Hello from a blissful cottage in Ireland! RT
Consider the Quagga: a creature that must have been conceived in a dream; half horse, half zebra, it once roamed the veldt of southern Africa with countless other herd animals, but is now extinct. DNA research has established that the Quagga was a sub-species of the zebra; hunted for its meat and hide, it went extinct in 1883. Attempts have been made to recreate the quagga via back- and cross-breeding.
Short of the unicorn, it seems unlikely that we will find an animal more suited to model the wonders and perils of the creative life. And at least the quagga actually existed. So RT, following the example of his Dragons of Grammar, is going to use this delightful but defunct beast to help explore the creative mind.
Before we proceed, a word about the genesis of this post is in order. Responding to my post on mountain climbing and writing, IAMZION wanted to know how putting words on paper or screen could be as dangerous as climbing the world’s most dangerous peaks. A good question this, and one that may have pointed out RT’s occasional propensity for hyperbole. But on more sober reflection, RT has decided to defend his suggestion and, in the process, to expound on creativity more generally. An ambitious goal to be sure, and as with the Dragons, we can expect more of an exploration than a definitive discussion, more of an adventure than a disquisition.
Let’s start with the Wikipedia definition of creativity: Creativity refers to the invention or origination of any new thing (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has value.
On the one hand, endless vistas seem to open before us. This definition gives us a broad spectrum to work with, and under its umbrella we find such personages as Thomas Edison, Vincent Van Gogh, Steve Jobs, the Founding Fathers of the United States, John Nash, and Emily Dickinson. How should we approach such a range of genius?
On the other, we are mostly interested in a narrower set of issues, those that inform the life of our run-of-the mill, garden-variety, creative type: your average blogger, poet, artist, musician, dancer, and so forth. Folks, that is, that most normal people have actually encountered at one juncture or another. These issues include 1) wild bursts of inventiveness; 2) spaciness; 3) a concern with something more fantastical even than unicorns, namely, beauty; 3) emotions so intense that they can lift the creative soul into the arms of angels or drag it down into demonic clutches; 4) charismatic or dead-on-arrival personalities; 5) odd energy cycles and sleep patterns; 6) troubled relationships with work and money; 7) plain insanity ranging from psychosis to intense neurosis to mood disorders; 8) miscellaneous weirdness and odd behavior; and 9) the production of amazingly beautiful works in the arts, sciences, mathematics, business, and in fact, every field of human endeavor.
Here are some of the quaggas that we’re likely to encounter during the coming months:
1) the brain (that is, the neurology of creativity)
2) the muse (beauty in its several guises, or even undisguised)
3) the besotted poet (you know, the one who dropped out of college to get one step closer to his or her desire)
4) the poet’s pillbox (tactics, medical or otherwise, that help us deal with being in the presence)
5) the quagga that shot back (how the creative soul deals with the slings and arrows of modern life–and lives to make a million dollars)
6) the quagga that invented the computer (utility has its place on the slopes of Parnassus)
7) the quagga’s garden (care, feeding, appreciation, and protecting the threatened herd)
Drawing: A Quagga in Louis 16th’s Menagerie. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
As of the 29th of May just past, 59 years had gone by since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain (29,029 ft). The pair instantly became world famous, models of dogged determination and romantic adventure.
Less well known is that roughly a year after Hillary and Norgay’s achievement (on July 31, 1954), Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni summitted K2, the world’s second tallest mountain at 28,251 ft. If you have never heard of this pair (part of an Italian expedition), you may not be alone. Who ever remembers what happened on the mountain that isn’t quite the tallest?
Here’s why you might want to take K2 seriously: it, by common consent among mountaineers, is the hardest mountain in the world to climb. A single statistic suggests this: as of 2010, 3,142 people have reached the top of Everest, but only 302 people have summitted K2. A couple more facts: K2 has never been climbed in the winter, and only 1 person has successfully reached the top and returned alive via K2’s notorious South Face (this man’s climbing partner fell to his death during the descent).
