The story continues ... elsewhere


I am sad to say that I am discontinuing this blog on stories and storytelling and moving my web presence to another location. 

I will still be posting on stories, fantasy and writing from time to time on my new author website, at  http://thomaswharton.ca/

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my posts and to comment on them and support what I've been doing. May you have a lifetime of wonderful journeys into the lands of Story.







 

Eleven things you didn't know about dragons



 
Ten Eleven Things You Didn’t Know about Dragons
 (a revised version of a popular post from the past)

1. Dragons guard hoards of treasure not out of greed, but because of the healing and rejuvenating properties of gold. Dragons lying on hoards have been overheard purring. How else do you think they manage to live for hundreds of years?

2. That’s right, some dragons purr, like cats. This should not, however, be taken as a sign that the dragon is well-disposed toward you. As with domestic felines, deep contented purring often precedes a particularly vicious attack.

3. The average dragon’s pulse beats once per minute. A dragon’s heartbeat may be audible from a mile away, or felt as a tremor in the ground from an even greater distance. That is why many professional dragonslayers go barefoot, to get as much advance warning of the presence and location of their enemy as possible.

4. Dragon bone is the hardest substance known to be produced by animal bodies. On the Mohs scale of hardness (in which diamond rates at 10), human tooth enamel is rated at 5, and dragon bone comes in at 9, the same hardness as sapphires and rubies, and far harder than quartz, iron and steel.

5. The longest-lived dragon is reputed to be Tau Lung, who was born before the formation of the Earth and inhabits the Sun (he may be responsible for sunspots and solar flares).
The shortest-lived dragons are the “offspring” of Motherworms, immense sack-like black dragons capable of vomiting hundreds of small fiery “drakelets” at their enemies. The drakelets can briefly fly on their own power but in a matter of moments they fall apart into gobbets of flame or burn to ash. Since the drakelets do not last long enough to reach maturity, it is not known how Motherworms actually reproduce.

6. There are seventeen officially recognized classes of dragon, including the well-known Firedrakes, as well as ice dragons, riverdrakes, celestial dragons, bookworms, etc. The classification of certain dragon-like creatures is currently in dispute, most notably in the case of the scaly flatwyrm, a parasitic organism that infests the digestive system of dragons and can grow to be over one hundred feet long. The scaly flatwyrm most often infests fire-breathers, and its irritating presence in the dragon’s bowels is said to be the real reason these dragons so often go on destructive rampages.

7. Dragonflesh contains no fat. It is the healthiest and most vitamin-rich meat available, if you can get it. One has to be careful cooking dragon, however, since it can spontaneously combust, sending gobbets of fiery nastiness in every direction.

8. The most intelligent dragon ever known, Auuggg the Venerable, held a Chair in astronomy and synchronicity studies at Hypatian University in New Alexandria. She taught there for seventy-nine years before taking a well-earned retirement, though she still continued to give lectures as a Professor Emeritus for a long time, lectures that well-attended even though it was said they did tend to "drag on." Auuggg's office was a cavern deep underground said to be lined with the bones of hapless graduate students who never finished their dissertations.

9. The vulnerable spot on a dragon’s hide is not always on its underbelly. Dragons have been known to have what professional dragonslayers call “sweet spots” on other parts of their bodies, including the head, limbs, and tail. There have been legendary dragons whose hides were said to be completely impenetrable, but these creatures apparently all died of boredom after several centuries and thousands of failed attempts on their lives.


10. According to most enigmatists, a dragon is an event, not a thing. A fire-breather like the legendary Smaug, for example, is what happens when heat, oxygen, and combustible material combine with story.

11. There are some who attribute the global warming trend to the increased activity of fire-drakes. This is, of course, simply more evasion of human responsibility. Fire-breathers and all other kinds of dragons are in decline as a result of pollution, human population growth, and the rise of extreme weather events. It seems that not even our oldest and most powerful myths are invulnerable to the kinds of sudden, unprecedented change our species is bringing to this world.





