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ursulav

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Listening to NPR...they had an hour with a neurologist who was studying hypergraphia--the desire to write!--which is evidentally a recognizeable brain chemistry in some people (she mentioned that it's symptomatic of certain types of temporal lobe epilepsy) and by extension the sort-of opposite, writer's block. While writing was her thing, she mentions that it appears to extend to creativity in general--you get people like Van Gogh who paint pretty much every waking minute in what was practically clinical mania.

The extension of this, of course, is that if the desire to write--and we're not talking just random nonsense on a page, but actual coherent writing--is a recognizeable chemical process in the brain, then presumably it's induceable. The theory is thus that one could induce creative drive--better living through pharmaceuticals!--to either make someone creative, or break creative block, and so forth. It's all theoretical, and I couldn't presume to guess at the legitimacy of the science behind it, but it's an interesting theory.

My brain is doing an interesting tap dance between "YES! Cool!" and "NOOOOOOOO!"

The "Yes" part is probably obvious--who wouldn't want a chance to break artist's block? On an absolute scale, it's not quite as bad as dismemberment, but it's certainly worse than a paper cut. But at the same time, I don't think that a jolt of creativity is neccessarily applicable to my variety of block--I never have a problem with ideas. I can have a dozen ideas before breakfast. Ideas are easy. The problems lie in execution, in getting the ideas to settle down and fly right, in getting one idea to assume dominance, instead of having them fight like cats in a sack. There was an issue of Sandman where an author buys one of the nine Muses and keeps her locked in the attic. As punishment, Dream curses him to unending ideas--he has so many, he goes nuts, he can't act on any of them, he winds up writing the ideas in blood on the walls just to try and get them all written down. I first read that and went "YES. I know that exactly." Although I'm more inclined to use a pen. (This is why when people attempt to weasel free art by proferring inspiration--usually in the form of their character--as if conferring a gift, they do not get very far.)

Anyway, before I got sidetracked, my point was that MORE creativity wouldn't much help the creative block for me, although I can see it helping other kinds of block. I don't need more ideas, I need more focus.

The other side of the coin, that makes me clutch my head and go "NOOOOO!" is the "Oh, great, now people will start thinking that they can't write because they don't have clinical hypergraphia" or whatever. And predictably synesthesia came up, and I can still hear the ringing of "I can't paint because I don't taste colors!" in my ears. And this, as y'all doubtless know by now, makes Ursula go screaming insane and start bouncing off the walls like a schizoid spider monkey with pinworms.

I've said it before, at great length, but I figure it bears repeating--sanity is no excuse. Attempting to claim that you can't be an artist because your brain doesn't have some unusual form of hardwiring is crap. Get over it. People set up all these elaborate mental constructs, presumably so that they don't have to be responsible if they fail. If they'd devote half that much time to art, they'd be in business, but they spend so much time building the safety net, they never bother to get on the tightrope.

That said, I'll add that I'm not surprised that creativity has a marked brain chemistry--everything does. We're all just the chemicals in our heads. (It is probably telling that I can simultaneously believe that we have souls and that there is an afterlife, and that we are the products of our physical brain chemistry. I have no problem with this, although I realize that it is irrational and would never attempt to justify it in debate, or force it into a textbook.) Where was I? Oh, yeah. Of course creativity is chemical. Doesn't surprise me in the slightest. So is happiness, but that doesn't mean that you have to be crazy to be happy, and can't aspire to happiness unless you've got some disorder with a Latin name. Could the responsible brain-thingies, then, like other types of brain chemistry, be extracted and concentrated and injected in a walloping explosion of creativity? Well, why not? It's science fiction, but not as far out as it used to be. I feel on some level that such a notion should bother me--that I ought to be protesting my inviolate creative spark and complain that that's cheating--but actually it doesn't bother me. (That it doesn't bother me, bothers me a little, if that makes any sense.) But really, if that works for somebody, great. It's like pearls. Cultured pearls are fine and lovely and cheap--but people will still pay for the natural ones, and the stuff you pry from an irritable wild oyster has no less lustre for the fact that there are pearl farms elsewhere in the ocean. So even if somebody invented a Creativity Cocktail tomorrow--wouldn't bug me.

