Tag Archives: creativity

Metaphor Monday: The Unmown Lawn


First of all, is it “mown” or “mowed”? Auto-correct liked “mowed” over “mown” but doesn’t like either “unmowed” or “unmown.” What up with that? Anyway.

Not to harp on a theme, but we’re still getting settled in the new house, and one thing task that I was particularly avoiding was the mowing of the lawn.

Big deal, right? It’s a lawn. You live in suburbia, you pay your dues. You handle it. Grass. Mower. Gas. Summer heat. Suck it up, sweat it out, keep up with the Joneses, and mow it.

Problem is, the lawn at the new house is about three times the size of the lawn I’m used to mowing, so what was once a 25-minute job to be breezed through in between sips of coffee on a Saturday morning is now a capital-C Chore requiring over an hour to complete.

Okay, so great, it’s going to take longer than I want to do it, but the new house saves me on the order of four or five hours in weekly drive time, so again: the price you pay.

But if you’re a regular reader of the blarg here, you know that no seemingly mundane task, no apparently benign situation has proven to be quite so simple. Just so with the new lawn.

The front lawn is blanketed with this lovely stuff — I don’t know a gopher’s arsehole from a chipmunk’s elbow when it comes to anything green, so I’m gonna say it’s BERTUCKY FLUEGRASS — soft and springy underfoot. The word “lush” comes to mind. If they could make this stuff into carpet, I’d do the interior of the house in it. Surely this is the grass that adorns the lawns of heaven.

Then you hit the backyard and you step into the untamed Amazon rainforest of grasses. Gone is the delicate bedding of greens whose clippings waft away like angel dust on a celestial breeze. Here, instead, is a tangling thicket, a countlessly-armed kraken of grasping blades and shoots into which, once your shoe disappears, you wonder if you will ever see it again. Whatever’s back here (and again, not knowing anything about grasses, I’ll just call it DEVIL-FESCUE) grows about four times as fast as the Bertucky Fluegrass out front. The terrain is less gently-rolling-possibly-part-of-an-improvised-golf-course-green and more sheetmetal-poked-up-from-beneath-by-demons.

Furthermore, when our move was delayed for first a few days, then a few weeks, the owner of this house, fed up with the process (rightly so!), folded his arms and decided not to bother mowing the grass any longer. So the Devil-Fescue got up to knee-high in some places.

So. Suck it up and mow it, right? Well… if you’re a frequent or even only sometime mower of lawns as I am, you know that with your standard, run-of-the-mill, welcome-to-the-suburbs Saturday-special lawnmower from the Home Depot, you know that the secret to successful mowing is to not allow things to get out of control. Get after it weekly, keep it from getting overgrown. Because once it’s overgrown, god help you. Clippings from the Devil-Fescue will clog your special little mower in nothing flat. The tall grass will snarl the wheels. You’ll be getting the workout of your life on your pull-starter arm while breaking your back to flip the thing over and pull the cut grass out of the blade and the vent, all while the rain is starting to fall and the neighbors are laughing at you over glasses of wine they spent the last twenty minutes chilling on their back porch.

Which is, of course, exactly where I found myself. Because make no mistake, mowing a lawn in such a condition is awful, but every day it’s allowed to fester beyond that only makes the job that much harder. Comes a point where, no matter how daunting the task looks, you have to bite your lip and accept the back-breaking task before you, or let it go forever. And given that we’re new to the neighborhood, it seems a little early to go giving the finger to the HOA at this point, so there I was.

The parallel to writing is obvious, right? You treat the writing like a devotional, returning to it regularly much the way you return to cutting the grass once a week. Keep the Devil-Fescue in check and don’t allow it to grow to strangling height. Do it regularly and the job is easy: You carve your neat little lines in the lawn, or if you’re fancy, you do it on the diagonal (or if you’re me, you mow around the outside in ever-shrinking boxes, like a game of snake that’s doomed from the start. Boy, I wonder what that says about my psychology). You put it off, and the job becomes untenable.

The longer you stay away from writing, the harder it becomes to go back to writing. Or to any thing, I suppose. You reach the point where you either go back to it in an epicly (epically?) traumatic battle of wills, or you let it go forever.

Or you move back into an apartment and never have to worry about mowing a stupid lawn again.

Not pictured: running out of gas 2/3 of the way through and cursing the entire observable universe. Note the dead heaps of Devil-Fescue and the wheelbarrow I overturned after running entirely out of fargoes.

Mondays are for metaphors! Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.

