Friday, April 20, 2012

On having the curtain pulled back: Two perspectives

Developing a Creative Process, part 5
This is part of a series of posts on the nature of art, why I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be, and how I'm trying to be better. For the rest, see the tag Developing a Creative Process.
There is a Fender Rhodes in my living room, and last week, I asked Bella Ruse if I could see the inside of it. It was not what I expected it to be; it was better! Tines, hammers, damper, tone bars – I poked and pressed and marveled at the simple mechanics that create those smooth, clear bell tones. I really, really love seeing how something works, especially when there is someone there to walk me through it and point out what I wouldn’t see on my own. 

But sometimes... Sometimes you’re cleaning the house so you put in Twilight and decide to turn on the commentary, and then your carefully crafted self-deception that Robert Pattinson is a hot, smart guy with a British accent which you’ve worked so hard to protect by not reading anything about him ever is shattered by his constant sad, self-deprecating comments about his eyebrows and his gelled bouffant. Ugh, why couldn’t he have just stayed Cedric?

I’ve been in this weird middle ground of trying to analyze others’ creative processes – but I realized that I’m pretty uncomfortable with it. I want creativity to only be a bolt of lightning that strikes you, like god has chosen you, like the starstuff of the universe is coming out of your fingers and your mouth in a moment of divine inspiration. So to see the undercarriage of hard work is a little sad for me. 


One of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible, “a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture.” It’s short but almost every episode has a satisfying depth, and it’s aurally pleasing thanks to Roman Mars’ (@romanmars) quiet but earnest, affable voice. It’s like he’s sharing a secret with you, and in a lot of ways he is since the show is about paying attention to the things no one else does: the shape of your toothbrush, the sound of the crowd in a televised basketball game, the bathtubs in the basement of a city hall building. 

The days that I’ve got 99% Invisible in my brain, I am more aware of the architecture around me and the soundscape that surrounds me. Because I’ve been thinking a lot about crafting music, my favorite episodes have been the ones about sound. (Go to YouAreListening.To/Minneapolis (or a different city) then listen to the podcast (23) about it and the amazingness that is RadioNet.) 

The funny thing is how much I’ve gleaned listening not just to the content of the podcast but the podcast itself. If I could capture the aural aesthetic of the podcast in some of my music, I would: calm but energized, candid, good-natured, multilayered with poignant juxtaposition... modest but broadcasting because it’s worth being heard.

99% Invisible has made my ears happy while listening and helped me remember to keep my ears and eyes open when I’m away from it. I’ve seen the strings, so now I can recognize the puppets from afar -- and that only makes me appreciate the Geppetto’s skill all the more.


Lightning list of my favorite (fiction) authors no regrets no takebacks go: Card, Wilde, Vonnegut, Dahl, Steinbeck, LeGuin, Lewis, Rothfuss, Poe, Pullman, Salinger, Kundera, Rice, Hobb – wow, that’s a pretty nerdy list. 

Even though these aren’t actually in order, I knew Card would be first. Heaven bless you, Karen LeSeur, for handing me a copy of Ender’s Game in ninth grade. Even though we’re not friends anymore, you hold a very special place in my heart because 1. You asked me to sit with you for lunch on my first day of school in a new state and 2. You gave me Orson Scott Card.

<3 : Also, you should read
the graphic novels.
I haven’t read all of Card – he’s quite prolific – but the Enderverse and Hatrack are places I know well. So, yeah, I bought Shadows in Flight the day it came out, and, yeah, I follow Asa Butterfield on Twitter (@asabfb) because he’s playing Ender in the 2013 movie, and, yeah, I want this framed and hanging in my home. And, yeah, this is how I define myself:
I choose to be a maker, because I love the making.
Card is a great writer. He crafts likeable but flawed characters in totally believable worlds – even though there are aliens and spaceships and magic and Jesus allegories out yer hoohah. When I start something new, I am instantly committed.

But here’s the thing: I don’t really like Mr. Card when he’s speaking in his own voice. I mean, I’ve never met him, but anytime he writes as himself, I’m turned off by his politics, his Mormonism, or his ehh conceit – even though I LOVE HIM as an author and think that he totally has earned the right to be conceited. 

I’m almost done with Keeper of Dreams, a collection of short stories by Card. Every story in it has resonated with me emotionally or given me a really cool idea to chew on for a while -- but I kind of hate it because at the end of every story, there are two or three pages of Card explaining when or why or how he wrote the story. The last few I’ve skimmed over because I realized something about myself: I hate seeing the curtain pulled aside. Card captures something really true and good and real when he writes, and I want to think that that happens magically. 

The reality of it is that he’s really good at crafting stories because he works really hard at it. He’s written books about writing. And that drives me bonkers! I want to go on imagining that he is just a mirror of a writer, capturing little moments of reality when they so fleetingly flit by him... like maybe he’s a hunter, stalking through the world with a laptop under his arm just waiting for something beautiful to happen, something so true it just burns itself into the pages. But, alas, he works at it. It’s his job

So I’m torn. This whole investigation I’ve been conducting is about peeling back the layers to see what’s in the middle, but I really prefer the outside. If I can end up hating my favorite author a little, will I end up hating my own work after messing and fussing and teasing it during the crafting process? 

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