Kids these days






From my writing notebook:


Pulled up behind a schoolbus yesterday afternoon, at a fourway stop. Bus full of kids, grade one or two probably, bouncing around, chattering, playfighting. The usual mayhem. Poor bus driver.

As the bus pulled away from the stop, a little boy in the back seat turned and looked out the window at me. His face lit up with the biggest, sweetest smile ... as he gave me the finger.


This is one of those moments for which it pays to have a notebook handy.

 

A writer's journey


I wanted to see mountains again, and find somewhere quiet where I could finish my book. So I got on a train.



I had never ridden on a passenger train before. Walking the narrow corridors, trying to keep my balance as the train shook and rocked, all I could think of were old movies about spies and femmes fatale.





I discovered that other travellers had ridden this train and left their words behind.



"Destroy all former timetables."
This seemed like pertinent advice.




 And I saw mountains.


There were mountains.



 And then, more mountains.




There were so few people on board I sometimes had the feeling I was alone on this train.



Where was everybody? Could there be anything more eerie than a deserted bar car?



At night, in the empty dome car, I almost convinced myself that I was dreaming this entire journey.



At sunset on the second day we came to a wide river. On our right hand, waterfalls plunged from the rock, mere inches from the train windows. We went around a headland, then another, and another. The river kept widening.


 The river went on widening until it became the sea, and it seemed we had come to the very end of the world.



We stopped at a town on an island, the terminus of the railway. The next morning, ships anchored in the harbour seemed to float in the fog. I sat by the docks and made notes for the last pages of my book, struggling to tied up a few loose strands of plot. The fog slowly lifted. This was supposed to be one of the rainiest places in North America, but the whole time I was there it was sunny, except for the occasional morning fog.




Unlikely reminders of writing were to be found here. I wondered if the people who built and named this inn had ever actually read the book and knew how it ended?



 There were many reminders of the power of the sea...





... and the power of the spirit.

 



The isle was full of noises, sounds and sweet airs...




Actually, in the forest there was a pervading scent very reminiscent of cannabis. I knew that the good folk of this far western land were quite indulgent about such things, but had they indulged enough to perfume an entire forest? Eventually I traced the aroma to this plant, skunk cabbage.




 In the mornings I would write, and then go out and explore the town. It had seen some hard times in the past...



But in places there were new coats of paint and the local people I spoke with were sure that better times were on the way.





The last strands of the novel began to weave together, and I felt that a little of the sea, forest and mountains were woven in with them.





It was time to go home. The train set off through the morning mist.





It really was a dream train. At one point we somehow ended up far south of the border.





Another half-deserted train! When the service manager (no longer called the conductor, alas) wasn't looking, I opened the back door and got some fresh air.




We passed the wreck of a freight that had gone off the rails a few days before. Reminded me of the state my novel had been in more than once.




We stopped briefly at a place called Penny (pop. 2), the last post office in Canada to be serviced only by train. Soon, like the Canadian penny itself, this place may be a thing of the past.




The train came to a tourist town in the mountains where I'd lived as a teenager. I disembarked to spend a couple of days here and found some accommodation.




Memories of the past were everywhere.





I was sad to discover that my old school friend had sold his family's gift shop/bookstore. Now it was being refurbished to be ready for peak tourist season. I'd worked here for a while when I was in high school, selling books (probably reading more than I sold). Years later the store kept my books in stock.




On a trail I met a young woman who was worried about bears, so we agreed to walk together (I didn't mention that I was a little concerned about bears, too). The young woman was traveling across the country by herself. At the end of our walk together I told her that if she wanted to know more about the region she should check out a novel called Icefields by this guy named Thomas Wharton.




At the local watering hole I had a beer to toast the memory of friends who'd passed on.