Particularly since creativity and a quarter will buy you a newspaper--it's the skill to render/write/express/whatever that's hard.

----
Addendum: James adds the following food for thought--"What if you suddenly got hit with a mega-dose of creativity and wanted to create and didn't have any of the skills to paint it or whatever, so that it was all locked in your head?" Nasty thought. Although I suppose that's what creative types all go through for most of our lives--we're just trying to perfect the skills to get the ideas out in the best way possible. Still, the I-can't-paint-what's-in-my-head is an awful feeling--getting a chemically enhanced Mega-Dose of that would suck donkeys.

I'm off to NC in a coupla hours, so responses may be delayed...


They always fail to mention, when they talk about studies about brain chemistry, that they don't know yet whether the behavior causes the brain chemistry, or vice versa. So this clinical hypergraphia might either cause people to write -- or it might be the result of people consistently writing.

Until they can tell people that for sure, I don't know that using it as an excuse is at all useful. :)

The one thing that I know for certain is that some meds meant to treat ADD already modulate creativity levels up and down as side effects. How direct the linkage is that exists between the brain chemistry of ADD and the brain chemistry of creativity...is still a matter of contention that can cause fistfights to erupt between factions of debating neuroscientists.

I, for one, would love to take a pill that enables me to overcome my writers block. I know, the cure for being blocked is just to write anything and everything that pops into your head, even if it is crap, but it would be nice to be able to have the output I did when I was younger. I know I have the skills, just...currently not the discipline to sit down and write 40 pages before breakfast, or the ability to come up with the ideas anymore.

However, like Thaily said, we don't know all there is about brain chemistry, so this is unlikely to happen.

I don't know if I've mentioned this previously, but that icon is mesmerizing. Not necessarily in a good way, but certainly mesmerizing. :)

(Deleted comment)
On the brain chemistry-based soul comment...

I think of it like sound and matter. If there's no matter, you can't propagate sound. So if there's no brain juices, the soul-part of you can't exist -- well, in the way that we expect living creatures having a soul. I have no theories about the afterlife just yet.

My first thought upon reading this was Yay! Soma! =/

Speaking of mind-altering chemicals...

I think soma is worse; it just pacifies, without instilling any drive to create (mustn't have our happy citizens thinking they need to do anything besides buy new clothes and take soma to be satisfied. Mustn't have our happy citizens *thinking*.) But imagine this: if they ever did learn to manipulate these brain chemicals, couldn't they also make a creativity *blocker*? It would be like the 'fantasiectomy' in an earlier dystopian novel, Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We", which was an operation to totally remove the imagination and all original thought. Or, come to that, like the effects of certain television stations now...

Particularly since creativity and a quarter will buy you a newspaper--it's the skill to render/write/express/whatever that's hard.

Yes, yes, yes. And yes to what you said about commissions-as-conferred-favors/inspiration. I have *lots* of ideas. In the incredibly unlikely event that I should run out of ideas, my husband has EVEN MORE ideas. Should, god forbid, *that* well run dry, too, I have at least one more friend whose brain is ripe for the idea-pickings.

Ideas are easy.

Sitting your ass down in the chair and writing the damned book (or painting the damned picture): *that's* the hard part. Telling a story other people want to read, or drawing a picture they want to look at: *that's* the hard part. *Everybody* has ideas. Developing the skills to make those ideas presentable, *that's* the hard part. Better living through chemistry isn't going to induce an artist of any sort to *those* aspects of creativity, and they're really at *least* as important as the ideas.

*pantpantpant* Preaching to the choir, I understand, but darn it, people seem to think the hard part about writing is getting the ideas, and it's not!

I never have a problem with ideas. I can have a dozen ideas before breakfast. Ideas are easy.

