Monday, February 19, 2018

Biography of a Gun, Chapter 2

For many who have remained appalled by the litany of mass gun shootings in the United States, frustration must induce some form of apoplexy or helplessness. At this moment, the students who have survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida are speaking out against the status quo on gun laws, but we can be assured that the politicians who are in the NRA's pocket will find a way -- despite their limited vision, their fondness for platitudes and the muzzle they wear -- will deign to condescend to them until the kids fall mute.

The efforts have been similar after each mass shooting. The prayers, vigils, bake sales and gofundme's appear, activism escalates among victims' families but the needle does not move. 

Those who have wearied of the geography lessons of senseless random violence that have made San Ysidro, Littleton and Newtown the key placeholders in a different map of America, the paroxysms of futile opposition to the NRA and the politicians who have relaxed the laws controlling the purchase, possession and carriage of guns despite the evidence that they are merely adding fuel to a gradual conflagration that takes the lives of so many innocent people but leaves the fallacies the support it unblemished.

Days after the shooting in Parkdale... For the people who read this months, weeks or days from now, it was the one in Florida, at the high school, in February 2018... a news article appeared about a Missouri kids baseball team that was raffling off an AR-15, the same type of weapon that was used in the attack in Florida. My first impulse on seeing the article was one of indignation, but it faded with the assurance that this was not something that would go unopposed. There is some recognition that guns are not something to regard with an air of neutrality or indifference. There is anxiety that there are kids roaming around their neighbourhoods or hovering around shopping mall entrances with their books of tickets on the weapon.

Beyond the assurance that there will be some second thought or hesitation about the wisdom of selling tickets on a gun, this is an opportunity of to focus the spotlight on a single weapon. The attacks appear randomly and the deaths that result are demoralizing and paralyzing for the victims' families and those who wish that there was the will and moral character in the highest offices to stop this. The weapons as well lie low, retaining anonymity until they kill and bring infamy to the person that uses it.

The spotlight is on this particular gun now and a prudent journalist or documentarian has the opportunity to follow the path that this particular gun follows. This story should be followed from the beginning rather acknowledged at its end in the assault and madness that occurs all too often. The movements of this gun could be followed when the raffle is won and possession exchanged with all of the anxieties that a background check would involve.  That is, of course, if Missouri did NOT have lax gun laws. From the time that possession of the weapon is taken, it would be an opportunity to investigate why this owner wanted to buy a raffle ticket on this weapon, what they are using it for, how they are looking after it, what other pieces they have and how often it is being practiced with. If someone is interested enough in this gun to, despite its brief flicker of notoriety, take possession of it and give it a good home (or whatever you offer the gun that you desire), perhaps they should edify America by sharing with people the story of what becomes of this weapon.

Certainly the NRA would make their best arguments about such close attention to the ownership of a single gun. As a reality television show, the life of this story would desiccate rather quickly and the law of averages would not favour this particular gun being used in a fatality or a mass shooting. It would reveal something about the profile of a random owner of an AR-15.  It would be an uncomfortable look in the mirror, but America is in dire need of that long look into its own eyes.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Photography, Framing Time and Space

In the course of reading Peter Himmelman's brilliant book on creativity, Let Me Out, I came across an exercise where the reader is prompted to take two minutes to list the things that you might wish to do with your life. It is a pretty basic exercise, probably in line with similar exercises in other books on creativity. The revelation in the description of the exercise is Himmelman's comment that you would likely talk yourself out of, for example, getting a plot of land to raise goats and turtles if you had gave yourself more than 2 minutes to do the exercise.