Then it was time for the last leg. The dream train left the mountains and picked up speed as it came to the prairies. We rolled on through the night. I met a young man making his way home from Alberta to Ontario. The job he'd come west for hadn't worked out and he was going home in the hope of finding a job there.  He was going to be on this train for two more days and nights, and he was looking forward to having a shower when he finally got home. "Even if Megan Fox wanted to get with me," he chuckled, "I'd tell her sorry Megan, you gotta give me ten minutes to shower."

The young guy went to have a look at the dining car (where he couldn't afford to eat) and came back clutching something under his arm: one of those travel-sized boxes of cereal. He'd snatched it from the dining car when no one was looking. 
"Got my breakfast for tomorrow," he told me with a gleeful grin.

I put him in my notebook, of course.














Going places





A day of writing. A whole day of writing. That doesn't happen often enough.

But what is there to blog about a day of writing when it’s gone well?

If I'd taken a trip somewhere, I could tell you about all the interesting people I'd met and the places I'd seen. But sitting here all day at my desk, where have I gone? I feel I've gone somewhere. There’s a strong sense of having left my familiar domestic surroundings behind. I wasn't really "here" most of the day. I was in the made-up world of the story, but I was also in that strange, insubstantial, shifting half-world of language itself.

Transferring from one bus to another in the city of sentences, kayaking the currents and eddies of prose rhythm, picking my way through the thorny thicket of punctuation. And all the choices to be made at every turn, dead ends to be backed out of, new routes to be found, or excavated through
the seemingly solid rock of a stubborn paragraph. 
Constantly checking the map of my Planned Route against where I've written to, and sometimes changing the map when it no longer corresponds to an exciting new possibility that the writing itself has uncovered.

The book is a train. I'm on a train of many cars. Each chapter is a car. But there are cars being added on as I go. And some I'm not quite allowed into yet, because they're only ghost cars as yet. 

It's a slow train. So slow. Even slower and more often held up by unscheduled circumstance than a Via passenger train pulling over at every siding to let the more important freights rocket past. 

The track is being laid down even as we go.

And sometimes, every so often, on rare occasions, the writing is a bobsled. A vehicle fitting its groove perfectly and racing along without friction to the end of the sentence, the end of the paragraph, the end of the chapter.

By mid-afternoon the vehicle I've been sitting in all day usually starts to run out of gas, and I'm forced to pull over. 

I unbuckle myself from the desk and stand up to stretch and see where I've gotten to, and I'm back where I started. I haven't gone anywhere at all.







Filling plotholes





With the warm summer weather, many of those ugly, dangerous plotholes are being fixed all over town.

During winter, the vast, complicated novel that is this city takes a pounding from the elements, and many well-used stretches of urban story fall into disrepair. There are gaps in the record. Memory lapses. Deals and transactions that don't quite add up. Did I read that right? Wait a minute, a few chapters ago they were saying something entirely different...

So in spring, out come the plothole-fixing crews. They put up their orange and yellow barriers and get to work filling in all the gaps and cracks and rough spots in the metronarrative.

This is noisy, messy work, and disrupts reader traffic, leading to paragraph jams, frayed nerves and letters to the copyeditor about the perpetual state of narrative de/construction the city seems to be under. Anyone who's ever been bogged down at the intersection between two congested character arcs knows what I'm talking about.

Of course, that gooey filler they plug the plotholes with isn't meant to hold up in the long term. It keeps the story going, for sure, but doesn't really address the larger issues of storysprawl, rampant cast growth, and inadequate narrative infrastructure. For that it's necessary to look at the bigger picture of the stories we tell, how we tell them, and our future storytelling needs.

I guess we should just be thankful we don't have a plothole problem as bad as Toronto's.

 



Focus




One day in my creative writing workshop we were discussing creativity and the mind. The main point I wanted to make was that the mind is a wonderful tool but elusive and fickle. The mind doesn't like to be coerced into being creative on demand. When a problem comes up in writing, a writer has
to learn to trust that the mind is working on an answer even when we're not consciously trying. Those wonderful ideas that seem to come out of "nowhere" actually come from nowhere else but our minds, when we get out of their way and let them do their job.


