all the oddities and yet still carrying on along a rather narrowly defined path. Of course, it wasn't outside of reason that my peculiar experiences had been mine alone.
The gentleman with dreadlocks that I had seen earlier standing outside the class approaches me, his lips pursed into a quiet whistle. "Phew, some class, eh?" he was half acknowledging and half inquiring, looking for a bit of validation at his view of this little adventure.
"Yeah, fairly intense," I add with a nod. I extend my arm and we shake hands in greeting. "I'm Frank," I offer.
He nods, "Johnson" he returns his name. "So whatdy'a think? Is all this hoi polloi going to get us to wherever we're supposed to be going? Is it gonna steam-up our mojo?"
I shrug, a bit reluctant to go into too much detail about what /I/ have been experiencing, lest Johnson here get the idea that I'm an over-the-edge crazed lunatic. "Could happen, yeah, I suppose." As I look into Johnson's eyes for a lead a sense of confirmation that he too has been affected by the craziness he averts his gaze. "So what do you think of this Reynolds guy?"
Johnson furrows his eyebrows, "I don't know, he isn't exactly what I was expecting at first. Although he seems to know the program. For some reason I was thinking we'd see some guy with a beard and wild frizzy hair, an orange shirt and yellow shoes." We both chuckle.
"Yeah," I agree, "he seems cut rather conservative considering what he's teaching." For a moment his peacock feathers flash against my memory. "He has his moments though." I look again to catch Johnson's eyes but again he glances away. "Does, uh, any of this stuff scare you? You know, give you the creeps?"
Johnson clears his throat, "eh, nah." But I can see he is lying, and he sees that I can tell. "Some of it's a little spooky... kinda like we're at the receiving end of bad magick or something." This time we catch each other's eyes for just a fraction of a second yeah, we were both seeing the same things.
I stare a bit at Johnson's hair... I want to ask him about his dreadlocks, but I also want to stick to the subject. "So what'ya think ... is this kosher? I mean, should Mr. Reynolds be doing this? Well, if it /is/ his actions that are doing this."
Johnson purses his lips, tilts his head, and heads back into the room. I stand for a couple of moments looking around; as people are generally meandering back inside I fish out my cell phone just to call Suzanne and share a little of the weirdness. The phone rings unanswered. Hmmm that's odd usually she forwards to the messaging service if she isn't going to be around. I go back in to find my seat again; as I sit down the gentleman with the beret nods and passes me a stack of handouts; I take the top one, but have to wait a couple of minutes until blue-gray eyes finds her seat. The handout is titled "Guiding Principles." I shrug; I usually forego the preaching. Blue-gray eyes settles into her chair and I hand the stack down to her.
Mr. Reynolds walks back in the door carrying a bottle of juice and pauses at the door to flash the lights a couple of times. As he stands by the front of the room waiting for the last stragglers to meander in, I glance over at my neighbor with the blue-gray eyes and smile at her just trying to be friendly. Much to my surprise she meets my gaze at the same time, smiling as well. I see her lips move, but I don't hear her voice. I can still hear the background music though, so I'm thinking more that she is mouthing some words rather than that I have missed anything. I feel hypnotized by her eyes: I can't keep my attention from her. . . something about the line of her lips focuses my gaze; I marvel at the smooth meticulousness of her hairline. Then I see Suzanne and me strolling along a fence a walkway with a green lawn and trees on one side of the fence, a wide blue river on the other us walking side by side, not holding hands or being intimate and yet thinking together, pondering our life together, smelling the same smells, witnessing the same glints of sunlight from a passing fishing vessel.
"If you'll place your attentions please on the handout..." Mr. Reynolds voice dissolves my idyllic wanderings and the letters "Guiding Principles" again swim before my eyes, "we are going to spend some time discussing principles. You see, you are as much a person of your principles as you are the shivers of your imagination. When we get on toward the latter parts of this course you will both be creating for the consumption of other students as well as creating reviews or a process whereby you may review the outpourings of your fellow student's creativity. But for both of these activities, the initial deliberately planned creativity with a targeted audience, and the ad hoc creativity for the purpose of review, I would like you to follow some form of Guidance. Now, I am not here to set the standards; I am not here to tell you This Is Art or This Is How Art Should Be Created or even This Is Acceptable. Which is why the rest of this handout is blank. But I want you to develop your own Guiding Principles. Spend some time now, the next five minutes or so, writing down what the signposts will be along your paths of creativity and criticism, some overarching standards that will bind you more than the prejudice of your Mom, the Chancellor, or God himself."
