Unintentional Explorations

It’s normal, I guess, to simply run out of creative energy from time to time. No one can sustain creativity every waking moment; not even half the time. Creativity burns a mysterious fuel that is most definitely not limitless. When the fuel runs low, when the flames turn to embers and the embers turn to ashes, it’s time to let the blaze die for a time. One must give the ashes time to cool before attempting to replenish the fuel and strike a match. I wonder whether the dissipation of the fuel is a conscious decision made by the fuel itself, in the knowledge that the inferno is capable of consuming itself if allowed to burn unchecked. Odd that I anthropomorphize a mysteriously combustible fuel that, I claim, sustains creativity. That’s what people do, though. We attribute human characteristics to animals and inanimate objects and atmospheric events. Thunder and lightning are expressions of the displeasure of angry gods; that sort of thing.

If I could remember the details of a dream I had last night, and could relate them here on this screen, readers who stumble upon this post might be shocked at what my mind is capable of creating. Nothing horrible like wholesale butchery. Just base human desires and behaviors that run contrary to the morality defined by our puritanical roots; libido unchecked by social convention and personal moral code. But my recall of the dream is fuzzy, at best, and subject to “inventive recollection.” That is, when I cannot clearly remember what took place or what I was thinking during the course of the dream, I think my memory manufacturers fantasies to fill in the gaps.

In my conceit, I thought I had coined the term “inventive recollection;” a quick gaze at the results of a Google search proved otherwise. I was intrigued as I read a few paragraphs from Narrating Desire: Moral Consolation and Sentimental Fiction in Fifteenth-Century Spain, by Sol Miguel-Prendes, published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and available at the discounted price of $110.65:

…I must stress that the act of writing depicted in penitential fictions is the meditation on, and moral interpretation of, an author’s own past or poetry, either read or composed. Tears, moans, and laments gesture toward the agitated mood that precedes inventive recollection. The initial mental disposition—their affectio—is identified with erotic desire and curiositas, which drive the protagonists to the darkest recesses of their minds—the memorial hells of Ovidian myths, passionate feelings and love poems—in search of subject matter.

As I read that paragraph from an academic treatise, I became enamored of the term “penitential fictions.” My interest in the phrase led me to a University of Texas doctoral dissertation by Catherine Marie Meyer, entitled “Producing the Middle English Corpus: Confession and Medieval Bodies.” Though I did not read Dr. Meyer’s work (I assume she was awarded her Ph.D.), I read enough of the acknowledgement section to learn that Dr. Meyer considers herself a medievalist. It is that sort of laser-focused interest that appeals to me most about academia; reaching the pinnacle of academic achievement (well, I suppose post-grad work represents an ongoing, moving-target pinnacle) gives one an expertise in a narrowly-defined subject that few others can claim. Non-academics and those who envy what they perceive as the impossible-to-attain knowledge of academics, laugh at academic precision and depth. I’ve gone off course again; my mind is sometimes incapable of even moderate focus, which explains in part the fact that my academic achievement ended when I withdrew from a graduate program, never to return to academia. Oh, well. “Penitential fictions.” I love the term because it can be interpreted in so many ways. I choose to view it as a reference to fictions produced by authors seeking penitence. I suppose I see it that way because I see my writing as a means by which I seek something like penitence (“like” but not really the same thing) for something (but not really sure what).

Like many mornings, my quick check of Google turned into a untargeted hunt undertaken for no other reason than to feed my curiosity. I learned, during my unintentional foray into Spanish literature, that the author of Narrating Desire, Sol Miguel-Prendes, is Associate Professor of Spanish at Wake Forest University. And, as I was wandering the internet in search of curiosities about Cathryn Marie Meyer, I came across Guy P. Raffa, whose latest book, Dante’s Bones: How a Poet Invented Italy, was released last month by Harvard University Press.

Writing fiction vignettes and stream-of-consciousness drivel, along with conducting aimless, pointless internet research, is escapism. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. The question is whether those endeavors are attempts to escape from the world for a while—efforts to find peace and serenity in a chaotic world—or represent attempts to escape from myself (and my chaotic mind). Perhaps both. Perhaps that dual escapism is akin to burning the candle on both ends. Eventually, the creativity represented by the wax, melts away in response to the flame. Okay, which is it? The mysterious fuel that runs low and leaves ashes or the wax that melts? Maybe dual escapism leads to depleting two kinds of fuel. I doubt I’ll ever have an answer. Not just to these questions, but to any others. No question has just one satisfactory answer.

Last night, I read an intriguing essay, entitled, “Let It Fall: Collapse and Ecological Metanoia,” by Rev. Matthew Syrdal. These words, early on in his essay, struck me:

Anger at my own complicity and the church’s complicity in a system that is designed to suppress our connection with these deepest energies in the soul and Earth, as we turn a blind eye to the ravishing of ecosystems and poisoning of the soils and biosphere.

Complicity. That’s what I think I’m finding in myself. I am complicit in the same way Syrdal is, but in the context of what I’ve written this morning, my complicity is in participating for most of my life in a culture that eschews uncertainty and rejects interests and desires and ideas that fall outside a narrow framework we define as “normal” or acceptable. I have been complicit by failing to take an active part in protestation against both mindless individualism and the collective idiocy of group-think.

I could go on forever. But I won’t. One day I’ll just stop. We all do. When it all becomes too much, we simply reject the breath that follows the last one.  But until then, I will keep blathering on about things over which I have little or no control. I can do that, at least. I can shout into the wind, during a hurricane, after everyone else has evacuated. It’s what we do. It’s what I do. My fingers are experts at screaming in the wee hours, when no one is listening.

It’s almost seven o’clock, though, so I’ve been at this for a very long time. I got up at four and have spent the majority of those three hours right here at the keyboard; not always typing, of course. A good chunk of time has been devoted to reading abstruse literature intended for people more intelligent than I; that’s why it took me so long to wade through it.

My coffee mug has a quarter of a cup of cold French roast coffee, complete with thick sediment. I think a fresh mug is in order.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Unintentional Explorations

  1. I write when I can. Usually, that means early in the morning; that’s when my energy is highest. I drain like a failing battery during the course of the day, ending the day too tired to think, much less write.

  2. kozimeg says:

    Ah, I got the answer to the quetsion I was going to ask you: “When do you write, and how long does it take you.” Now I can go on to the more important of life’s mysteries.

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