YES. I'm constantly sweeping the damned things off of my mental front porch, 'cause I can't keep all of them. Any real gems I stick in an equally mental back room to ripen for a bit, as they never seem to be ready for much of anything when they initially bug me.

As far as that goes, I have noticed something about the flow of ideas - once I got in the habit of looking out for them, that was when the tide started to flow. Sure, it may all be chemicals, but whatever it is was enhanced by the act. Any so-called 'blocks' seem to be due to one of two things - laziness/lack of discipline to sit down and DO it, or emotional issues that take precedence and manifest by stemming that tide of creativity.

... I can sense a ramble at length coming on; I'll take it into my own journal.

"What if you suddenly got hit with a mega-dose of creativity and wanted to create and didn't have any of the skills to paint it or whatever, so that it was all locked in your head?"

Story of my damned life :D Not so much with writing, but anytime there is something I simply must put in a visual form, I am always frustrated by the results. It has of course gotten better as my skills have, but those have progressed at a snail's pace, which makes art a very trying process for me oftentimes (it's like someone who is innately clumsy and has a balance problem learning a very intricate dance. It can be done, but it's quite the slog).

Anyhow... safe trip!

I just know that some people are going to think such a chemical would also magically give them the results of five to ten years of practice and study, and make them good artists (or writers, or musicians, or whatever - whatever the discipline, you need time to study masterworks, raid them for components of what eventually becomes your own unique voice, and to learn the fundamental skills.)

But nobody wants to believe that. I see it over and over again. The conviction that you can't do art because you're not a lefty, not synaesthetic, not using the right tools, not crazy the right way... and when we try to say "hey, I'm a righty, my senses are seperated, I use whatever's handy, I'm mostly sane, it's just practice and love" it just gets brushed off.

Also, yes, I agree - having the ideas and not the skills to express them in any way would suck. Hard. (Although even the quality of your ideas is based on what you feed into your brain over time. If you try to come up with a fantasy novel, say, after only ever reading Tolkien, you're much more likely to be derivative and shallow than if you've read a lot of strange fantasy, uncensored myth, and other kinds of fiction...)

Oh, and I forgot to wish you a safe journey!

"What if you suddenly got hit with a mega-dose of creativity and wanted to create and didn't have any of the skills to paint it or whatever, so that it was all locked in your head?"

.......... that's what I'm stuck with. All the time.

It hurts.


No way I'd ever take any of this 'medicine' if it was created.

(That it doesn't bother me, bothers me a little, if that makes any sense.)

Upon recently discovering that someone very close to me has multiple personality syndrome, my first reaction was, "Hmm, that makes four times now," immediately followed by "I'm some sort of statistical freak, aren't I," and finally a little while later, "Hey, shouldn't I be astonished or dumbfounded or something?"

Yeah, being bothered by not being bothered makes perfect sense to me.

So can I get free art if I profer inspiration in the form of cash?

Hmm, that's an interesting question...

I suppose a certain amount of financial inspiration could lead to some free art, yes...

A thimble full

(Anonymous)
Hello Ursula,
During one of my existential phases. I would meditate on this sobering thought to shatter my feelings of grandiosity: The Mona Lisa
is nothing but the result of a thimble full of chemicals that went across a mans neurons. That thought is sure to suck the meaning out of anything. What is love? ahh another thimble full. What is the warm gentle feeling of walking in the moonlight? another thimblefull?
What is feeling? why does it matter if it's just chemicals washing across my brain... I really got into the existential thing when you do it right it's as good as a orgasm; which we experience as.... need I say it?
Greg

Have a good trip, Ursula :D

As for your discussion argument thingy, I like what James added. Visions are one thing, execution is another. And I agree anyone would want an excuse to not work hard at something they half-want to fail at (art). In any event, perhaps if a creativity cocktail were invented tomorrow, I'd give it to all my closed-minded relatives to see how they liked it if they were mocked for being artists XD

Ursula, I'd order up a quart of the drugs for you but you don't need it. ('gryn) Have a safe trip!

We already have a drug that fuels creativity. It's called coffee. :P