How well do we really know our own minds? I asked. Then I thought it would be a useful exercise to have the students try some meditation, to spend a few minutes paying close attention to their own minds. I wanted them to see how hard it is to get the mind to concentrate on one thing for any
length of time. I wanted them to see how alive the mind is, how hard it is to tame.

Sit up straight, hands in your lap, eyes closed or looking downward, I told them. Take three slow deep breaths and then do nothing but stay in the present moment. When a thought comes up, let it pass and continue holding your attention on the here and now. If you notice yourself going
off on a train of thought, gently drop it and return to the present moment.

And off they went. A hush, which is usually a terrible thing in teaching, descended over the room. At the end of 5 very long minutes I called a halt.

Okay, I said, expecting sheepish laughter and lots of head-shaking, how many people were able to stay completely focused on the present moment for the full five minutes?

Every hand in the room went up.

I gaped.

Nobody caught themselves drifting off, daydreaming, not even for a second?

Nope. Nobody.

It was astonishing. It seemed that I had before me a room of unacknowledged young Zen masters. I realized later that what I had before me was a room of keen, competitive students, none of whom wanted to look like they hadn't been able to complete the assignment.








Secret pocket





I'm back from my writer's train journey, and I'm working on a photo essay about the trip, but in the meantime, here is a post from my old blog, The Logogryph:

biking in the hot sun, legs pedalling, breath like swift waves rushing in
and out, heart bumping around in its bone room, remembering a half-waking dream last night in which I saw one of my characters set aside some small part of herself, I can't be very clear about what this “part” was or where it came from, it was more an idea than something concrete that I could "see" (but then again maybe that's what all dream images are -- ideas that hover somewhere between physical objects and abstract concepts), she was putting part of herself into a secret pocket, a kind of little bag like kids put marbles in (back when kids actually collected marbles), and when I woke up I thought well, that was a rather cliched symbol about the hidden part of oneself, the part we don't let others see (as often happens when one's thoughts are flooded by the aquatic emotions / impulses of the half-dreaming state, trite ideas seem profound and original and brimming with meaning, but quickly cool and go brittle in the cold light of waking consciousness).

but just now, on the bike, in the heat, crossing a busy intersection with the sun flashing off car metal and people streaming along the sidewalks and me with my own streaming, flashing thoughts zinging along in my head, the idea of someone setting aside or pocketing a part of the self merged with the sensations of biking, and for a moment there were just the sensations themselves, without inner commentary, without past or future, and the thing kept in the pocket was Self … itself. I can’t explain it very well at all, I’m afraid, because it wasn’t an idea exactly. It was a momentary image with no
labels on it, and if I try to explain it or conceptualize it, I’m only going
to kill it. But what the heck:

There is a physical body, and a consciousness, and a stream of
moment-by-moment experience, and in a secret pocket there is a self, like a favourite marble or an ID card or a passport. Always carry it with you because you never know when you’ll need to prove that you are. Not who you are, but that you are.

And then the insight was gone. The intersection was crossed, the passport was checked and stamped, the thought dissolved into other thoughts, the stream flowed on and I was just me again, on my bicycle, safely and soundly me…

A writer' journey

I'm away from home for a few days, on the coast to "find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book," as Bilbo tells Gandalf. I didn't even bring a computer, which is no great hardship since I brought my smartphone. But it does mean I can't post images to my blog (for some reason I can't paste my phone photos into these blog posts). So you'll just have to take my word for it that the northern BC coast is experiencing a rare week of utterly gorgeous sunny weather. Makes it hard to sit and write. But that's why I'm here. Couldn't find Rivendell in the real world so this seemed the next best thing.

Sauron's map of Middle-Earth



I've been reading The Lord of the Rings to my son, and the other day we were speculating on the question, what if Frodo had failed? What if Sauron had regained the ring? We looked at the map of Middle-Earth in the book, and one of my first thoughts was, imagine how different this map would look if evil had been victorious?

