The Near-Sighted Monkey
Dear Making Comics Class,
I thought of you today while reading this essay by Madison Smartt Bell. The subject is creative writing but what he says applies to the process of drawing.
We talked about the self-conscious feeling we get while drawing in public. I wonder if there might be a clue in what he’s written here.
"I remembered something the novelist Andrew Lytle had told me about the process of composition. The first step and for him I believe the most important: "You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world." 
From “Narrative Design: A Structural Approach for Apprentice Writers
By Madison Smartt Bell
Excerpt: 
[Here he’s comparing how we get into the state of creative concentration to how we get into a form hypnosis.]
The first thing I noticed was how well that induction narrative succeeded in the task that you try and try to get beginning writing students to achieve: that is, to make a convincing address to all five senses. Literarily speaking, the induction narrative didn’t do much of anything else (it wasn’t supposed to) but it did this one thing extremely well. It created what George Garrett calls a sensuously affective texture, a sculptural surface that, so far as the mind’s experience of it was concerned, was virtually indistinguishable from reality. And the purpose for hypnosis was much the same as it would be for writing: to convince the subject/reader of the visual/ auditory/ tactile reality of what was being described. For the hypnotist it was very important to win this conviction at some location below the level of ordinary work-a-day left-brain awareness. It occurred to me then that the process of imagining a work to be written (as well, perhaps, as the process of reading it) might also require a similar kind of “deepening.”  Because after all, that sense of bifurcation, slow division of the consciousness, was really quite familiar. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Yes, I had been there before. Often. At my desk, for three or four hours every day.  Then I remembered something the novelist Andrew Lytle had told me about the process of composition. The first step and for him I believe the most important: “You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world.”  You put yourself apart from yourself…. If he had set out to describe the initial stages of hypnosis, he couldn’t have done a better job. That state of being slightly out of yourself… detachment… obliviousness, as the people who are trying to get your attention may irritably describe it…. isn’t it familiar?  I remembered a photograph I had once seen of a friend of mine, a woman writer, caught behind her typewriter and clearly in the midst of deep concentration. She was a beautiful woman, but not in this picture. In a fundamental way she had ceased to be physically present at that moment. She had withdrawn so profoundly into the recesses of her imagination that her features had actually lost their form.  I remembered all the time I had spent in my childhood, day-dreaming— out to lunch, as they say. When it got good, I would often talk to myself quite audibly (to the dismay of my classmates). I have since partially broken myself of this habit— I still talk to myself (plenty) but I have quit moving my lips. And as for day-dreaming… when you get right down to it, day-dreaming is my vocation. You put yourself apart from yourself and you enter the imaginary world.  Then I recognized that the process of imagination that underlies creative writing, what happens as or just before you are putting the words down on the page, must inevitably involve a process of autohypnosis. Not that the practitioner would be likely to call it that. You could be doing it without knowing that you were. Most likely you would never have heard of hypnosis, certainly not in such an application. You might call it meditation. You might not call it anything. But you would sure enough be doing it, any time you worked successfully, happily and well.

Dear Making Comics Class,

I thought of you today while reading this essay by Madison Smartt Bell. The subject is creative writing but what he says applies to the process of drawing.

We talked about the self-conscious feeling we get while drawing in public. I wonder if there might be a clue in what he’s written here.

"I remembered something the novelist Andrew Lytle had told me about the process of composition. The first step and for him I believe the most important: "You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world."

From “Narrative Design: A Structural Approach for Apprentice Writers

By Madison Smartt Bell

Excerpt: 

[Here he’s comparing how we get into the state of creative concentration to how we get into a form hypnosis.]