The passing observation about the exercise and the focus that is so easily diffused thanks to the curse of abundant time, applies not only to dreaming about your potential. It can also apply to the moment or opportunity when you are striving to create. With the camera, there is a similar command of moment and frame that a photographers have at their disposal.  The task a photographer has is to narrow time and the frame to capture something. One example from tonight: as my son and I walked home from after-school care, we waited for the traffic light to change. I launched into my optimistic blather about the days getting longer and commented on the strands of pink cloud above the horizon, but I stopped myself short to draw his attention to the signal directly above us.  The green light, illuminated a hood of snow and ice for a rare sight. I reached for my phone to photograph it, but that light changed to amber and the moment was gone. I chose not to keep my son on the corner for the next sequence of signals.  A slight change of gaze creates a new frame to compose an image within.

The episode is just one illustration of how viewing the world with a photographic eye can heighten your sensitivity to your surroundings.  With a camera around your neck, there is a much better chance that you see your surroundings in a particular place better than you would if you were more preoccupied with your thoughts than the information your eyes are presenting you with or, in essence, discarding the visual stimuli available to you in the way you might discard time available for you to create or rejuvenate. Instead of the less-attentive glance of one seeking just enough information to get through the day, a more attuned perception looks for ways to frame and reframe one's surroundings.  Complement that sense of space with a sensitivity to how a place might look with the light changing throughout the day and a dedicated photographer can work extensively from one place thanks to a consciousness of time and space.

The task for the photographer is to be prepared for the possibilities in that setting. That is not to say it is necessary to work as quickly as one would in the two-minute exercise that Himmelman lays out in his book but rather to not give yourself the time to discount possibilities or opportunities as they present themselves.  Rather than responding to an inner voice that is eager to talk you into or out of any particular images, it is better to quietly trust your eye.  Accepting unique ways of photographing a subject is one way to become more conscious of the intersection between time and space and keeping your distance from the rational mindset that will likely interfere with the possibility of play with the camera.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Just Look At It

Literally and metaphorically, a pig's ear. (Okay, a boar's but...)
After nearly ten years of teaching photography, I have become interested in developing a course aimed at improving perception and expression with the camera rather than just running through the technical aspects. Time and again I have finished teaching a course with a sense of disappointment that my students have realized that their emphasis on technical development is not sufficient for developing a talent for photographic expression and despite the creative lessons I've tried to weave into the course. 

Despite that disappointment among the students, they still an appetite for the technical. In the middle of my efforts to teach about the expressive side or ways to improve their perception, there have been responses of, to paraphrase, "Yeah, yeah but what does this button do?", that affirm the belief that the technical side of photography is the route to effective expression with the camera, that complete mastery of the machine between eye and subject will bring it all together and they will be the next Adams, Leibovitz or Cartier-Bresson.

Part of my goal with a course aimed at creativity is to banish the delusion that the technical has to be front and centre, or perhaps erect my own equivalent of an amusement park, "You must be this tall" sign to discourage entry into the course. However, when I look at a course and map the journey to more creative photography, I become conscious of me offering nothing more than, "Just look at it," accompanied by some variation of full body gestures or contortions to explain what I mean the phrase on a particular week.  A certain crouch and tension in my left hand during week two means keep an eye out for shadows and reflections. A "mwa" kissing gesture of the right fingertips off my forehead and into the institutional space of a basement classroom on week four means to do nothing else, but only to look.

There are, however, only so many ways that I can embody the italicization I may want to teach from one session to the next. After reflecting on the course concept for a few years and be locked into a search for the next step beyond telling the group to "just look at it" for lesson one, session one I broadened my perspective to one where I could take that phrase and break it down into a wider variety of the aspects that are occurring when you are looking at something with a camera around your neck or a viewfinder to have to see it through.

