Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflections from the Well
On Writing Craft, Creativity & Inspiration

By Alexander Slagg

Time Travel, of a Different Sort

I did some time traveling recently. Like any good sci-fi movie, my life had reached a crisis point and only going back in time would provide the change I needed to resolve this problem and move forward to live happily ever after. My conduit for this journey into the past was the summer intern at my day job, Myles. Once upon a time, I was Myles, a shaggy-haired college student with a constantly receding horizon that was my future, open and without limit. I am no longer Myles, I am me: an aging creative guy now with children and adult responsibilities, feeling the dueling pressures of grownup responsibility and creative ambition.

Myles was introduced to the plot line of my life at work one morning when my manager brought him by my cubicle and introduced him. He dressed casually but appropriately for office life, wearing tan khakis and a Greg Norman polo shirt. It wasn’t readily apparent that he would serve as a catalyst for change. On our first meeting, he came across as slightly privileged and the product of an insular suburban life — but a fitting reflection of my own upbringing and younger self. The internship was simple: throughout the summer, I was to teach Myles the finer points of writing and editing marketing materials.

We began this process in earnest, emailing our communications back and forth, though we were separated by only a cubicle wall — an early lesson in the ways of corporate life. I assigned him some writing to edit and made plans to meet up to review his edits and to walk him through my own editing process.

Around this time, I was creatively cramped on a number of fronts, having great difficulty getting started on my next creative project. I had hit a writing roadblock. The bricks of this particular wall stemmed from recent life turmoil: getting divorced and now raising two young children myself. This new development in my life had knocked me off kilter, causing me to contemplate my priorities.

While married, I managed to fool myself into thinking that I was no longer a self-absorbed “artist” living for myself and my creative mission. I was a partner, and soon enough a father. I now had these other more important roles to play. But this was not entirely true. I continued to write and do other creative projects. There wasn’t much “choice” in it. This was what I did — art. Now I had to find ways to squeeze it in with my growing responsibilities.

Not until my marriage imploded and I suddenly found myself responsible for the lives of a four- and six-year-old did I start the real process of figuring out how I was going to juggle all these wants and needs crowding my life. And in that process, I suddenly came across this new wall now blocking access to my creative flow. Questions were bubbling up from some subterranean aquifer inside me. These questions essentially boiled down to: Why was I wasting precious time and energy on creative projects when I should be devoting myself to supporting my children and their inexhaustible needs? The parental urge to self-sacrifice can be strong, and I was feeling it keenly.

I grappled with this question for weeks, maybe months. It was on my mind when I woke in the morning, while driving to work, doing the dishes, laying down for bed at night. It was pervasive. I was thinking about it on my drive over to the coffee shop to meet up with Myles and go over his editing. I was sitting at a wood table not far from the entrance, setting up my laptop. A flash of sunlight played off the door’s glass surface as Myles entered, momentarily blinding me as he sat down.

We chatted for a bit and drank our coffee, going over the editing assignment before moving on to conversation about music and writing. Myles was relating to me the genius of George RR Martin, but my mind was a million miles away, wondering why I was even having this conversation about writing — a topic that felt like a far-off luxury that I could no longer afford. Tuning back into the present, I decided to pose to Myles the question that had been eating away at me.

“Why do you write?”

The reality of the coffee shop seemed to telescope around us as the words passed through my lips. The expression on Myles’ goatee-framed face was one of quizzical contemplation. It was in this moment that the time travel occurred. I was no longer sitting in the older, experienced editor’s seat. I had warped back into the seat of the young writer unmolested by the grind of life experience. The answer that came from Myles’ mouth were words that once could have come from my own.

“I’ve never really thought about it before. I want to be a published author because I think it would be cool. I write because it's cool.”

The truth of his words struck me. I was inside Myles when he uttered these words. I felt the nonchalant innocence of them. And that carefree feeling stayed with me as I was pulled back into the future and to the present. There were no outward signs that anything mindblowing had just occurred as we packed up our computers and headed our separate ways into the stifling summer heat. But I felt like a different person as I motored down the highway and back to my flat in the city. I felt renewed.

Myles’ simple words had given me a key to open all of the locks and undo the chains of adult responsibility that had so tightly bound me. He had reminded me that creativity does not operate through a set of logical rules, so I should not make logical demands of it. I did not need a reason to write. Sitting down to write is its own reward. Giving yourself time to do something simply because you enjoy doing it, because it’s cool, is a necessity.