The first thing I noticed was how well that induction narrative succeeded in the task that you try and try to get beginning writing students to achieve: that is, to make a convincing address to all five senses. Literarily speaking, the induction narrative didn’t do much of anything else (it wasn’t supposed to) but it did this one thing extremely well. It created what George Garrett calls a sensuously affective texture, a sculptural surface that, so far as the mind’s experience of it was concerned, was virtually indistinguishable from reality. And the purpose for hypnosis was much the same as it would be for writing: to convince the subject/reader of the visual/ auditory/ tactile reality of what was being described. For the hypnotist it was very important to win this conviction at some location below the level of ordinary work-a-day left-brain awareness. It occurred to me then that the process of imagining a work to be written (as well, perhaps, as the process of reading it) might also require a similar kind of “deepening.”

Because after all, that sense of bifurcation, slow division of the consciousness, was really quite familiar. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Yes, I had been there before. Often. At my desk, for three or four hours every day.

Then I remembered something the novelist Andrew Lytle had told me about the process of composition. The first step and for him I believe the most important: “You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world.”

You put yourself apart from yourself…. If he had set out to describe the initial stages of hypnosis, he couldn’t have done a better job. That state of being slightly out of yourself… detachment… obliviousness, as the people who are trying to get your attention may irritably describe it…. isn’t it familiar?

I remembered a photograph I had once seen of a friend of mine, a woman writer, caught behind her typewriter and clearly in the midst of deep concentration. She was a beautiful woman, but not in this picture. In a fundamental way she had ceased to be physically present at that moment. She had withdrawn so profoundly into the recesses of her imagination that her features had actually lost their form.

I remembered all the time I had spent in my childhood, day-dreaming— out to lunch, as they say. When it got good, I would often talk to myself quite audibly (to the dismay of my classmates). I have since partially broken myself of this habit— I still talk to myself (plenty) but I have quit moving my lips. And as for day-dreaming… when you get right down to it, day-dreaming is my vocation. You put yourself apart from yourself and you enter the imaginary world.

Then I recognized that the process of imagination that underlies creative writing, what happens as or just before you are putting the words down on the page, must inevitably involve a process of autohypnosis. Not that the practitioner would be likely to call it that. You could be doing it without knowing that you were. Most likely you would never have heard of hypnosis, certainly not in such an application. You might call it meditation. You might not call it anything. But you would sure enough be doing it, any time you worked successfully, happily and well.

