This is the first of three articles about how my philosophical & spiritual ideas inform my creative work. I’m writing these in spring of 2020 in the throes of isolation, presented with a unique opportunity to sit with my thoughts.
I know it’s the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo & National Poetry Month. I know I should be sticking to the things I have set goals for. But the twin influence of isolation & immersion in my projects has my roots itching. & so I’m going to freewrite a bit about why I am the insufferable way I am & why I love all the people who do the things they do.
I’m promising no specific organization & stumble forward with the rustiest non-fic organizational instinct remembered from my days of working at a community newspaper.
The good news is that this blog is in large an exercise of how much of my voice the void can swallow. & if you are out there in the void making your own shit, I love you and here’s why…
It all started with William Blake.
Or rather the way my favorite English professor described Blake. He described him as cranky, curmudgeonly, distrusting, brilliant, & prolific. Blake was the original DIYer, an accomplished artist, printer, poet, & writer.
But underneath the super-cool artsy hermit exterior, he was both disturbed & comforted by the idea of God. With this duality came the instinct that men of his age misunderstood what was meant by divinity.
It’s the basic idea that in the act of creating humans are shadowing god or the gods.
If you want a secular take on this, consider that human beings created gods organically to explain their own creation. That we are, as a species, naturally inclined toward making things. & by denying the natural impulses of the human creative drive in all its forms, you are denying the divine as it intrinsically manifests in our reality, or the truth, or true nature of humanity.
Even if you pull all the ideas of “divinity” & “god” out of it, you’re still left with the essential expression of the human experience, which has a great value even if just for the curiosity of it. There are truths of parallel experiences buried in the art, an idea distilled through thousands of human minds both living & long dead.
This may not be revolutionary philosophy, but the contrast is wired into long-held ideas that people use to argue what makes a civilized people, or what is acceptable behavior for members of certain genders, or what makes a productive member of society.
& you can hear echoes of the upside-down concept of divinity not only in Blake’s work, but through literally thousands of poets, philosophers, & writers of every era.
Crap, it’s fucking everywhere
Once I started to understand Blake, I started seeing it in everything I’d read before & after. Then I started seeing how the divinity of creativity made other things true — such as the divinity of the natural world — & understanding the divine permanence of art.
Okay permanence may seem like a step too far but hear me out… Nothing is permanent, sure enough, but creative works are permanent as long as they are interacted with. Think of other concepts humans consider permanent — they are all dependent upon human minds interacting with them.
We can get into the weeds of natural laws existing without observation — which some experiments have shown is not even always true on a quantum level — but even natural laws exist to us through human reasoning and language. & our concept of them disappears with us.
The importance & permanence of art as a concept can be found throughout the romantic era — hear it in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” (though I’m a Blake fangirl, this is the best poem of the era, fight me motherfuckers), Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much With Us,” & Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”
But it was always there. You can see shadows of in Aristotle’s arguments against Plato’s estimation of poetry & drama. Milton even plays around with it in his sonnet “When I Consider How My Light is Spent.”
I can hear it in several Hopkins sonnets, and he was a Victorian Jesuit, generations removed from the romantics.
Hell, even Yeats’ “When You are Old…” is it. Yeats’ intention to immortalize his unrequited love in verse so it becomes permanent & translatable is just perfect. Every person who has ever longed for someone can read that poem & feel connected — maybe even see her there, standing over the fire.
This goes on forever & it’s the most hopeful thing I’ve encountered in all the things I’ve read & studied.
Think about it, none of us live in a vacuum. So not only are we the aggregate of all of our experiences, but all the art we interact with. So it becomes this huge conversation over centuries. We are interacting with the thoughts and energies of people completely inaccessible to us due to the limitations of linear time.
Interacting with art
I have to forgo a few things to continue with this section — I don’t want to directly critique the continuing of the upside-down values in society or descend into a market critique of various mediums because it gets super messy, long, & potentially boring.*
Alright, so let me come down & explain how all this informs the way I interact with art as a useless millennial drone living through end-stage capitalism.
I’ve found the most effective way to engage & grow with this philosophy is to always support people doing creative things, full stop.
