Saturday, January 06, 2007

The unbearable dissymmetry of concept and form

This was just published by my good friend Gus BenJava over at:

I repost it here with permission...

~ Basil

The unbearable dissymmetry of concept and form

Many years ago I told a friend that I was a "tortured artist".

"You don't need to be a tortured artist," my friend replied. "No one needs to be a tortured artist. Plenty of people become successful artists without ever being tortured artists."

"Well, I assure you," I answered. "In my case it is not a choice. It maybe a choice for some people, but for me it is not a choice. I am tortured because my soul is tortured. Some element of my soul that I cannot control is tortured day and night."

"What does it mean to be a 'tortured artist'?" my friend asked. I knew my friend was waxing didactic at this point, but I went along because I thought it would be interesting and informative to see what she said.

"Well," I answered. "I have no idea what it means for most people to be a tortured artist. But in my case, when I say that I am a tortured artist, it means that I have too many ideas in my head and I cannot possibly express them all. I have ideas and dreams, and colors and shapes, and visions, and voices. Fragments of lines, and incomplete thoughts. Impressions and places, places that do not exist in this universe and places that do, and places that we fear might exist, and places where we long to look. There are places that we dread to bear the sight of, and visions of people and things, both hideous and marvelous at once.

"My head is full of such things night and day, day and night, and I cannot possibly express them all in a meaningful manner in one lifetime."

My friend was just looking at me mystified at this point, and so I continued.

"I have heard of writers block before. From what I understand, the concept is simple: a writer cannot think of what to write any more, so he sits idle for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years. I will never have writers block, because I cannot stop thinking of things to write."

"Don't you think that's a bit full of pride," my friend answered.

I had heard people say this before. I was quite certain they were mistaken.

"I am not boasting of any idea I've had. I'm not boasting of anything I've accomplished. On the contrary, I'm telling you about a mortal affliction. It is an illness. I am a tortured artist, not in name only, but because my soul is tortured day and night by all that I envision, and all that I cannot possibly accomplish."

My friend appeared about to laugh. Yes, just laugh in my face, I thought.

"Don't make yourself always to be a victim," my friend said.

This made me stop and think. Was I making myself a victim? It had never occurred to me that way before.

Well, that was the end of the conversation many years ago. I thought about that for a long time. Was I making myself a victim, by thinking that my lot in life was too much for any one man to handle?

Years later I met someone that told me, "the main thing you have to do is focus. We all have too many ideas. We all sometimes lose ourselves in the rush to be creative in a thousand different directions."

It wasn't long after this I met a man at a writer's conference who couldn't get his books published, couldn't get his poems published, couldn't get his music published, couldn't find anyone to publish his photography, and so on. It made me realize that a person could spread themselves out too thin with the creative instinct, and end up accomplishing nothing at all.

Well, now many years have gone by. I've written half a dozen novels, and self-published two of them, just because I wanted people to read them. I've written hundreds of poems and published the best of them in chapbooks and on the internet - mostly because I cannot stand sending things out to editors who aren't even going to bother to read them in most cases before they send them back and say "I'm sorry, it's not for us." I've also written dozens of stories and some of these I've published here and there on the internet.

I've had my poetry and stories found on the internet by people all over the world, and they've written to me (by email) about them. I've had poems selected for anthologies, and even accepted several requests by people that asked me if they could publish one of my poems in their magazines. I've had my poetry turned into a ballet, and had students ask me if they could quote me in their homework, and I've been interviewed on TV and written about in college newspapers. But I've never made a dime. I've never achieved "success" in gold-plated Hollywood style letters.

At times one becomes weary.

And I have, after all, at last discovered what writer's block is, and become intimately familiar with it. It isn't when you run out of ideas, but rather when you don't know what to do next, and so you just give up and take it easy for a while and stop writing.

You can tell yourself that you just aren't feeling inspired right now. Or, worse, you can tell yourself nothing at all, but simply squander your extra days and hours playing video games or browsing the internet. It is easy to find a hole to sink into; you don't really have to look hard.

But the worst aspect of writers block is remembering that you were once tortured by ideas, and filled with longing to express them, and wondering where that passion went. Is life any better without that passion? Is life any easier?

And then you remember that you actually still have all of those ideas. Perhaps you've found a place to express some of them over the years, but for most of those ideas you are up against a block: The unbearable dissymmetry of concept and form. You want so much, like a God giving flesh to His Son, incarnate those ideas. You want to give them form, but you find yourself helpless to do so. You find that your mind is spinning, whirling in too many directions, and it leads you to a sort of insanity where you are completely incapacitated. It isn't the lack of ideas that is blocking you, but the lack of knowing what to do with them.

Your days become longer, and your dreams deeper. You awake late in the morning, and stay up late at night, because you are afraid to sleep, afraid of what you will find there.

It is the life of a tortured artist. And you are a victim - it isn't your fault. You couldn't have possibly chosen this life for yourself, and you'd be happy to give it all back. But what does giving it back mean? What it will it mean to sleep again in peace by night and awake early in the morning?

It would mean compromise. It would mean giving up.

The tortured artist is the artist that struggles with his own soul, but he does not do this alone, and it is not without meaning. He struggles with his own soul on behalf of humanity. He struggles to find his place in this world, so that others might find their own places. He struggles to find a place for his ideas, not because they are unique, but because they are universal. He struggles to give them flesh, to make them walk, talk and breathe. Even though some of them are foolish, empty, even evil, he must flesh them out, because he knows that along with the bad there is good, and that the good makes it all worth while. In the end, the wood, hay and stubble will be burned up, but the gold, silver and precious stones will endure the fire, and become universally beneficial.

I've found that I was wrong all those years ago. I am susceptible to writers block, but not because I run out of ideas. It happens when I give up the struggle. It happens when I accept mediocrity. It happens when I allow the every day cares of life to triumph over the soulful expression of ideas.

I hope and pray I will not let it happen again!

~ Gustav BenJava, Jan 06, 2007

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