Keys to Creativity: Cartoonist Lynda Barry talks about the creative spark inside each of us
(Source)
Building on its reputation as a deep thinker’s paradise, Promega and the BTC Institute’s annual International Bioethics Forum, scheduled for April 25-26 in Madison, will focus again this year on human consciousness, zeroing in on human creativity and its role in forging new ideas, products, processes, and artistic expressions.
Among the speakers at this year’s conference will be Wisconsin Institute for Discovery Director David Krakauer; Steve Paulson, executive producer of WPR’s To the Best of Our Knowledge; Promega Corp. CEO William Linton; author, Buddhist monk (and French interpreter for the Dalai Lama) Matthieu Ricard; and cartoonist and creativity maven Lynda Barry.
Best known for her comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which had a nearly 30-year run in alternative weeklies across the country, Barry has recently focused much of her creative élan on her writing workshop, “Writing the Unthinkable,” which is designed to help people uncover their core creative energies.
We caught up with Barry, a Wisconsin native, current Rock County resident, and recent UW artist in residence, for a discussion on creativity and its role in the arts, in business, and in our lives.
For starters, what will your presentation at the Bioethics Forum focus on? I’ll be talking about what the biological function of this thing we call the arts might be. For example, what compels us to tell and listen to jokes? What compels us to read a book that we know is going to be very sad? Why do people wish they could sing, draw, and write long after they’ve given up on these things?
You’ve transitioned from publishing a comic strip that was widely acclaimed for its creativity and for breaking new ground into hosting creative writing workshops. Is it difficult to “teach” creativity? People tend to think of creativity as something you have or don’t have. Would you say maybe it’s something that all people have access to, and that you’re helping them bring it forward? I do believe this ability to make and use images is in pretty much everybody in the same way kidneys are in pretty much everybody. You can’t see them but if they weren’t there you’d know pretty quickly. And you wouldn’t last long.
People who don’t consider themselves to be creative will sing and draw and make up stories if they are interacting with a baby or a toddler they care about. When I point this out, they tell me it’s because babies are not judgmental. But is that really it? Or is it because it’s a language that works? I’ve come to think of this thing that results in something we call the arts is the language that language is based on.
What do people learn/encounter in your creativity workshops? It depends on how much time we have together, but I always begin with setting the conditions for a spontaneous memory. This kind of memory is so common that we rarely take note of how extraordinary it is. I’m talking about the kind can be triggered by a smell. You smell something and suddenly here is your Aunt Marie’s kitchen. It’s not just a snapshot of the kitchen, it’s a place you can turn around in. You could tell me what was to your right, to your left, behind you. You’d have a sense of the time of day and the season it seemed to be. It’s not a memory of a specific event. It’s a memory of a specific place that is so complete that we compare this sort of memory to a flood. Stories form spontaneously if we can keep ourselves in this sort of “place” long enough for them to do so.
What advice would you give to people who may feel creatively stuck? Is there a trick to becoming more creative? One thing to know is that everyone feels creatively stuck. Everyone. Even those who are identified as highly creative spend a lot of time in the stuck position. If I’ve found a trick at all it’s this: Limiting the amount of time and space I have to “create” something seems to activate some spontaneous ordering force.
Do the same principles that apply to becoming a more creative artist apply equally to becoming a more creative businessperson? It seems to me that businesspeople often encounter the conditions that result in creative concentration: They are often dealing with an unexpected element that has to be dealt with in a limited amount of time. However, if the unexpected element always presents itself as a stressful problem that has to be solved to the satisfaction of others, that open state of mind that I call creative concentration may not be able to come about. My guess is that practicing something like writing or drawing or singing will help one know more about how to bring this state of mind about in a business situation. It would be a fun thing to research.
How important is life experience to the creative process? Is it harder for a person who’s had very little personal drama to be as creative? Does creativity depend on a certain amount of tumult? I do think creative response is always shaped by some kind of trouble or anxiety in the same way a joke is shaped by some kind of trouble or anxiety. It can be very small, almost invisible, but it’s there. Creativity and depression are often linked, and in my own life they are tied tightly. I don’t think people have to come from horrible circumstances in order to be creative. I’ve seen horrible circumstances steal every opportunity from so many people I grew up with. These were talented, smart kids who could have had very creative lives had there been more stability for them at critical times in their lives. I’m speaking about childhood and adolescence specifically. This stability used to be provided by public school. For people like me it was the only reliably safe place we had. That’s where I learned to read and write and draw and sing songs. That’s where this creative ability that has made all the difference in my life had a chance to develop. I owe my life to public school teachers and librarians.
Do you find that setting makes a difference to creativity? Is it important to have a quiet, lively, or any other kind of environment? You currently live in a small town in Wisconsin. Has that affected your creativity in any way? What seems to make the most difference is not the place but a reliable period of uninterrupted time. It doesn’t have to be a lot. My ideal work period is a three-hour uninterrupted stretch with a 15-minute break at about the 90-minute mark. As long as I’m reasonably sure no one will talk to me, I can work pretty much anywhere. The state of mind I need for working is difficult to get to and easy to disrupt. The most disruptive thing I can do is check for messages on my computer or phone. It seems so innocuous, so everyday, but if I do it while I’m working, the creative experience I try to return to seems flattened somehow. It took me a while to realize that checking my messages was more disruptive to my state of mind than having a real conversation with a real person. I wonder if it’s true for others as well. This would also be a fun thing to research some day.
Finally, is it remotely possible to be creative without caffeine? Well, no. It is not possible to be creative without caffeine. It’s also not possible to be creative without cigarettes or whiskey or rock and roll or a freaky portrait of ourselves in a closet that gets older and older while we ourselves do not age and then there’s that one ring to rule them all. Without these things and ten thousand others, we cannot create. Luckily, others have left imaginary versions of such everywhere, and if you have the time and space to conjure them back into being, they will work very well.
Line art by The Near-Sighted Monkey, watercolor by Background Bear