Instead of trying to come up with something different from or beyond the task of looking at something I sat down this afternoon and finally decided to unpack what I could possibly mean when I have the opportunity to tell a group of aspiring photographers to "just look at it." In the space of about 20 minutes I came up with the content to fill at least four lessons of such a course.  There would be exercises to develop to go with each of those tasks but the significant thing is that, somehow, my tack in approaching the development of the course has changed and the development of the course has come together with relative ease. The matter of fleshing it out remains, but the main things that I would strive to encourage photographers to do when seeking or receiving an image is to look for the following things:

  • Look for the details that can detract or enhance a shot - these could be shadows, reflections, relationships, unwelcome distractions. Remember these can detract or enhance, be overlooked when taking a less than ideal shot or overlooked when they are crying out to be seen.
  • Look for the things that you see - become confident in your way of seeing things and capture those images rather than being imitative. This could be a matter of the subjects you choose or the way you want to compose shots.
  • Look past how things are labelled - there are so many value judgements that influence us and would influence what we photograph or why. If you see beauty in something that nobody else even wants to look at, go for it. My favorite example of this is Pete Turner's "ashtray" image that was used as the cover art for the Wes Montgomery album A Day in the Life. Get past the association that we may or may not have with something and see it for what it is. 
  • Look at where your eyes landDo you look at things that are right in front of you or at the horizon? Are you standing in the very best place to see this subject from? It might even be worth asking if you look at the world or your life from that distance all the time as well.
  • Look at your frame - it is easy to take pictures without your camera. "Yup, I saw this great sunset over the mountains and, and, and..." No critical decisions to make without the camera. The real work begins when you look through the viewfinder and have to start making decisions about what stays or goes. Remembering (conveniently) is not creating. Grappling with the tools and related to the subject is the challenge and makes art more valuable than mere memory.
There is a chance that these approaches to the photographic subject can apply to other forms as well. Developing the heightened awareness to look at things more closely or see them in their fullest potential can be a very enlivening thing. The other thing for me with these considerations of the question I was grappling with is that if you keep asking it often enough you will come up with an answer.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Lost Legacy?

In recent years, Ed Catmull's book Creativity Inc. provided a look at the inner-workings and history of Pixar Animation and the result has been one of the must-reads on creativity and the assurance that creativity has its place in a corporate workspace. Catmull's account of the risks that people take, the skills they have the opportunity to develop and the "brain trust" that is such a significant part of Pixar's record in animated shorts and feature films going back nearly 30 years.

The book is one of many that have emerged in recent years that have burnished and acknowledged creativity's importance by taking it out of the elite, weird corner of the world occupied by the rich and the award-laden in favour of a view that encompasses all of us.  Catmull's book is one of many in recent years that reveal our own potential in nurturing our own creativity to help us lead more fulfilling lives, discovering what is within and beyond us and to collaborate in a manner that remains unfamiliar to us in an era that is exceedingly modern but is still defined by our failure to work together or even listen.

The range of books on creativity is astounding and added to that genre of tomes that appear for some reason on the self-help shelves of bookstores and make it that much harder for me to extricate myself from museum gift shops is a documentary film that will feature Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz and other Muppeteers talking about creativity and their experiences working with Jim Henson.  Henson has left a significant legacy of insight into his work and the upcoming documentary with Oz and his cohorts will do a great deal to solidify the legacy of Henson's creative ethos and make remind us that the Pixar team was not the first ensemble of creative talent to wreak such happy mayhem.

Before Henson and his team, however, was the ensemble of talent that put together the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. Animators Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson and Friz Freleng, voice artists Mel Blanc and June Foray and composer Carl Stalling were an assembly of talent that is on par (at least) with the likes of the Muppet and Pixar teams. Jones has probably been, deservedly, the most lionized member of this group but the opportunity to fully document his approach to his creativity, collaboration and comedy may have been lost. In my search for material on Jones, I have come across a few out-of-print books, one of which has markedly mixed reviews and a few interviews or documentaries (with maddeningly off-synch audio) on YouTube, the legacy is in the work itself and we are left to glean what informed the work that they did.