What makes K2 so much more dangerous than other mountains? The short answer is the mountain’s steepness and its total height. The mountain is essentially a single pyramid rising nearly 10,000 ft above the surrounding alpine valleys. The mountain rises at a consistent, steep angle, offering few stretches that are easier for climbers.
It’s fashionable (and perhaps sane as well) to wonder at the people who risk life and limb to climb dangerous peaks. But, fundamentally, we’re all climbing our own mountains, no matter how safe the ascent may seem. And as writers, we certainly have chosen a more demanding slope than most to call home. A healthy respect for what we’re up to should come with the terrain. So should an appreciation of the lesser known perils and accomplishments of the craft.
Photo: K2, West Face, 1909. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
for a poet, i don’t think much about age…no “That time of year thou mayst in me behold.”
Or maybe I’m just kidding myself. When recently, at work, I met a 15-year-old budding intellectual (he wants to be an astrophysicist and learn 11 languages), I had to stop and wonder what I was like at 15. Certainly I hadn’t determined what career might be right for me (or maybe I had; I had already fallen in love with The Lord of the Rings).
Anyway, 52 offers a certain hallow clang when struck. It is raining today (two days after the Big Event) and on certain occasions that would depress me. But not today. I could have 20, 30, or (who knows with advances in genetic therapy?) 200 years ahead of me. We could find a pale blue dot out there somewhere with chlorophyll’s unmistakable chemical signature attached to it (or a pod of albino whales floating in Europa’s hidden ocean). We could decide to feed everyone and set up food stations around the world. I could finish Gilgamesh.
Blogging can soothe the soul of the lonely beast, and I want to thank those folks who have gotten in touch with me in the last couple of days to wish me Happy Birthday. I’ll be in touch with each of you soon. RT
Photo: Flowers in the Rain; Johnathan Billinger (geography org UK); WikiCmns; CC 2.0 Share Alike.
What would the blogosphere be without Margo Roby and her amazing blog, Wordgathering?
Wordgathering is the first reader that poets dream of, the editor who is knowledgeable but not burnt-out, the support group that is both gentle and perceptive. This is a blog that teaches us how to write poetry.
Whereas many poets trust inspiration to get them where they need to go, WG relies on method and persistance (and a quick mind). For years, Ms. Roby has faithfully added a post a day during weekdays (& at least sometimes during weekends), each post linking us to online poetry resources or offering the fruits of her own poetic endeavors. Wanna get linked into the poetry scene online? You could do a lot worse than start at WG.
Don’t believe me? Here’s just one of WG’s suggested links: imaginary garden with real toads.
But that is just one of the services that Wordgathering offers. Perusing the posts will quickly expand your poetic vocubulary and technique. Just what, after all, is a wordle? RT will happily confess to scrambling around the net trying to answer this question as he sits here writing. And by the by, what is a decima (hint: it has something to do with Puerto Rico)? This blog will put new tools in your poetry kit pronto.
What we are talking about is a blog that offers a daily snapshot of poetry on the web–its practitioners and its means. Any blogger knows how hard it is to keep posting regularly (and to keep–more or a less–on topic). But to keep highly focused on a complicated topic (or series of them), all the while producing that daily post–that is an accomplishment any blogger can admire.
And now the coup-de-grace: Wordgathering’s experienced, intelligent, and generous perspective on things poetic. A career spent teaching certainly informs Ms. Roby’s outlook, but so does a broad and full life-experience. RT can’t help it, but the word wisdom comes to mind. And all for the price of using your free library net connection.
RT hasn’t seen it often remarked, but generosity is one of the drivers behind the blogosphere. Now, RT will stipulate to the fact that Wordgathering has on more than one occasion posted about his blog, and that he has not been the only beneficiary of Ms. Roby’s thoughtful praise. Such encouragement is the lifeblood of bloggers, keeping us at our keyboards, trying to get the words right (or at least better). Sadly, I can think of only a handful of blogs that provide the quality of support that WG does.
If Margo Roby’s Wordgathering wasn’t with us, the blogosphere would be a notably less welcoming and necessary place. RT
Image: School Culture Wordle; T. Goldins; WikiCmns; Public Domain.