Out of the background music I hear the sound of an evening along the river: crickets chirping, frogs burping. A small eggshell-dappled frog hops over to within a foot of my shoe; I look at him and he doesn't seem to see me even though he is meeting my gaze directly he seems to be of another world (a world of water) whereas I am a creature of the land. He hops over to the window and with his legs made just for jumping spots an outside watery disk; he leaps and becomes a part of the pale green-white of the rising moon. I look down at my Principles and they say "Flow Like The Water, yet Keep To Your Banks." I glance over at the paper sitting on the desk of the gal next to me... hers is halfway filled with sentences. I tighten my jaw. I'm afraid to glance at the guy with the beret. I squinch one eye in a feigned message of thinking. I pick up my pen and deliberately write "Cause No Harm." Okay, that's good enough.
When I look up Mr. Reynolds has his back to us while
writing on the chalkboard. He has a bulleted list of what he would like
us to consider:
I sigh this is too much work. Rather than thinking about his Principles I just jot down the bullets verbatim . . . I'll have to fill in the detailed Guidance on my own (after class) as I see Mr. Reynolds reaching for the podium again to dim the lights.
I can't see a damn thing. I can still hear a little bit of the background music is soaking through I recognize a rather distant mumbling as Mr. Reynolds' rhythm and tenor, but I can't make out his actual words. His voice is like the bass of a rock-and-roll riff seeping through the floor from the basement below. The repression frustrates me: less that something is preventing me from achieving what I've already struggled for, but because it just doesn't seem fair, why am I singled out, why is somebody or something getting in /my/ way, what have I done to deserve this? Sometimes I feel like it's all a giant conspiracy... I come so close, so close to really discovering and revealing the infinitely fine details of the whole essence of the artistic kernel, that modicum of spiritual genesis that would free the world and then this: darkness. And it's not me . . . it's definitely a force from outside, something coordinated and interfering. The screen comes slowly into view, focusing in from amidst the edges:
The rhythm and tenors that were Mr. Reynolds' voice gradually resolve, "More than that, I am asking you to take these into consideration. Not only when you are planning your project, but also when you are actually performing your presentation, in the midst of your art. So let's go into these in a bit more detail."
"Please consider that with every bit of visual or auditory or spiritual stimulation that you impart upon your audience, or if you are a member of the audience, upon the artist, you cause some kind of immediate movement. The movement can be as blatantly obvious as pushing somebody on a swing, or grabbing them by the shirttails and tackling them down to the ground. Or it can be as subtle as the impact of a beam of light upon a tanker adrift at sea in the night. And who is to say that the interaction of one is of any greater long-term importance to the world than the impact of any other. Therefore you must consider that you neither perform nor do you criticize in a vacuum; furthermore your interaction is NOT with me, it is with one another. You move not only the person to whom you direct your performance or your comments but in equal and opposite reaction you move yourself as well. Consider both your criticism and your artwork therefore from the perspective of movement."
A white winged horse enters from the hallway door, splutters a puff of burbling lips, and gracefully lies down with its knees curled demurely beneath it. Mr. Reynolds continues unruffled, "you can review your friendships by how you have moved people, so track back amongst your previous works and follow the line of friends to where it leads you. Maybe these are hidden friends, maybe they are people who have only wished you well being or success or happiness or health, and yet in so doing they have indicated an appreciation for the movement that you have provided them." The horse suddenly stands, whinnies, flaps his wings in loud rumbling whooshes, and flies out the open window.
Mr. Reynolds pulls a pen out of his pocket, aims it at the screen, and presses a button (apparently it's not a pen, its a laser pointer) and goes around in little circles around the words Forced Courtesy. "Courtesy," and Mr. Reynolds turns off the pointer and faces the class, "courtesy. We need to discuss this concept in some detail. It is not an especially difficult thing to grasp, and yet I am constantly amazed at how my students abuse it. Now I'm not the campus cleric, and I'm not the almighty Christ in purgatory who will determine that path of your soul through eternity, but please, for the sake of everyone in this class and everyone on campus, be courteous. And not only in the application of your creativity, not only in what you do while you are 'on stage'. If we teach you anything in the process of this class let us teach you that your actions while you are /not/ in the public eye have as much impact on the world as your actions on stage. There is no 'off-stage', ever. Force yourself to be courteous, at all times, at all costs."
