Eugie Foster (eugie) wrote,
Eugie Foster

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On the nature of creativity

Growing up, I never considered myself to be particularly "creative." At best, I had an aptitude for and/or interest in certain things, like writing and reading, and fairy tales and world mythology, but I wasn't an artist. I had a mental image of "creative people" going through life with sketch pad and paintbrush in hand, making zany, wonderful creations without effort or strain.

I was certainly not one of that number.

This idea of what constitutes a creative person might have been due in some part to my best friend in first grade being an "artist," capable of rendering Darth Vader in accurate detail while I was still struggling to produce credible stick figures. Then there was my mother, who was definitely not encouraging about my forays into the arts. She assured me I didn't have the build or talent to be a ballet dancer, that my piano playing was sending her to an early grave, my singing was not worthy of consideration, and that my lesser attempts at drawing and pottery (those terrible projects they make you do at school) were decidedly inferior to those of my peers. I also dated a painter* in late high school/early college who further reinforced that I certainly was not creative--not by statement or attitude; he was very supportive of my abysmal and fledgling efforts at "art," but by example. He was creative to the point of exasperation, doodling on anything within pen/pencil reach, including my important documents and papers, splattering acrylic paint on everything--his clothes, mine, the furniture--and carrying a blank journal around with him everywhere he went, more crucial by far to his daily well-being than wallet or keys, that he filled with his drawings and musings.

I guess I never considered writing as being a true outlet for creativity because they make you do it in school. As soon as they press a pencil into your hand, they grind in the notion that writing is like History or Science. You have to learn how to do it the way they tell you. It's not like art class where they hand you a lump of clay and let you play with it. Writing is work. And to back up that inference, writing is hard. Shouldn't creative endeavors flow naturally, as easily as breathing?

While I do consider some writers to be artists (Shakespeare being the obvious example), I had, and still have, a hard time numbering myself among them. It feels pretentious to do so. I'm more comfortable lumping what I do into the same category as what trades- and craftspeople do. I'm honing my skill and technique at a craft, like a carpenter or blacksmith. I make stories, ergo I'm a "wordsmith."

But now, a decade+ later, it occurs to me to rethink my definition of creative. I've come to the grudging realization that my early analysis might have been too narrow. (You'd think graduate school in Psychology with assorted segments focusing on creativity would've jostled loose some of my preconceived notions. What can I say? I'm dense.) The basis of my overdue epiphany? I made Pad Thai from scratch the other day for the very first time (yum!) and I baked chocolate chip cookies. And a few days back I turned a pair of worn-out gloves and socks into useful, new pieces of apparel, taught myself how to crochet, and made (finished) an afghan.

"What am I doing?" I railed at myself. "I should be using this time and energy writing!" And that's when the hammer came down. I still can't draw worth a dime, but there's a need in me to create that, when thwarted, makes me miserable. I'm not writing and so my creative impulses are charging headlong into other avenues of expression--easier, more immediately gratifying avenues that I don't categorize as work but rather as frivolous pastimes and hobbies, ergo fun.

Writing is damn hard work, but it's also how I express whatever creative energies are sparking through me. And I need to let those energies loose. I'm at my absolute happiest when I'm writing and hit flow. Spending day after day in November, holed up in the library, cranking out thousand-counts of words on a daily basis was downright euphoric. But it was also draining as all get out. I'd emerge from the library barely able to speak, neurons fizzling mid-synapse. And now I'm making excuses and futzing around, not writing because, quite frankly, I'm lazy. Despite this, my psyche knows what it needs and is groping about, trying to compensate in despite of myself.

Nice brain. It really tries to tell me what it needs, but sometimes I just don't listen to myself.

I have to set aside all that crippling self-doubt that's been plaguing me recently as well as all the other distractions--family worries, physical distress, laptop absence and annoyances--because I need to. It's what makes me happy, an integral part of my emotional well-being, even if at the same time it's exhausting, frustrating, and downright painful. I need to write.

* I lived with my painter boyfriend for a couple years, and while I found his artistic eccentricities remarkable and more than a bit romantic, if we hadn't broken up, I probably would have murdered him in his sleep--maybe with one of his own paintbrushes. I still admire him and his work; I've got two of his paintings framed and hanging in our library. But I couldn't go through life the way he does . . . or perhaps did--I've lost touch with him, so for all I know, he could be working as an anal-retentive accountant for some Fortune 500 company.

"The Guitarist" inspired, if I remember correctly from Picasso's "Old Man With Guitar".

"Landscape" I've always loved how the red of the sunset in the valley looks like blood (or how the blood-steeped valley seems shaded by the colors of a sunset).


Writing Stuff

tomaqmar alerted me that Locus reviewed "The Bunny of Vengeance and the Bear of Death" (from Fantasy Magazine #1) in their Dec. 2005 issue. He very kindly scanned the review and emailed it to me so I could see it (and so my brain wouldn't explode). Nick Gevers called my story "a profoundly strange supernatural look at the morality of revenge." Hee! Locus said my story was "profoundly strange."

Due to popular demand, and because I've been meaning to do it for a while, I created an RSS feed for Tangent (LJ syndication: tangent_online). At first, I was quite apprehensive since I figured it would be a fairly in-depth, code-heavy process. Even though I've got full admin. access, I'm always leery about getting too deep into the guts of Tangent's code since my knowledge of PHP is non-existent. But I hadn't heard back from the webmistress and didn't want to bother her as I know she's really busy. Fortunately, Tangent's layout is based on a blog platform (Mambo), and it was primed to easily syndicate. Yay, I did it without bringing down Tangent! I keep meaning to crack open the online manuals and study up on PHP and Mambo, but so far I've only been delving into it on an ad hoc sort of basis.

Got an email from the editor of Fantasist Enterprises letting me know that the Bash Down the Door and Slice Open the Badguy anthology (with my story "Mistress Fortune Favors the Unlucky" in it) has been pushed back from an April to a Summer publication date. I'm a bit bummed as I'm really looking forward to this anthology, but I very much like how in-the-loop the editor's keeping me. But to hold me over, I believe their Modern Magic anthology (with "Souls of Living Wood" in it) should be due out anytime now.


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