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Get Offa That Art Crap


I ran into a former student at the grocery this weekend. (This is a side effect of living close to where you work, something my father always recommended against. We lived within walking distance of the high school where he worked and where I was a student, and we couldn’t go anywhere without running into students [former and current], parents, co-workers, etc. I got used to sitting in the car and daydreaming for fifteen minutes after we’d gotten done shopping while he’d be stuck in conversation with somebody or other. The advent of the Game Boy was a boon to my childhood that can never be appreciated by the current generation. In my day, you sat and stewed and waited in your own thoughts.)

She has gone on from my humble literature classroom to a good in-state university, as I expected she would. What I didn’t expect was her choice of major: Geology.

Rocks.

monument-valley-143201_1280

When I wrote her a letter of recommendation to the same university, it was for their music program. She was a chorus student. An artist, too. Talented on both counts. And now, she’ll be studying rocks.

Her dad was with her, and he jumped right in there while I was trying to puzzle that one out. “I’m so glad we got her offa that art crap to do something worthwhile.” Boastfully, he said this. With a big smile on his face and his hand on her back. She, meanwhile, had that half-hearted smile kids get when their parents are bragging on them for something they know is not a big deal. And (and I’m sure I didn’t just imagine this) — a little bit of sadness in her eyes.

It was obvious that she’d gone in the geology direction — or at least in the offa that art crap direction — at her dad’s urging. And it seemed to me that she was not entirely proud of making this announcement to me.

I have a few thoughts about this:

  1. On the one hand, it doesn’t much matter to me what she’s studying particularly — just the fact that she’s gone on to college is a good thing. Because too many students don’t — especially from her school, her community..
  2. On the other hand, yes it does matter to me because she had a passion, and if her parent turned her away from that passion, then that’s a bummer.
  3. On the other other hand, I totally get dad’s perspective. The likelihood of making a living with your art is unfortunately remote. We have to make a living in the meantime, and that means having more skills in the set, more tools in the box. So I’m not exactly blind to his desire to push his kid toward a more “serious” option.
  4. On the other other other hand … Geology? Is this a field with tons of career opportunities that I never heard about? If so, that rocks. I’m not even sorry.

I dunno. Unfortunately, I see both sides of this issue in sharp relief. Parents have to do their best to give their kids the best chance in this world, so maybe a parent has the unpleasant duty of delivering the harsh truth and pushing his kid off the path of rainbows and daisies. But then, aren’t parents also supposed to encourage their kids not to settle for what’s “sensible” and chase their dreams? And doesn’t that mean occasionally chasing after a pipe dream and getting a degree in something worthless like music or drama? (cough, cough.)

Ultimately, I’m not bothered by her decision. No such decision is easy, and surely they spent a lot of hours deciding what was best for her. And I guess I’m not particularly bothered by the dad’s feeling on the matter either — it makes sense, if it seems a bit cold.

What I take issue with is the self-satisfied, self-aggrandizing condescension. “We got her offa that art crap.”

Because art is a waste of time, right? Because nothing good comes of art, right? Because any endeavor that isn’t specifically geared toward putting more money in your pocket is fit only for the hippie unicorn-chasers, right?

No, sorry. Art matters.

If you trudge through your workday for the privilege of vegging out on the couch to watch the newest episode of your favorite TV show, art matters.

If you fantasize about getting high off of inhaling the crisp, fresh-smelling pages of a new book, art matters.

If you avoid water-cooler spoilers lest you have your favorite characters’ secrets revealed to you without the appropriate narrative foreplay, art matters.

If you turn on the radio or a podcast or an audiobook to save your soul from the monotony of your daily drive, art matters.

Art, in short, bloody well matters — it ain’t crap to be got off of. It may not always — or often — be financially rewarding. But in this life, there are other rewards than the ones and zeroes in your bank account. Art is the water of friggin’ life. And we could all use a drink.

I didn’t say this to him, of course. Polite society and all that. But I take a quiet pleasure in knowing that he will one day be figuratively eviscerated for his transgression against her creative spirit.

You know. Through her art.


Hardly Moot


The prompt for this week’s SOCS post is “moot,” a funny-sounding word which is one of those weirdly connotated things that no longer means what it actually means. Like literally. (Though internet outrage has kind of fixed the rampant misuse of “literally”.)

About the only way you see “moot” anymore is in the phrase “moot point,” a phrase that comes out of mock trials which essentially means meaningless or without consequence. But I can’t hear the word “moot” without thinking about this:

Image result for lotr treebeard

The mothertrucking entmoot from LOTR.

“Moot” means meeting, and in the second book (and, yeah, okay, the second movie), the ents — the living, sentient trees — hold an entmoot to determine the fate of their forest. The problem? The ents hold this moot in their native tree language, which is “a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say.” (Which could, in fact, be the subtitle for this blog, given how I like to go on and on. The worthiness of the things I talk about to be talked about at length is, of course, another matter.)