The background music disappears briefly and then resumes with a more sublime tinkling of birdcalls (seagulls) with the faint sound of waves crashing. I smell... sea salt plus some aromatic fragrance, an herb of some sort, marjoram, thyme. I feel something tugging at me tying into my shoelaces, my belt buckles it is pulling me toward another being against my will and yet it also lulls me into a helpless state, watching like a mildly drugged patient in the dentist's chair. Past the corner of my eyes shadows flicker on the wall.
Mr. Reynolds clears his throat, "Also, please consider that what you do, what you think, what you say, what you create, has an echo-shot effect. It reverberates. The things that you bring into this world, even if it is just a small performance, the kernel of an idea that you present to a silly little extension class at UCLA, reaches well beyond the eyes and ears and brains of those to whom you present. As a creator, as a creative person, you have a large obligation to the whole of society. If you stand up in front of this class and say 'Tomongies are bolitterif' and somebody here knows somebody who knows a Tomongy, he might mention it in an offhand comment, and then eventually the Tomongy will hear about it, and the thought then enters the public domain, it becomes part of the culture of what people think about Tomongies. So there is no disconnect, we are all bound together, what you do affects EVERYBODY. Use due diligence."
"It's not just about that path out to infinity, it's not just the one domino that you knock over that begins a global cascade." Out of the corner of my eye I notice some unfocused movement I look in that direction at a small blob: I change my focus closer and then closer and... it is a small spider, perhaps average garden size, gradually descending on its pilot thread from the ceiling down to the vacant desk next to me. When it alights on the chair it grows rapidly into my grandmother, draped in a silken scarf. She smiles at me, "listen to the man," she says, "what goes around comes around," and then she shrinks back into a spider and scurries away. Mr. Reynolds continues, "You all carry with you a, well, call it a scar. But don't think about it in terms of something that is ugly or the remnant of an injury. Well, okay, let me correct that. It is the remnant of an injury, but it is the remnant of how you have injured others. You carry this as clearly in that space of your third eye as you carry your wallet in your pocket or you carry your prejudices in-between the tone of your judgments. Use your performance here to cleanse what little smudges you may have accumulated during your working hours."
"Okay, let's do an exercise," and Mr. Reynolds brings the lights back up. "You all know that in the next class you will be doing a presentation. Think a bit ahead now: I'm not asking you to actually come up with the whole creative flower of what you will present, but think for a minute if you will just in large general terms as to what the genre of your performance might be. Think about the creative areas where you view yourself as 'accomplished' what realm of creativity do you feel most comfortable in? It could be, say, oil painting. It could be acting. It could be, oh, I don't know, Irish dance. We're going to go around the room again and this time I want each of you to stand, state your area of creativity, and then after that I'm going to poll the rest of the class for those who are most interested in being audience members to your performance. I'm just asking for a show of hands each time... raise your hand if you think that you would like to attend the indicated performance by the indicated person. Okay, same as before, you first," and once again Mr. Reynolds nods to the scrawny fellow at the far side of the first row.
"Well," the skinny fellow says with the slightest southern drawl, "actually I'm a bit of a fiddler... I play a pretty reasonable Big John McNeil."
Mr. Reynolds asks "okay, a show of hands, how many would like to hear this young gentleman fiddle?" About half a dozen people raise their hands. "Next..." and Mr. Reynolds indicates the next person, a blonde in a sequined sweater. She stands "I make silver jewelry, sometimes with tourmaline or garnet." A different group of about a half-dozen people raise their hands. So we go around the entire room with smatterings of people showing interest sometimes maybe a dozen, sometimes only a couple.
"Now," Mr. Reynolds takes over again, "here's the problem. Take, for example, Mr. fiddle here. The people who raised their hands that said they were interested... guess what? These are the folks who listen to fiddle music. The people who raised their hands for miss silver jewelry... they are the people who stop at the booths at outdoor art shows and peruse the cases of silver jewelry. But in this class, you are ALL GOING TO SIT THROUGH EVERY PRESENTATION."