The consistency with which the Looney Tunes team subverted the conventions of the animated form by slipping in surreal, trippy sequences that evoked LSD trips, deconstructed the relation between creator and subject in "Duck Amuck" and consistently broken the fourth wall is evidence of a massive collective imagination that was brimming with ideas and hungered for the opportunity to get it all out.  And opera!  These are just a few ways in which the Looney Tunes team gave its audiences more credit than other animators of their era did. The fun this group had in exploring all of their interests and the talents that each of them had would be a compelling and entertaining addition to the body of work that is coming together on creativity and collaboration.  Their ability to do high quality, imaginative work for as many decades as this team was at its peak is astonishing.
Do the archives somewhere have the information that would illuminate an account of the creativity and collaborative commitment of Jones et al? The records seem thin and it is an unfortunate loss. Part of that may be that there was more inclination to hold creators in awe during the time that Jones and other animators of the hand-drawn golden age worked. The disappointing decline in the quality of animation and comedy that is currently associated with the Looney Tunes brand and characters are light years short of what was produced during Jones' lifetime and his collaboration with his colleagues. Such a book would be a valuable peek into the creative process and a fine companion to the remarkable work that did.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Play and Abandoned Photographs

With paintings, symphonies, and novels, to name the more sprawling creations, there are mythologies surrounding the incomplete. We are left with several questions of what could have been when a work is left on the desk or the easel before its creator is able to finish it. Alternatively, there is the echo of the apt line, "Art is never finished, only abandoned," which has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso.  (They must know a thing or two on that topic.)

However, given the instantaneous time frame we associate with photography, the notion of an incomplete or abandoned photograph would seem an overextension of the metaphor. There are ways in which a photo is abandoned or left incomplete.  There is also the possibility of first drafts of an image being exposed as steps toward capturing or fulfilling a photographer's vision.  That incomplete photograph may lack in the subtlest of ways, but it is lack enough to leave a photographer uneasy when it is time to pack up the gear and move on for the day with the question lingering whether it is worthwhile to come back to this particular spot again or if there is another setting that will better express what is within.  The abandoned or incomplete photographs are those efforts that do not show what was envisioned a perception stopped a photographer to view the world through the camera. The  precise quality, placement and intensity of light that they wanted to photograph can prompt a camera to be packed away with a vague sense of disappointment.

That is not to suggest that incomplete or abandoned photographs are (irrevocably) flawed.  The photographer would likely want to tweak it if they had a chance, even if it was just to see how it would look if it were done differently and confirm that this is the image they wanted rather than one they merely settled for.

In my own case, there are shots I want to replicate in terms of the composition or the technique I applied to see if there is still magic or freshness in my well-used bag of tricks. When I am out with my camera, I become conscious of most if not all of the pictures I have ever taken and they inform and guide what I was striving for and will strive for with each photowalk.  I have a clear recollection of the circumstances surrounding the shots that I have been most satisfied with and while those images may not feel abandoned or incomplete the question of what else I could have done lingers.

There are other occasions, though, when the image is a click of resignation after contemplating a shot to no avail.  For one reason or another an image feels stagnant and leaves questions rather than resolution and a satisfying nod of approval at a shot.  Faced with that, I have to look within and figure out what was "off" with my approach or my frame of mind when I took the shot.  The incomplete or the failed photograph is a matter of me getting to a place where I am enjoying the process and the enjoyment has to come before the good images start to appear. In the instances when I am unable to conceive a distinctive, satisfying picture of what is right in front of me I face a block similar to a painter, musician or writer who cannot find the next thing to add to their work. In my case it is a matter of adding something worthwhile to my entire body of work and to continue to progress and to build on the images I have taken up to that point. There are time when a few minutes pass when the photography or the process feels forced and there are times when it is an entire day or longer stretch where the shots feel abandoned rather than fully invested in. In the end, I have to regard those stretches of "bad" photography the way I would regard a roughed in passage of writing where the plot is being moved along but the language is flat and uninspired. I have to regard those images os first drafts that either lay the foundation for something else or go back to those places with new intentions, more energy and a chance of being locked into a certain frame of mind.