Long story short (too late), the ents meet for several days before they decide that they will not meddle in the affairs of men, much to the chagrin of the hobbits who have petitioned them for aid. The world is going to sharknado all around them, the hobbits protest, and ents will be affected eventually even if nothing happens to them right away. But the ents take the isolationist path, pointing out that the trees will outlast whatever squabbles the creatures of the earth busy themselves with.

Then, of course, they learn that actually, the forces of darkness are chewing up the forest to fuel their war machine, and well, that’s that. The trees uproot themselves and wreck shop all over Isengard, because nothing motivates you like the threat of imminent destruction.

(I could point out that this is a pretty thinly-veiled dig at politics and politicians with their endless pontificating bureaucracies, but that’s not the point of this post.)

All that’s interesting and fascinating (though maybe just for me), but ultimately, well, moot in the contemporary sense, because the simple, understood definition of “moot” is that it doesn’t matter. The origins of the word are well and good, but these days it means this, so really, who cares?

And speaking of moot points, the problem is perspective and scope. Much of what we do in life, creatively or otherwise, is moot. Pancakes for breakfast, or cold cereal, or skip breakfast entirely? Doesn’t really matter. Take the long way to work or the quick way? As long as you get there on time, who cares? Read the Game of Thrones series so that you can claim superiority over the people who just watch the TV show, or don’t? Outside of the odd water cooler conversation, there really is very little difference in your life.

Put it on a bigger scale. There will be very little difference on a national level, or even a state level, over the life of one person, even a highly influential one. Things take the course they take, and not much will change it. A bigger scale still: consider, for example, Paris. Unless I have some readers in France I’m unaware of, I really am completely removed from anything happening in Paris. My entire existence, as far as Paris is concerned, is moot. Let alone the world.

But go even bigger. In our own solar system, humans have got some manned missions done in our neck of the woods, and we’ve sent a fair few probes out to the far reaches, but for the most part, all the accomplishments of humans are represented by a tiny speck of light in the night sky. A moot exercise, you might say, as we’ll never have that perspective — but astronauts get that perspective all the time. It’s called the Overview Effect (a thing I literally learned just now!)

If you zoom out far enough, everything becomes moot. And if you’re prone to Nihilistic thinking (cough, cough), the maw of that realization yawns wide beneath your feet at just about any moment. Why bother creating — it’ll all be lost to time and the void eventually. Why bother doing anything?

But taking the long view, while it’s probably good for planning your retirement and your diet, is maybe not the best thing to do in cases like this. Any story I could possibly tell is statistically unlikely to disturb the waters very much, even if it becomes profoundly popular. Those waters are thoroughly saturated already, if you’ll pardon the pun. But that doesn’t mean that, for a narrow slice, the stories aren’t worth writing (or reading!). In a lot of ways, the writer’s self-affirmation is not unlike the teacher’s: if I can reach just ONE student…

The truth is, I don’t think I even need to reach a single reader. It’d be nice if I do, of course — and better than nice if I could reach more than one. But when I create, I’m creating for me. It brings me tiny little pangs of joy to make up characters and bounce them around in the snow globes of my creation. On a global scale, or a national one, or even a local one, that might very well be moot.

But given that this life is the only one we get, it only makes sense to fill it with as much joy as we can.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Panning for Gold


I remember, when I was in school, learning about how during the gold rush — you know, old west, Manifest Destiny times — people would pan for gold. Scoop some water out of the river, sift through it, see if any nuggets were floating in the runoff. Or they’d just take big handfuls of dirt, toss them on these screens, and slowly sift away the big rocks, then the little ones, and so on, in hopes of separating out something priceless from the junk.

And I always thought that was kind of BS. You dunk your little pan into the river, hoping to get rich off some crumbs floating downstream? You dig up your backyard, hoping that in there among the rocks and the sand, there’s a gold nugget, just waiting to be discovered?

It’s the sort of ridiculous hope that keeps people buying lottery tickets. The overwhelming odds are that not only will you not find gold, but you will have wasted hours — if not days or weeks or worse — of time which you could have used for, you know, useful things otherwise.

Not incidentally, one of my favorite snippets from Sam Harris (a prominent atheist/philosopher/neurologist and pretty smart guy) has to do with a guy who spends his weekends digging in his backyard for an enormous diamond. “It gives me great pleasure, seeking this diamond,” the guy claims, though there’s no evidence that the diamond exists, nor is there any good reason to believe that it might. And regardless of whether this diamond does exist, the believer “wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t an enormous diamond buried in my backyard.”

Panning for gold in that way takes something maybe even stronger than an act of faith.

But lately, that metaphor strikes me in another way.