Feet are shuffling uncomfortably and I hear the sound of shifting in chairs followed by a rather awkward silence. "And the reason for this, my dear friends and students, is that we tend to fall victim to audience lock. In other words, the things that we do attract a certain audience, which in turn binds us to their thoughts. And then, after that, we produce things that our /existing/ audience already likes to hear, that they already like to see, that they already like to think about. It's like the man who tries a little heroin, and then decides that he likes it, and then starts living his life so that he can have more time and money to enjoy his heroin. After a while the heroin takes over his life he becomes addicted. As it is with most artists: they become addicted to their audience. But in this class, you will face a HOSTILE AUDIENCE. Well, not hostile necessarily, but at any rate, an audience that did not show up because they like your work in the first place. And why is that?" Mr. Reynolds pauses, waiting for somebody to answer. After several seconds some hands go up; Mr. Reynolds points up to a gal in the third row.
"So we can learn something outside of our normal experiences" she says with a certain false temerity (knowing full well that is what Mr. Reynolds wants to hear). Mr. Reynolds just smiles and shrugs, dimming the lights again.
The overhead screen shows two iconic drawings filled out Olympic stick figures really one holding a gun pointing to another standing behind, what, a jewelry counter? Then a horizontal line splitting the screen into two panels with the bottom panel showing a woman opening her purse and the same man behind the counter, smiling with his hand extended. Mr. Reynolds says, "What is the difference between how the man in the top panel is getting his jewelry, versus the woman in the bottom panel?" This is obviously intended as a rhetorical question nobody raises their hand as we are waiting for Mr. Reynolds to explain to us that it is more than just the difference between robbing at gunpoint and purchasing.
"The difference is that the man at the top is TAKING, and the woman at the bottom is ACCEPTING. You all realize of course the moral impecunity of the topmost course of action; you wouldn't do this yourself. And yet, when it comes to your artwork, this is /exactly/ what some of you do. You take. It is wrong to do so commercially, and it is equally wrong to do it either creatively or spiritually. Do not, under any circumstances, take. Do your best work, put forth your best creative efforts, and then be accepting of what others give you in return. Enough said."
The walls slowly evaporate and the class is sitting in thin air we can see out to the trees and bushes on the campus, and beyond that the buildings down on Wilshire, and then beyond that the whole matrix of streets out to the coast, and then we can make out the ocean, a foggy blue from here of course, the purplish-mauve bumps that are Catalina, and beyond that miles and miles and miles of water. Then our view slowly rotates as we sit static and we can look up into the foothills and although we can't see past the San Gabriels we can feel the desert beyond there, and after that the snow-capped Rockies, and after that it levels out into the plains wheat-laden under the early evening moonlight. Mr. Reynolds' voice echoes from a great distance, still the same volume although the reach flattens his timber as if he is on the other side of the earth. "It is a big world, and as we sit here in our itty-bitty classroom at this particular moment of time on the UCLA campus, take heart that, despite how much work you expend and the significance of your creations, it still remains a big world, and the most you can do perhaps is let five or ten more people know that over here, or over here, or maybe over there, people are in pain or dying horrible neglected deaths from Aids or starvation."
Suddenly we are back in the room with the lights up. Mr. Reynolds has removed his sweater which now sits neatly folded atop the dais he is wearing a polo shirt of sorts, something plain with a collar, brown short sleeves and a small logo of a golfer over the breast. "All of this, of course, is to set some ideas circulating through your brains to perk up your imagination, and not only make you creative, but allow you some scaffolding upon which to build your presentation. One final warning though, one last item to take care of and pay attention to... your kids. Yes, some of you already have kids and some of you don't, but no matter, my advice is still the same. Besides your immediate audience here, and besides the degrees of separation through everybody that they know, there is also a future audience: you bear the burden of your kids. Both when you are creating your work and while you are presenting, in fact even when you are criticizing, imagine if you will your kids (or your future kids) sitting right here, right here besides you! Conduct yourself accordingly."