When in such a rut, I am working too hard for shots that are exceptional and the pleasure and flow remain elusive.  When I have trapped myself in that way, I pause for a few minutes and ease into a minimalist mode, just looking for colour -- clean, basic, bright and primal -- or strive to amuse myself with shots that look like faces. A playfulness settles in rather than pressuring myself to get into a more meditative, observant or zen state of mind. Working to achieve that state of mind assures that it will evade.

The failure to get into that clear, primal or playful frame of mind that leaves me feeling the images I'm getting are being abandoned, incomplete, or forced. It always feels like I'm working hard for them. Those efforts either result in imitations of what I've seen before or they lack the inspiration and connection that I aspire to. 

With photography, it is not the size of the project that gets in the way of completing an image, but your receptivity to it.  There are times when you get in your own way with the camera as is the case with any creative act.  Call it ambition. The temptation is to strive or labour to sharpen your perceptions to see more, but that can be as quixotic as trying to photograph colours or vibrancy that are not there or has faded with the sunset.  Photography is a matter of accepting what is in front of you, looking at it long enough to grow fond of it and using the camera to express your feeling about it, whether it is affection, amusement or something more profound. With time, attentiveness and the restraint required to keep the photography enjoyable and the images fresh.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Creative Threat

In my pile of stories about experiences about photography there are accounts of what was going through my head when I received a certain image. Something about what prompted my to detach from the tour of the silk factory while everybody else took pictures of the machines while I turned to take a picture of, you know, the silk. Call me crazy.

One story that gets retold the most is about one of the classes I was teaching on a sunny May Saturday afternoon 6 or 7 years ago. One of the students and I were walking and taking pictures down a residential alley. I'd never seen these growing up in Halifax, but they are common in Calgary. Garage entrances and parking are along these back lanes and there is a little more likelihood of there being some clutter an varied detritus back there than people would ever allow to appear in their front yards. There is a little more wear and peeling paint along these lanes and I find them more interesting than the repetition I'd see from the fronts of house.

As my student and I were walking along taking pictures, a bottle-picker went down the lane. He was tattered and unkempt but entirely focused on the accumulation of bottles and cans. He stopped dutifully at each recycling and garbage bin to dig around, add to his collection and proceed to the next can to repeat. One of the homeowners, working in his backyard, observed the picker as he went by and remained unresponsive as his bin was rooted through and emptied. I understand how you would be prompted to be cautious around someone looked into their bottle picking in that manner, much as you might be careful about stirring a sleepwalker. However, what happened next still puzzles me... sort of.

While my student and I walked down the lane, the homeowner, the same one who let the bottle picker come onto his property and root through his garbage and recycling for bottles and cans, took a vigilant interest and, with a defensive or perhaps even belligerent tone asked, "What are you up to?"

The cameras around our necks belied our intentions just as easily as the picker's large bag of bottles did, so the conversation did not have to occur. Puzzled, the only reply I could offer was, "Just taking pictures." Was there a concern about surveillance or an invasion of privacy? The homeowner may have been reasserting his property rights with a lower-risk target, but it still bothered me that I was harassed for taking pictures. It regularly occurs. I have been told not to photograph a video store because it was private property - a message that did not get to the graffiti-artist whose tags I was shooting. I have also been chased out of position to shoot a lunar eclipse by a neighbour who thought I was using my medium-format camera to photograph his licence plate. (As if I would leave my house without a pen.)

I find it puzzling how after nearly 175 years of photography and the near-ubiquity that has come with cellphone cameras, that the camera still makes people uncomfortable.  It may be that creating in relative solitude but in public imposes a wrinkle in the decorum that others cannot discern or comprehend. While a writer would work in solitude and stillness, even if it is in a Starbucks, a photographer or a painter can often be exposed in public as they proceed through their work.

The painter's contemplative pause at the easel, however, poses less of a menace or a nuisance, especially after a passer-by gets to steal a glance at the work in progress. The photographer, untethered and roaming, is regarded with more suspicion. The concerns about invasion of space, compromising of privacy and other news-stoked fears are ultimately code that is cited to express other concerns.