Keys to Creativity: Cartoonist Lynda Barry talks about the creative spark inside each of us

(Source)

Building on its reputation as a deep thinker’s paradise, Promega and the BTC Institute’s annual International Bioethics Forum, scheduled for April 25-26 in Madison, will focus again this year on human consciousness, zeroing in on human creativity and its role in forging new ideas, products, processes, and artistic expressions.

Among the speakers at this year’s conference will be Wisconsin Institute for Discovery Director David Krakauer; Steve Paulson, executive producer of WPR’s To the Best of Our Knowledge; Promega Corp. CEO William Linton; author, Buddhist monk (and French interpreter for the Dalai Lama) Matthieu Ricard; and cartoonist and creativity maven Lynda Barry.

Best known for her comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which had a nearly 30-year run in alternative weeklies across the country, Barry has recently focused much of her creative élan on her writing workshop, “Writing the Unthinkable,” which is designed to help people uncover their core creative energies.

We caught up with Barry, a Wisconsin native, current Rock County resident, and recent UW artist in residence, for a discussion on creativity and its role in the arts, in business, and in our lives.

For starters, what will your presentation at the Bioethics Forum focus on?
I’ll be talking about what the biological function of this thing we call the arts might be. For example, what compels us to tell and listen to jokes? What compels us to read a book that we know is going to be very sad? Why do people wish they could sing, draw, and write long after they’ve given up on these things?

You’ve transitioned from publishing a comic strip that was widely acclaimed for its creativity and for breaking new ground into hosting creative writing workshops. Is it difficult to “teach” creativity? People tend to think of creativity as something you have or don’t have. Would you say maybe it’s something that all people have access to, and that you’re helping them bring it forward?
I do believe this ability to make and use images is in pretty much everybody in the same way kidneys are in pretty much everybody. You can’t see them but if they weren’t there you’d know pretty quickly. And you wouldn’t last long.

People who don’t consider themselves to be creative will sing and draw and make up stories if they are interacting with a baby or a toddler they care about. When I point this out, they tell me it’s because babies are not judgmental. But is that really it? Or is it because it’s a language that works? I’ve come to think of this thing that results in something we call the arts is the language that language is based on.

What do people learn/encounter in your creativity workshops?
It depends on how much time we have together, but I always begin with setting the conditions for a spontaneous memory. This kind of memory is so common that we rarely take note of how extraordinary it is. I’m talking about the kind can be triggered by a smell. You smell something and suddenly here is your Aunt Marie’s kitchen. It’s not just a snapshot of the kitchen, it’s a place you can turn around in. You could tell me what was to your right, to your left, behind you. You’d have a sense of the time of day and the season it seemed to be. It’s not a memory of a specific event. It’s a memory of a specific place that is so complete that we compare this sort of memory to a flood. Stories form spontaneously if we can keep ourselves in this sort of “place” long enough for them to do so.

What advice would you give to people who may feel creatively stuck? Is there a trick to becoming more creative?
One thing to know is that everyone feels creatively stuck. Everyone. Even those who are identified as highly creative spend a lot of time in the stuck position. If I’ve found a trick at all it’s this: Limiting the amount of time and space I have to “create” something seems to activate some spontaneous ordering force.

Do the same principles that apply to becoming a more creative artist apply equally to becoming a more creative businessperson?
It seems to me that businesspeople often encounter the conditions that result in creative concentration: They are often dealing with an unexpected element that has to be dealt with in a limited amount of time. However, if the unexpected element always presents itself as a stressful problem that has to be solved to the satisfaction of others, that open state of mind that I call creative concentration may not be able to come about. My guess is that practicing something like writing or drawing or singing will help one know more about how to bring this state of mind about in a business situation. It would be a fun thing to research.