"Conduct yourself accordingly," a small voice echoes as the heads in the class collectively turn to glimpse a large multicolored parrot swaggering across the far end of the front dais. Mr. Reynolds continues unperturbed. "I hope I have given you all some ideas to think about, a glimpse of possible motivations or intentions that you may pursue. As you can see, we've got about forty of you in the class, and given that the actual running time of the class less breaks is around 160 minutes, and then take out another 30 minutes for switching between presentations and applause and what not, and that leaves, oh, about three minutes each."
"Three minutes each!" the parrot gawks, ruffling its feathers, stretching out its neck, and lifting and lowering its wings a couple of times. "We'll talk more about the actual procedures and what I expect shortly, but before leaving for the night I'd just like to mention a few more of the nonstandard modes of inspiration, things that we've found in the past pique our interest or blow our minds or otherwise turn us around and get us out of our lame taken-for-granted thinking." "Lame thinking," the parrot squawks as it flaps it's wings and flies up to the fourth row, where it perches on an empty desk and cranes its head slantwise, staring sideways at a brunette who is sitting a bit too stoically. "Music!" the parrot squawks.
"Music," Mr. Reynolds answers, "is an excellent motivator. Driving to a new unfamiliar safe neighborhood and going for a walk is an excellent motivator."
"Flying somewhere new!" squawks the parrot turning its head nearly full around, and the class breaks out in a cautious laughter.
"Seeking out humor is an excellent motivator. Kids. Exercise."
"Sex" squawks the parrot, flapping over to the windowsill amongst another round of hoots. "Fasting. Okay, you get the idea. Break your habits, select a random word from a book and create an activity that you've never done before that's wrapped around that word. Get inspired." At this point the edges of the parrots wings lift and quiver, turn a bright iridescent green, and as he flutters and flusters at the windowsill the class as an entire group gasps as rays of sunlight enter the window. We can peer beyond the parrot to orange clouds and the morning sunrise; as the parrot gives one more squawk and flies outside, Mr. Reynolds walks over to the window and lowers the shade tight.
He then raises the screen behind the dais to again reveal his web address. "Let's talk now about mechanics, expectations, what we're doing the next two sessions, and then Ill answer any of your questions. Basically, the next session will all be your presentations; you may use any medium, anything that demonstrates creativity. As I mentioned earlier, given the class size and the fact that this is a three hour session that works out to three minutes apiece, but here's the trick. When you go to my web site you will find a link for presentation groups this is a tool where you may enter your interests and match yourself up with classmates similarly inclined; you may then pair up or make small groups. When you form a group, your cumulative time for your presentation is additive... in other words, for a three person presentation I will allocate nine minutes, see? Now the largest group I like to see is five students, no more than that, yes? And other than that, you're pretty much on your own as far as how you want to allocate the work amongst yourselves within a group."
"Then you'll get a week of blissful rest while you have time to absorb the presentations and collect your thoughts for the last session, where we will spend time critiquing the various aspects of the beauty and magic that went into each creative effort. Any questions?"
Three or four people raise their hands. Mr. Reynolds nods up to a gentleman sitting two rows from the top; he stands and shuffles about a bit, "should we develop our artistic expression specifically for this audience, this class, or more toward our usual listeners?"
Mr. Reynolds smiles, "your question is irrelevant... does your muse create your art, or does your future performance to your audience create your art? If you love yourself into the future and traverse the emotion from your future audience, then you will naturally develop your art toward this class. If you have an independent muse, then you will develop your art driven by said muse, and the audience won't matter." He searches the center of the room for the student that had a hand raised there. He acknowledges a middle-aged woman by nodding to her.
"What if you're afraid to present in public?" A brief murmur of concurring snickers reveals that the class is clearly split along these lines.
"I'm not saying that you need to stand up in front of the classroom," Mr. Reynolds rolls his shoulders back, "that depends entirely upon your medium. Say for example that your creativity expresses itself through watercolors. So bring the things that you paint in next week and set them up on display in front of the class and we can spend a couple minutes looking at them. If you group yourself together with four other painters then the five of you can put your works up on display for a fifteen-minute interval as a group and we can wander amongst them. Anything else?"
He looks around the class and turns his wrist to examine his watch. "Good, we're a few minutes early, let's get out there and create! Have a wonderful week!"
A smattering of students applaud; most of us sit
in our seats for a few moments feeling rather shell-shocked.