Does a photographer's eye make people feel more guarded about each moment and how they may be captured?  That is the case when a portrait is being taken, but it seems that there is a similar anxiety regardless of where a photographer's attention leads.  Amongst my encounters when out with the camera, was an occasion when I was accosted with the accusation that I was taking a picture of my accuser rather than the bench that I was clearly intent on when I released the shutter.

These encounters have been vivid and memorable experiences and they are pretty close to being the whole iceberg (for me) rather than just the tip. Still, the anxieties around public photography are such that it is necessary to make it clear that public photography is not a crime.  The public trepidation when a photographer happens to point a lens in public underlines some common things about art.  It is supposed to challenge audiences and perhaps make them uncomfortable.  You are not going to change perceptions, insights and the sleepwalk routines of the inattentive with something bland and appeasing. 

When I am out with my camera in public, my goal is to bring attentive to the things that people would prefer not to look at.  That detachment from surroundings of the non-photographers may be to assure themselves that they are focused on the right things each day and that the blinders are quite comfortable and unencumbering exactly where they are.  Some people would rather not trouble themselves to pause and contemplate their surroundings in the manner that I do, and there may be an impulse to cite me for having puerile or invasive motivations rather than creative ones.  My quest for good images in that space that they would rather stir some other notions about beauty and creativity that are just troublesome for other people in a space to contend.

There is a compelling, common image of an artist working on their craft in private, away from the outside world and only coming out when they are ready or when a work is complete. The notion of the performance becoming part of the public sphere, rather than moving from the studio, garret or rehearse space to a museum is one that is easier to digest and absorb for the public. Art, however, should not be contained in areas where it does not impact a public space and the activities, usually commerce, we associate with the public spaces.  We have to share those common spaces for more than business and we have to be willing to tolerate artists in that space.  And I do not mean bemusing flash mobs breaking into dance. 

Just as people are content to sit with a book, throw a ball or have a picnic in a public space, creativity ought to be accommodated there as well. The public space is defined by diverse exchanges of insight and opinion with the goal of democratizing that area and the people who are drawn there from outlying areas.  Conversations occur in the public setting and there ought to be an opportunity for photographers to document the beauty and details of a place and redefine it.  Artists, including the photographers ambulating and bobbing through with their eyes questing the ideal compositions they can find, contribute to enhancing that space and what goes on there.  Artists serve as shock troops to reframe and reconsider a place that is taken for granted or accepted as is.  Their vision can prompt reevaluation of the space and perhaps its reconstruction as a more welcoming and accommodating one. Given this positive impact, photographers need to be welcomed and the scope of their gaze acknowledged rather than barricaded and threatened back to where they sprung. Such a repudiation of a photographic vision is evidence of the decline of a public space that wishes to become less welcoming to not only photographers but anyone else who might be deemed not to belong. Only stagnancy and decline will result from such an imposed impermeability.

Whether an image is shared or not, a photographer's eye can transform a space. Once the paranoia about a photographer's public presence is processed, others will pause and examine their surroundings more closely and become more aware, if only for a moment, of details they normally overlook or disregard.  When a photographer's vision is shared the impact can be profound. While googling "dog poop in Paris" generates 1,740,000 hits (yes, I went there), it is Robert Doisneau's image of the kiss outside City Hall that remains the indelible, unconquerable definition of
the romantic city of lights.

It can be intimidating occasionally, but doing photography in public, in the heart of a city, is a unique pursuit of the creative act. You are exposed in the early contemplative stages of your process as few artists are and for that reason it takes a little more daring to do than in other situations, but there is the possibility in that particular work to hold up your community to a more astute assessment. If all you happen to share is a glance at the screen on the back of your camera on a sunny day, it will change the way people can look at things.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Spiritual Opportunity

It is easy to clad a discussion of the spiritual and the creative in aphorisms about being in the role of a creator. I prefer to deploy creative as a noun to avoid overstating the role that you can perform when you are dabbling in your chosen craft. Still there is something extra that is happening when you are creating freely, with little inhibition.