It occurred to me that Sauron, or at least his generals and commanders, must have maps of Middle-Earth, too. What do their maps look like? How do they view the lands that we know as Gondor, Rohan, Rivendell, the Shire...? I've always loved Tolkien's maps, and I wonder if he ever speculated on this, too, or attempted to draw a map of his world from evil's perspective.

One thing seems certain, that just as in a capitalist oligarchy of the kind that's prevalent in our world now, a victory for Mordor would mean that everything on the map would immediately be reduced to its economic significance. What resources would each conquered territory bring to the devouring imperial machine?

So I took an existing map of Middle-Earth and made a quick, rough draft of how it might look if Mordor ruled all. If I find some time I might draw a map of Sauron's Middle-earth from scratch, with more detail, to explore this idea.





 

"This is a dream, you know."

 




I posted a while ago about lucid dreaming. After I’d had a few lucid dreams it occurred to me: I could be a writer not only during waking hours, but also practice my craft while I sleep. If, while dreaming, I could become conscious of the fact that I was dreaming, then I could shape and direct my dreams as stories. I could let a plot develop, and try different variations of it. I could invent characters and not just write about them, but talk to them, get to know them as if they were real people.

This grand plan to work as a writer both day and night turned out to be more difficult than I’d anticipated. For one thing, first you’ve got to dream lucidly, and that’s not easy to do at all, let alone on a regular basis. At least for me. Most nights my brain is just too tired from a day of activity and doesn’t seem to want to be alert and inquisitive during dreaming. It just wants to drift along with the dream and let it happen. I discovered this in a surprising way one night when I was dreaming that I was back in grade school, which was odd in itself, but didn't make me aware I was dreaming. Then a woman came up to me and said, “This is a dream, you know.”

I should’ve become lucid at that moment. Here was a figment of my own subconscious inviting me to realize that I was dreaming! But I didn’t respond to the invitation. I just nodded to the woman and sat down at my desk, and then the dream drifted on to other scenes. I was simply too far “under” to care one way or another. Like someone sitting half-narcotized in front of a television, my "conscious" mind just wanted to be spoon-fed and let the dream-story go where it would. Sad to think how many people live their waking lives this way, let alone their dreaming lives.

The other surprising thing I discovered about lucid dreaming is that trying to control the dream doesn’t really work all that well. Unplanned events and surprises pop up no matter how much one tries to stick to a particular story. In fact, the best thing about lucid dreaming for a writer, it seems to me, is that the uncontrolled, uncontrollable aspect of the mind, the “wild” mind, can add elements to your dream-stories that you likely never would have come up with in the waking state. It’s as if you have a collaborator, a mysterious other writer within you who comes up with strange and wonderful ideas you almost feel you shouldn’t take credit for.

[Image from Tarkovsky's Stalker. ]



Plotto






When I heard about this book I just had to get a copy. Plotto is the work of William Wallace Cook (1867 - 1933), a prolific churner-out of pulp novels in many genres. He was quoted as saying, “A writer is neither better nor worse than any other man who happens to be in trade. He is a manufacturer.” To prove his point, he created Plotto in the 1920’s, a book that aimed to help a writer generate every conceivable plot for a story, built around three essential elements: protagonist, conflict situation, and resolution. You start with an initial situation, and then let the book’s organization guide you through various possible plot twists and outcomes.





Despite its dismayingly complex-looking system of letters and numbers, the book was a huge success, and has now been reprinted in a lovely new edition by TinHouse Books of Orgeon. Can one still use Plotto to come up with a workable plot for a story or novel? Yes, you probably can, but one thing you quickly become aware of when using the book is that it’s also a time machine: following its combinatorial logic takes you back to the attitudes and mores of the time it was written, where “A” is always a male protagonist, often struggling to succeed in order to win the love of “B,” the female protagonist, whose stern father objects because “A” is poor... etc. It’s a plot-world of maiden aunts and avenging wrongs and surprise inheritances and the transgression of stratified social classes. It's an entertaining and illuminating book just to browse through, to see what was thought of as a "good story" back then.

