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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, June 13, 2008

I'd like to do that

After three years of blogging, I'm finding it hard to come up with ideas for posts these days. Does this mean that my blog has played itself out--that I've covered all the topics that naturally relate to it? Or does it mean that more of my life and work has become "unbloggable"--not of a nature that I can or want to share in this public space? Or perhaps that my creativity is drying up?

This morning, for example, I was going to launch on a post based on John Fowles's critique of his own novel The Magus--that he was trying to create an experience "beyond the literary". But I recalled then that I've already written about that. Dang! I don't want to be that person who's always repeated the same joke or the same anecdote.

Well, it still raises an important idea: the experience of literature. What kind of an experience does the literary creator seek to create in his readers--and why?

In my case, anyway, there seems to be a certain kind of "imitative inspiration". I read or see something that I really enjoy, and want to create something that has that kind of effect on others. I remember feeling that way when I first saw the movie The Big Chill in 1983. Watching the movie alone in the theater, as I often did in those days, I was moved by it, and as I walked home in the dark across the Granville Street Bridge I thought, "I'd like to make a movie like that!"

Why did I think that?

It seems there are a number of factors. We often think that when we see great athletes or pop stars or dancers: I wish I could do that. Yes, it's partly perhaps envy: "I wish I had other people looking at me and being impressed". But I think that is a relatively small part. Larger is the desire for the sense of joy and presence that mastery suggests. An athlete at the peak of performance is in the moment: absorbed in the synchronization of mind and body with the challenge at hand. This is almost the definition of fun--don't you think? So: "That looks like so much fun! I want to do it too!"

Another aspect is giving back. Just as the athlete or artist has given you an experience that you value, and for which you feel grateful, you want to be able to share that with others--to be the vector of such experiences. You want to be a joy-bringer, a fun-bringer. You want to enrich the culture, enrich people's lives.

One more factor. These thoughts remain mere daydreams or wishful thinking unless there is some native talent or aptitude within one. Where the desire to imitate is strong, I suspect it is one's own talent calling to one: "Yes, that's right--this way. Come on!"

The achievements of others send us the message that this is possible. We know that the achievement is difficult, but that is where the excitement lies: it's difficult, but if you try hard enough, it's possible. It's presenting the possibility of the thrill of achievement, like reaching the peak of a mountain: hard but exhilarating, and worth it.

All these things are ingredients in the cocktail called "I'd like to do that".

I've written before about how these feelings were triggered in me by, among other things, reading Crime and Punishment when I was 13. To produce such an excellent work of art is a noble goal, a worthwhile aim for one's life. It's very easy to be seduced by lesser or counterfeit or consolation aims, such as making lots of money or becoming envied for some other reason. But these are lesser, and at some level we know it.

Back at it then. The mountain-peak still towers far above me...


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