For this post to make sense you'll need to reference the previous and watch that video.
I spent the night, probably my sleep, and most of my snooze button soft crash into wakefulness chewing over the notion of 'having genius' instead of 'being genius'. I'm a little besotted with the idea.
At a glance I imagine it's distasteful to some, pushing, as it does, the idea of invisible entities be they called muse, daemon, genie, angel, faery, spirit, Fred. What Gilbert is trying to sell, however, is not belief in these things - that's a whole other conversation in which I admit I'm not much interested in - but the usefulness they serve as a mental construct.
She speaks of the emotional risks inherent in the creative process, which resonated with me. There are the obvious stresses associated with placing a work in the public eye; will it be liked, hated, understood, will it be successful, will it be rejected entirely and never be consumed by the public because you are the crappiest artist in all the history of all the cosmos; these are the natural doubts when you put yourself forward for anything.
However I choose to believe that she was speaking of the other risks that come well before considerations of audience reception come into play, the risks we take with ourselves while in the process of creating the work. We pour ourselves into it, we draw upon lessons, memory and knowledge that we may not wish to visit, we take on aspects that do not come naturally to us. I've always said that for writers in particular, the act of writing a story is not unlike forcing the literal definition of a split personality upon yourself.
And, I don't know, the creative process defies predictability and repetition, and I do not believe it is destructive, but it is not always nice, and doing these things to yourself because you love what you do, tearing yourself up because the work requires you to do so, they are hard things.
To then be able to say, "That kinda sucked, and you could have been a little gentler about it," in a disgruntled, passive-aggressive manner to some intangible thought construct and lay some of the responsibility for what happened upon it, well, any less ammunition for the artist to use upon themselves is a good thing, right?
It's this idea of distance. It smells fantastic, like freshly crushed coriander and cummin all mixed together. I'd eat it but I can't stop sniffing it. Distance not only from the work, but from the idea of talent as well.
To be talented is a crippling thing.
I have been told that I have talent. The people who have said this to me are not individuals with a vested interest in keeping me on side and gain nothing from stroking my ego. They were not speaking of craft, but of that part of art that cannot be learned, that essence of creativity that can't be picked up or passed on.
For the creative mind to consider the fact of its own talent is probably one of the most dangerous thought paths to follow. Might as well drive a steamroller over a minefield.
It's one thing to entertain dreams of grandeur and quite another to realise they could be a reality. That maybe you have something that is unique, and that others can see. Suddenly, there are ramifications to everything you do. Are you living up to your talent? Have you wasted it? Do you meet the expectations of those who have recognised it? By having this talent you did not earn are you bruising the already sensitive egos of the creators around you? Will there be a price for using something you haven't earned? Is it possible to exercise control over something entirely unconscious? What if you come to depend on it? What if it goes away?
This is not about any alleged talent I may have, but the weight and damage that merely considering it did. To consider talent left me terrified of using it. It has taken years to be reconcile myself with the idea, all of which has nothing to do with anything I've produced. The work goes on (or not) regardless.
But if someone had given me permission to disown the idea of talent, I daresay those years would have been spent being decidedly more relaxed about my writing.
There is a parallel with photography. I have absolutely no technique, skill, technical or theoretical knowledge, and so I don't feel I can claim ownership of any of the compliments my photographs garner. "I didn't do that," I say. "The world was there, I pressed the button and the camera did the rest."
Now of my stories I can say, "I didn't do that. The story was there, I opened to a new page and the [ ] did the rest."
The difference between being a vessel and a conduit. Gilbert's speech resonated so powerfully with me because she gave voice to a practice I've been slowly and stealthily ninjaing upon myself for some time. A space that is me, but not me. A trapdoor to the subconscious, down which I will deliberately shove stories and let whatever it is down there do whatever it is it does until it is ready to release the story back to me. There is something that is me, but not me. Something over which I have no control. Something that does not come from me.
I'm not going to call it Fred.
But, there is always a but. When you change the creative process from one of dictation to a conversation, then there must be another party with which to have the conversation, which means you are essentially engaging in a relationship with something that is Not Called Fred.
And when I turned this over in my mind, all I saw was a whole lot of issues. Like, not trusting NotFred to actually contribute. Feeling betrayed and rejected when NotFred does not produce the goods. Trying to make myself infinitely more attractive to NotFred, or NotFred's friends. Wondering what is wrong with me that NotFred&Friends talk to everyone else but not me. Deciding this is because I am hopeless and useless and worthless.
Which probably says more about me than anything else, but I believe that that poor, insecure, fragile, hopeful and despairing creative mind can find weapons to use against itself no matter what thought constructs are in place.
Still, I prefer NotFred to the thought of inspiration being sourced solely from within.
I find I disagree with the very end of Gilbert's speech. She has put forth the idea that creative transcendence - which we have all felt all too briefly - is not something we can find within ourselves but are graced to feel or not feel its touch according to the whims of something unknowable and unreasonable, and that a word for that something may as well be 'god'. When we are caught up in that passion which is equal parts exhilaration and desperation and in the paws of which we are tiny furious creatures, there, in our work, is god. And if god, the genie, NotFred has touched us...olé.
But then she says that even if god, the genie, NotFred never comes near us again, or never noticed us at all, yet still we labour at our craft...olé, she says, there is god anyway.
And by doing so, by putting god back in the artist when there is no god at work, she undermines that brilliant, necessary idea which was the point of her whole speech.
No. If god isn't there, then god isn't there.
Maybe god will only rip through us once, and never again. Maybe we will never channel god in our work. We can sit down and write, paint, design, draw, mould, stitch, whatever it is you are creating, and there will be no god in the end product. We can wait, and work, but diligence does not equal divine inspiration.
The work produced may be flawed, technically sound, thorough, clever, cliché, bold, unbalanced, dull, merely okay. The work produced may be the lewd loud shit of those who have not yet even begun to realise the challenges involved in creativity, or it could be the crisp precision of a master of the craft and years of rich experience.
It will not have that frightening fire to it, will not smell of freshly crushed coriander and cummin, and god won't know it exists.
It will be yours, and only yours.
And that is a thought construct worth taking pride in as well.