I am somewhat reluctant to dive deep into the spiritual aspect of the creative process out of a fear of musing too much or too happily about the occasions where the voice I want to speak or write with is clear, the words come easily and I feel like I am being dictated to rather than working for it.  It may be as much a matter of it sounding like I'm boasting, "I got there and it came so easily." Still, there are times when a song is sung or that passage in the script is performed better, more powerfully and deeply because the body, mind and soul are aligned for the task they want to ascend to.  The moment is entirely yours, but quite possibly there is an ineffable synergy that is found within that you have managed to tap into or capture.

During those moments when you are aligned with the moment that you are creating in, your instinct become sharper and there is a greater sense of possibility and you move from the drills or more tedious efforts to get into the flow you want to achieve and you get just enough out-of-body to create rather than merely perform at the effort of trying to create. The ease with which it happens, whether you are acting, singing, writing, drawing or taking pictures is a great moment. I recall an occasion doing drama during university where, finally comfortable with the script and my role, I was able to add some subtle physical humour to a brief moment of conflict with another character that I had not unearthed during other performances. I was able for that moment to get past the script and the blocking to add something to the performance without disturbing it.  There was another level of consciousness that discovered it. 

The surprises and the heightened awareness that comes when you are creating at a higher level, when you are in the zone are one aspect of that spiritual moment that you can immerse yourself in when you are creating with relative ease. There are nuances, details and extra layers of coherence that you may not have anticipated when you first sat down to work and the opportunity for that creative moment to result in something more than you had hoped for when you first got to the task nudge you toward a proficiency that you had not previously achieved and push what you are working on toward a higher quality as well.

Attempting to create takes us out of the realm of the binary, mechanical or bureaucratic and moves us into situations where potential is unknown and perhaps, infinite. If you sit down to write a love poem for the first time, consider the possibility that you write something more sublime than you had hoped for.  This is not merely a smug, "I'm damn good at this," recognition but a combination of metaphor, language and emotion stop you in your tracks with a creation that leaves you asking, "Where did that come from?!" What you were hoping to be "passable" somehow catches fire and goes beyond all expectation. The task, the subject, the inspiration and the goal all come together to pull something out of you or produce something that speaks of you and from you with an eloquence you had not anticipated.  It is that moment of peak creativity that best allows you the chance to exceed your own expectations.

If you want, you can believe that all of that was inside of you. That can be a sound argument, you have dug deep to come up with that passage, the line, that brush stroke, that note or whatever it is that you have created. You dug deep into... yes... your soul to pull that together. The skeptic will scoff, however, at the notions that whatever you connect to to create has the potential -- scratch that -- requires that you escape from the binary and mechanical to connect with something that is intangible, amorphous and spiritual. When you are digging deep, whether to find a single precise word or to sustain a creative habit for the nth consecutive day, you are trying to look for something to sustain you in a situation that can be uncomfortable and challenging.  You are also on a quest for something that cannot be found on a shelf or a search through Amazon, but something ineffable or fleeting.

When you are on that quest you do send something out. It is in your facial expression and your body language and it lingers within you and around you long after that most intense moment of the quest. Despite what you think you are sending something out into the ether in that quest and there will be many an occasion where the universe or something will reach back to you, or nudge something into your path as you make that request. It may be that fleeting word that is on the tip of your tongue, that collaborator, supporter, answer, proverbial paper clip or whatever else you need. If you indulge in your skepticism and insist that it is just a coincidence that you are getting this cooperation, be careful. The universe may just prove you right. Instead, persist at what you are passionate about, and tap into the resources you have within you to create. You will hone your intuitions and instincts, your technical abilities and grow more comfortable with the dry spells which you will manage to get past with time, humility and mindfulness. And with time you will find yourself open.