When the story you uncover doesn’t fit with what you expect

by DRM

Grafitti Stairway

Here’s how I work: I’ve got a long project underway that takes focus and energy. To keep my mind limber and my imagination at play, I explore distractions in short bursts. I’ll write a story, mull an idea, research a set of images or some idle question.

These are amusements. All the while, I’ve got this intense pull to the world that I’m exploring in the long project. The characters are frozen where I left off, the stories and backstories swirling around, the images and feelings tugging at me. The entire work is so alive that it makes my head sore.

Sometimes the balance gets thrown off and I get sidetracked by one of my amusements.

This is a delicate situation, as you might imagine. Maybe my imagination is pushing for space, wants to get away from the big world of the long project and run around unencumbered. Imagination is a delicate thing and needs to be nursed along. Or, maybe I’m losing focus and my imagination is giving up fighting to keep me in place. Or, maybe, and maddeningly, the place where I’m sidetracked somehow is going to lead me to a new discovery that I need to be able to tell the story that I’m trying to tell.

I’ll stop here for a second so we can all catch our breath.

Right now I’m sidetracked by the question of creativity and identity. The urge to make things, to use signs and symbols and tools to build something out of nothing, to pass knowledge along from one person to another, to offer solutions and utility and edification, to capture beauty and still the passing of time, is a profound human impulse. It is how we have transferred the essence of humanity across thousands of years.

But creativity can be selfish, wasteful, destructive and lazy. It can be an excuse to avoid, distract, tear down.

There is a moral imperative to creativity that is centered around honesty and submission. Be honest to yourself and submit to what you see.

Now I realize what’s hung me up. As I’ve been watching the story I am telling emerge, I’ve been reluctant to submit to what I see, because it doesn’t fit with what I expected.

Like a great piece of graffiti.