If the first draft is the rushing mountain stream, then there are definitely some gold flakes floating in it, lost amid the smashing rapids and festering cesspools of word vomit. (This is, incidentally, why I’m not totally soul-crushed after losing about twenty thousand words of my latest project; because I know that most of it is crap.) Problem is, there’s no knowing where they are ahead of time. And there’s no guarantee that, if I dive into that stream of bland, meandering word salad, I’ll come away with anything approaching usefulness.

But I keep doing it. Every day I wade into the waters and pan for gold, screening the water and the dust and the lumps of calcified cow crap in hopes that somewhere among the detritus is a nugget that I might one day parlay into a car payment.

You know. The sort of blind, hopeless faith that I usually rail against.

But with one key difference.

The poor saps panning and sifting for gold or digging for diamonds in their backyards are putting their faith in things they can’t see or touch or know in any way. The gold is either flowing in the river, or it’s not. It’s either mixed in the dirt, or it isn’t. The diamond is either buried in the earth to be found, or there is no such diamond. But the words I churn out every day? It may not be much, but at least I’m in control of those words. And I know that, even though most of them may be crap, the potential is there, hiding behind fossilized feces or drifting downstream.

The faith a writer has to have is a faith in himself (or herself!). Some would argue that it takes a hell of a lot of faith to return to the blank page, day after day, to deface it with your imperfection. There’s certainly something of the devotional in it.

But I don’t think it actually takes much faith at all. The stories we’re sifting for are there, hiding just below the surface, winking at us from behind the river of crap.

We just have to have the patience to screen out the garbage.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: To Business


If I could go back and give my previous self any advice about this whole writing thing, it’d be: treat your writing like a business.

See, I always thought I was the creative sort. And I guess I was, but for pretty much my entire twenties, I thought that creativity was this gift; this mystical, un-pin-down-able thing that I was just lucky to have. Now, I still believe that’s true — to a point — but I’m learning that there’s a lot more to creativity than the occasional kiss from the muse.

Because the problem with thinking that creativity is magic — that some people “just have it”, and others “just don’t” — is that one of two things happen. One: you don’t appreciate it, because, like a pile of cash from a wealthy uncle, it just fell in your lap, so you don’t really know its worth. Or two: if (but actually, when) it deserts you, you have no idea how to get it back. And while the muse may in fact carry a cell phone (she does in my as-yet-unpublished first novel), she certainly doesn’t give out her number.

But creativity isn’t magic. Or at least, it isn’t all magic. Creativity is like that kid who wanders around the neighborhood looking for other kids to play with. He doesn’t call in advance. He doesn’t send you a note to say he’s coming around. He just tools around on his bike looking for places to play and people to hang out with. And if you happen to be out in your yard playing when he shows up? Well, you’ll have the craziest afternoon of playing space baseball and ninja cowboys and Calvinball, until the kid has to go home and you have to go in to eat dinner. But if you aren’t out in your yard? That kid rolls right on by. He won’t knock on your door, he won’t peek in the window to see if you’re waiting for him — he’s got places to be and hell to raise with the other kids who are already outside.

Which is why, if you want to encourage him to visit, you have to spend some time playing in the yard, even when he’s not around.

This seems counter-intuitive. There’s no point playing in the yard by yourself, after all. The fun is in playing with a friend, in tapping into your collective imaginations and adventuring together through the boundless reaches of the imaginations of little kids. Playing by yourself is boring; what’s the fun in doing a backflip off a tree branch if nobody else is around to see it, or in throwing a ball over the house if you have to walk around the back to retrieve it?

But if the neighborhood kid doesn’t see you out there playing already, he isn’t taking time out of his day to see if you want to play. And creativity is just like that: if it doesn’t see you already working, already flexing your creative muscle, it’s not going to waste its time knocking on your brain to see if you want to make something awesome. The muse has places to be, novels and poems and stories and paintings and interpretive dances to inspire.

And that’s why we have to treat writing like a business.

mrw hd galaxy guide hitchhikers

You don’t do business when you feel like it: business needs doing with consistency, and pretty much all the time, or else the business dries up. When you treat writing like a business, you make time for it every day. You set aside time for it, and you protect that time like a mother bear protecting her young. You do the writing even when you don’t really feel like it, because if you don’t handle your business even when you don’t feel like it, you lose your business.

The unfortunate fact is, we don’t always feel creative. And it can be hard to force ourselves out into the yard to play when we’re just not feeling it.

But if this is a thing that matters — and I would argue that if you’re writing at all, or thinking about writing, then it matters to you at least a little bit — then we have to get out there anyway.

Because if we don’t? Well, the muse has plenty of other house calls she can make.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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