creativity

Yet Another Strained “Box” Metaphor

“Great writing doesn’t think outside the box. It never knew what the box was in the first place”

— Dan Holloway

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I never really understood boxes. It’s cost me a lot through the years. “Boxes” are  — by definition — definitive. Definitions tend to be social in nature. I’ve had a complex relationship with society for most of my life. My inability to recognize “boxes” comes from my inability to accept social constraints in the first place. This can prove costly. If you don’t like the “success” that comes in the box, you can work very hard inside the box and never be happy.

A young friend of mine told me something very interesting. He told me certain young women didn’t seem “hot” to him until he heard his friends — in private — pointing out how “hot” they were. He’d take a second look and see the females in a new light. He found himself suddenly agreeing that yes, they were “hot.” It wasn’t just social pressure: The awareness of their “hotness” to others actually caused a physical reaction in him. He was attracted to them physically — biologically — but only after their attractiveness was endorsed by his peer group.

That’s the power of the “box.” His peer group was a defined box. That box had defined other boxes, some more worthy than others. Boxes.

And — as a better writer once said — so it goes.

But what happens when you don’t have that social group to tell you what’s good and attractive and seemly? Well, then things get difficult. You don’t have popular definitions of “success” to strive towards. There are no guidelines. You need to make it up as you go along and hope it gets you someplace suitable, if not entirely comfortable.

That’s the story of my life.

Eye of the Diamond-T doesn’t fit into any specific box. I didn’t write it that way just to be difficult. I honestly can’t do what other people do. I grew up without any box to fit into. If there was a box when I was growing up, it didn’t look like a box. It looked more like a Klein Bottle or something — some impossible geometric shape offered up as a thought-exercise intended to show a student the limitations of geometry itself. “The point is that you shouldn’t put too much faith in geometry, but hope you have fun with this!” it seemed to say.

Thus, Diamond-T is an impossible geometric shape that defies easy genre classification. It’s a romance, a spy/conspiracy story, a mystery, a coming-of-age story, a spiritual journey, a commentary of the political and social atmosphere of America in the ’50s, and a nostalgia trip. If there’s a “box” that all fits into, I think that “box” is called Eye of the Diamond-T.

And although it might not qualify as “great writing,” it’s what I had to do.

And I hope you enjoy it.

Writing: Do Not Go Gentle . . .

You ever want to not be done with something you’re creating? Ever held on to a project until the last minute when it was finally wrenched from your sweating hands?

project anxietyI know I have.

I had a very strange childhood in many ways, but there were some blips of normalcy here and there. One of them was a visit to the amusement park now known as Six Flags California. I had anticipated it so much and for so long that when we drove into the parking lot, I burst into tears. I sensed there was no way it could live up to my breathless expectations. I also knew in a only few hours it would be over. I’d need to let go at some point. My mother and father needed to wrestle me out of the car and frogmarch me through the gates to enjoy the roller-coasters.

I also was pretty sure they were going to fight, they being unable to even approximate  — even for a few hours during a special occasion — a “normal” family. And I was right.

Anyway, I look back on that moment every time I get close to finishing something. I also remember it before I start anything new. I fear at some point it will need to be over, and that fear almost stops me from beginning.

If it’s something I am creating on my own, there’s another factor: I know it’s never going to be good enough by my own standards. Saying something is “finished” means simply that YOU are finished. Nothing’s ever really finished. Nothing’s perfect. Saying so is a bit of an affront to God, really. There’s always more to be said — more to be done.

Yeah, this is how I justify procrastination. I’m really, really good at it, too.

I ran across this article on Twitter: End of Book Depression Solved! My immediate thought: “What the hell does that mean?” But, the title worked on me. I read the article.

It describes this post-partum depression common to so many creators. We don’t want the project to be over. We know it’s not going to really be “done.” We know we’d be lying in some way if we ever said so. Or perhaps we fear that if we comfortably meet a deadline, we’ll feel that we were sandbagging — holding back in some way. If there’s still time on the clock, we weren’t really giving it our all . The ideal approach is to keep screwing with it — tinkering, optimizing, correcting, honing — right up until we simply must move on. The article offers some satiric tips on dealing with this “book depression.” I don’t think I’d recommend any of them. They sound a lot like what kept me from finishing Diamond-T for 22 years or so.

The creative mind never goes gentle into that good night. I’m sure better writers than I say “Shiiiiiii . . . did I really . . .? Sometimes, they say this in public — even though they really shouldn’t. The customer doesn’t need to know everything about how that delicious sausage is made.

So what can you take from this? Only this: nothing is ever done. We just call it at some point and hope it works. And hope that we’ve done something of substance, or beautiful, even. And there’s something wonderfully human in this hope. It enables us to live. We live on hope.

And yes, I think Eye of the Diamond-T is something like that: Something substantial; perhaps something beautiful. I hope you enjoy it.

But, is it “done?” I dunno. Is life ever “done?”