Someone ought to try updating the book to the 21st century. What you’d still end up with, of course, is a catalogue for selecting prefabricated, formulaic plots. 






Once upon a shell


In the course on storytelling I taught this year, I challenged the students to combine text with some other medium in order to tell a story in a new or unusual way.

The students responded with a wonderful burst of creativity. They put together photo essays, did spoken word performances, created a participatory storytelling game.... One student turned the classroom into a museum, complete with interactive exhibits. 

Another student developed his own imaginary script, based on the fanciful notion that squid communicate by way of the shapes they can make with their ink in the water. And as if that wasn't enough, he honed his understanding and facility with script-making by copying out passages from various texts in various scripts (Hebrew, Arabic, English, etc) on the shells of eggs.


Maybe this is what happens when you teach chickens to read...


I hope these pics convey something of the painstaking effort that went into this project.


Eggquisite work, isn't it? He really went ova-board with this project.






 

Popular Posts from the Past: Five Questions


The other day I was looking through one of my writing notebooks and I was struck by how many questions there were in it. There was at least one curly little ? on almost every single page, and on some pages there were many.  Questions about the plot, about what the characters should do next, about other ways the story might go, about why I’m writing this thing and what I’m trying to say.


It occurred to me then, looking at all those pesky interrogative marks scattered like tiny thumbscrews across the pages, how utterly vital questions are to any creative endeavour. How they’re always quietly (or annoyingly) driving the work forward, prompting one to ponder, delve, rethink, push a little harder, venture out of the comfort zone, change course …

So I decided it might be a worthwhile exercise to choose the five most useful, recurring, indispensable questions that come up for me again and again during the writing process. Limiting myself to only five was part of the creative challenge of the exercise.
Rather than tenets or rules to live by, these then are my top five questions to create by:

Why?
What if…?
What else?
What’s going on right now?
Really?





WHY?
With the exception of scientists and three-year-olds, most of us probably don’t ask enough “why” questions in a day. If you’ve ever been driven nuts by a kid who keeps repeating that pesky monosyllable after every “final” answer, you’ve felt the power of Why?
            No wonder Why? annoys us: it forces us to do something our easily-distracted squirrel minds would rather avoid: to keep thinking. It’s the question that drives us on beyond our unexamined assumptions and easy certainties. Why? is how I find out who my characters are and what they’re likely to do. 
            While you’re at it, try asking some of the people in your life a “why” question more often. Not as a complaint or a rebuke, just to see what they think about something a little deeper than what needs to go on this week’s grocery list. (Have you ever noticed how rarely adults ask one another Why? unless they’re angry?)

Why? can burrow beneath the superficial skin of daily life and reveals the hidden or forgotten depths in those you think you know, including yourself.  



WHAT IF…?
“What if trees had eyes?” my son wondered the other day as we were walking to the park. That kicked my sluggish mind into gear, as “what if” questions always do.  It’s fitting that we were on our way to a playground at the time, because that’s what What if? does: it turns the real world into an infinite playground for the imagination. It’s the world’s cheapest and most effective de-aging solution.
Okay, I’ll play: what if trees did have eyes? Eyes but no mouths or arms, so they could watch whatever was going on around them but be unable to do anything about it. Would a lumberjack see terror in a Douglas fir’s baby blues as he approached with his chainsaw? Or maybe trees really do have eyes. After all, they’re photosensitive beings: they take in light through every leaf, and use it to grow. What if we thought of a tree’s leaves as its “eyes”? Hey, there may be a metaphor here, or a haiku:
summer sun at noon
with every single leaf 
the elm tree looks up.

... or maybe even the seed of a whole story. Thanks, son.