How important is life experience to the creative process? Is it harder for a person who’s had very little personal drama to be as creative? Does creativity depend on a certain amount of tumult?
I do think creative response is always shaped by some kind of trouble or anxiety in the same way a joke is shaped by some kind of trouble or anxiety. It can be very small, almost invisible, but it’s there. Creativity and depression are often linked, and in my own life they are tied tightly. I don’t think people have to come from horrible circumstances in order to be creative. I’ve seen horrible circumstances steal every opportunity from so many people I grew up with. These were talented, smart kids who could have had very creative lives had there been more stability for them at critical times in their lives. I’m speaking about childhood and adolescence specifically. This stability used to be provided by public school. For people like me it was the only reliably safe place we had. That’s where I learned to read and write and draw and sing songs. That’s where this creative ability that has made all the difference in my life had a chance to develop. I owe my life to public school teachers and librarians.

Do you find that setting makes a difference to creativity? Is it important to have a quiet, lively, or any other kind of environment? You currently live in a small town in Wisconsin. Has that affected your creativity in any way?
What seems to make the most difference is not the place but a reliable period of uninterrupted time. It doesn’t have to be a lot. My ideal work period is a three-hour uninterrupted stretch with a 15-minute break at about the 90-minute mark. As long as I’m reasonably sure no one will talk to me, I can work pretty much anywhere. The state of mind I need for working is difficult to get to and easy to disrupt. The most disruptive thing I can do is check for messages on my computer or phone. It seems so innocuous, so everyday, but if I do it while I’m working, the creative experience I try to return to seems flattened somehow. It took me a while to realize that checking my messages was more disruptive to my state of mind than having a real conversation with a real person. I wonder if it’s true for others as well. This would also be a fun thing to research some day.

Finally, is it remotely possible to be creative without caffeine?
Well, no. It is not possible to be creative without caffeine. It’s also not possible to be creative without cigarettes or whiskey or rock and roll or a freaky portrait of ourselves in a closet that gets older and older while we ourselves do not age and then there’s that one ring to rule them all. Without these things and ten thousand others, we cannot create. Luckily, others have left imaginary versions of such everywhere, and if you have the time and space to conjure them back into being, they will work very well.

Line art by The Near-Sighted Monkey, watercolor by Background Bear

Near-Sighted Monkey Lounge heartthrob Eric Kandel talks about creativity and hemispheric differences of the brain.

What’s The Near-Sighted Monkey listening to today? “SMiLE” by Brian Wilson. The original version! What’s the story behind Brian Wilson’s “SMiLE”? It’s afascinating one. Click here to read a bit about it
You can watch a great documentary called "Beautiful Dreamer" about the story of “SMiLE” that includes a recent version of these songs and they are lovely, but they do not compare to the original vision and hope.
Kelly Hogan — who knows a thing or two about music power,  writes:
hoganhere:
HEAR a recording of Beach Boys “SMiLE” the way Brian Wilson actually envisioned it — streaming for FREE — STREAMING ON THE INTERNET!!!!! 

If you think this is a really, really good way to start your day, you are absolutely correct.

What’s The Near-Sighted Monkey listening to today? “SMiLE” by Brian Wilson. The original version! What’s the story behind Brian Wilson’s “SMiLE”? It’s afascinating one. Click here to read a bit about it

You can watch a great documentary called "Beautiful Dreamer" about the story of “SMiLE” that includes a recent version of these songs and they are lovely, but they do not compare to the original vision and hope.

Kelly Hogan — who knows a thing or two about music power,  writes:

hoganhere:

HEAR a recording of Beach Boys “SMiLE” the way Brian Wilson actually envisioned it — streaming for FREE — STREAMING ON THE INTERNET!!!!! 

If you think this is a really, really good way to start your day, you are absolutely correct.