I don’t care if you don’t particularly like what they’re doing or enjoy their art, you should be kind & supportive.
This doesn’t mean to avoid criticism altogether. I’m an editor, ffs, but when I’m working, I’m careful to give feedback in a way that encourages the writer’s to stay engaged with their work. I share opportunities that I feel would tighten the piece & take extreme care weeding out what is stylistic choice, so I can avoid editing them into a voiceless monolith. I have had the opportunity to work with fantastic editors as well, there is so much value in a constructive critique when it comes to writing craft.
I also tend to write overblown character-critical takes of books I read. Often I’m engaging directly with the art & the reason I’m reacting so animatedly is because it is well-written. I hate the guts out of Rowan & Michael in Anne Rice’s Mayfair trilogy, but they are unarguably well done.
When I criticize an artist directly be it Lovecraft, or Eliot, or Bradley it’s because of their behavior & often despite their art. All three are complete toilets but I’m glad they made things.
But if I’m at a reading & I hate a poem I still clap, & I have gotten in literal fights with people for heckling & throwing shit at bands, & I will always approach something positively if someone asks my opinion on something.
It’s not fake to always offer positive criticism, but it is work. Sometimes it takes work to get to the bottom of what bothers you about something & after you find it comes the task of figuring out why it bothers you, if it’s actually problematic, & if so, how to best approach remedying the situation.
I have yet to be faced with a piece of work that had no redeeming quality, but have read several that needed four or five reads to find where the writer veered off. If you’re not willing to do the work to find the problem, kindly decline to offer critique. Don’t be an asshole because you’re lazy.
Finally, if you enjoy someone’s work you should do everything you can to tell them, support them, & remain open-minded as they grow as an artist.
I struggle with the first thing a lot because I always assume nobody wants to hear from me, but I also know how much it means to me when someone responds to one of my poems — even with just a simple “like.”
I do my best when it comes to support. I have limited financial resources but keep a small budget for books, music, & visual art. Even if I’m broke, I show up in person whenever I can — shows, readings, speaking engagements, online streams.
I give everything a few chances, especially if it’s by someone who has created something I liked at some point. I’ve slept on things before, everyone does. I slept on Mastodon’s “The Hunter” for like three years but will bawl my eyes out & wax philosophic for hours if I have any alcohol in me & certain songs come on.
The last thing I want to say on this point edges close to market criticism, so I’m going to be very measured in how I approach. But I often hear the argument that music, fic, poetry, etc. nowadays is just not good or not like it used to be due to market/cultural forces.
Okay, in many cases that can be true & it can be hard to discern what is & isn’t authentic expression when everything is packaged for easy consumption. But can I float the idea that it’s not my problem, it’s not your problem, it’s not any individual’s problem to determine what defines art in our convoluted system? It’s okay to just engage with things you enjoy & be kind but distant with everything else.
My point is to never come at something in a way that would discourage someone from engaging in art or honing a craft. Also, consider that just because you don’t resonate with what someone is doing at the moment, they have infinite potential to grow in their craft & could create something that absolutely changes your life later down the road.
Why am I this way?
Though this is nowhere near as succinct nor complete as I’d like to be, it’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for awhile. I find it hard to explain why I’m often okay with showing my proverbial whole-ass on this blog or on social media.
I may not be good at what I do, but I feel that it’s important to continue openly. It’s also important to be authentic & show my work because it’s part of the process.
I have varying levels of success working in various mediums because I’m cool with expressing & exploring whatever. Sometimes I will create something because someone tells me not to, sometimes I do it because thinking is hard & I need help. The x-factor is my sometimes tenuous grasp on the specific craft/medium, but every time I try something I am learning.
This is a universal experience, unquestionably. We learn when we try & no matter what I’m always going to encourage people to try & engage with their own work & the work that moves them. & I need to practice what I preach & be excited about it, even if I have to fake some of that confidence shit.
If it means I’m going to be the least coordinated person on the dance floor, the most useless player in the party, or a even huge embarrassment to an entire industry — fuck it.
This is my void too, bitches, & I will be screaming until I’m dead.
* If you are interested in talking about this, get in touch with me directly. I currently just rant for pages & could use some help refining the ideas.