WHAT ELSE?
Related to “what if” is the less well-known but equally powerful “what else?” The discoveries and connections I’ll make in a day, the deepening of what’s already on the page, will come about thanks to the mental nudging of “what else” and its refusal to be satisfied with the easy plot device or the pre-packaged solution. “What else,” to me, can mean many things. What else is going on in this scene? What else does the reader need to know to make sense of this? What else do these words imply? What else do I have to say? Maybe nothing, but I won’t know for sure if I don’t ask.



[Illus. Sean Caulfield]


WHAT’S GOING ON RIGHT NOW?
This question can propel me in two different directions: both deeper into the work and out of it, back into the unwritten world. Both are important for writing. Whenever either I or the work-in-progress seem to have lost focus, that’s the time to pause and ask what’s really happening at this very moment.
In terms of the writing, it’s a way of regrounding myself in the sensory, the immediate, the palpable urgencies of whatever place or situation my characters are in here and now. The question compels me to step inside the story and look around, to see, touch, hear, taste and smell this imaginary world I’m building out of words. And doing that reengages me with the story and the beings in it, and often shows me the way to go forward, from right now into the very next thing that should happen.
             But “What’s going on right now?” is also useful in one’s own life outside the page. I think a lot of people never finish (or begin) that novel they’ve always planned to write because they can’t stay put long enough in right now. It’s where everything happens, of course, but most of us avoid it whenever possible: it’s much easier to live in the past or dream of the great work we’re going to do tomorrow, yes, definitely tomorrow, because today we just don’t feel like it...
            There are times, of course, when it is best to let the work sit for a while and do something else (for five minutes, an hour, a day, a year…?). And asking myself what’s going on right now can help me understand when that’s the right thing to do. The question regrounds me in my own here and now, reminding me that the flesh is mortal and one can only accomplish so much in a day. So get up and stretch, the dog is whining to be let out, go play with the kids, take your long-suffering spouse to dinner at a fancy restaurant. The miraculous thing is that while you’re doing that, your mind will still be working, dreaming, forging unexpected links and taking audacious leaps across synapses, and then, just when you’ve completely forgotten about that problem you sweated over for hours, the answer comes, as if out of nowhere. (When really it comes from all the stuff going on inside you that’s not accessible to the prefrontal cortex. You’re not in control of everything, you know).
            

 

REALLY?
This one is the wet rag, the snarky teenager, the sober second opinion. “Cast a cold eye on life, on death,” Yeats said, and it’s good advice for anyone riding the exhilarating windhorse of creativity. He could have added, “cast a cold eye on your deathless creations, too.” That’s what Really? is for. I’m sure I’ve just penned the most magnificent pages the world will ever have the great fortune to read, but the next morning, once the high has worn off, I had better take another look. Once you’ve won the Booker you will never need to doubt your own brilliance again, but until then…
Still, like the other four, this is a dangerous question. It can easily be overused or asked at the wrong stage in the creative process, since it comes from the Critic-Within, that jaded gremlin who will choke off one’s imaginative flow if given too much time and power over the work.
            And like “What’s going on right now?”, the cold eye of “Really?” can be usefully turned on the unwritten world too, and cast at every glossy sales pitch, every last word on the subject, every politician who spins us a golden tale of better days ahead. And once we’ve asked it, we might find ourselves returning full circle to that other question that comes in handy whenever we’re told, by ourselves or others, That’s Just the Way Things Are:
            Why?




One more thing: don’t forget to say thanks once in a while. To God, or the muse, or the right cerebral cortex of the human brain, or whatever mystical or biological source you believe your great ideas ultimately come from. No one creates anything in a vacuum. Whether there’s an Author behind it all or not, it seems pretty clear to me that this universe is an unfinished, always astonishing act of creativity. Just look at a lilac bush, or a giraffe. The universe came up with stars, galaxies, planets, life, and then it really got going and dreamed up a being that could create universes inside its own head, share them with others, and change the way things are. That’s creativity, and it’s in everyone, and belongs to everyone, so here’s one more question:
What are you doing with it?