The Life and Death of My Creativity

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It is said that one of the prerequisites of creativity is to have had experienced childhood trauma. Read the works of any great Irish writer (Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and you will clearly see that youthful pain and suffering fueled much of their creative genius.   And while I do not claim to be remotely on par with these incredible storytellers, to read any of my writing is to know that  childhood trauma played a significant role in the determination of my creative voice.  To be honest, my youth unfolded like the discarded first  draft of a story that could have been so much better. There simply weren’t enough stretches of peace or joy in it to attend to the edits necessary to have made it bearable.  It isn’t that I am filled with regret for all of the things that might have been.  It’s more that I am blanketed in a sadness for the sheer waste of it all.

Intuitively, I know that my broken juvenile years  can’t be the full measure of why I write the way I write.  Something deeper, more sinister, is afoot. Something bigger and more malevolent presses my pen to the paper. For me, the value of nothing out of nothing comes something. The nothing started even earlier than the moment when I began to write.  I have no doubt that what little creativity I possess is the function of some neurological quirk; that I have just enough of psychosis or depression to fuel an interesting poem here, an article there. That creativity (if that’s even the word for it)  is not, in any circumstance, the product of “talent” or creative muse, but rather arises more as a testament to a damaged mind that perceives the events of life from a slightly more skewed or twisted perspective.

Perhaps it was the combination of the two: an injured adolescence and a form of brain damage.  When I was four years old, I fell down the stairwell of the two story duplex my family lived in while my father was stationed in the Navy.  I was rushed to the hospital because the fall had resulted in a crushing blow to the frontal temporal region of my skull.  Surely, my brain was impacted, if not forever altered because of this accident.  Combine that blow with the endless physical and sexual trauma that rejoined the family the day my father retired from service, and then, perhaps  I can begin to put my finger upon my “creativity.”

Ask yourself…what can be more creative than scrambling daily throughout your entire childhood to find a place to survive.  Out of necessity, the damaged mind constructs a false reality in which to take shelter. It is this false reality that takes form in the expressive arts.

I may never know what truly fuels my creative process.  The sands of time that fill the hourglass of my life have nearly run out.  While I am by no means an old man, I am, nonetheless, a tired man and my time upon this tortured plane of existence called “life” can now be measured in moments rather than years. I will leave behind me no great works of art, no lasting legacy of poetic genius.  Even the memory of me will fade before the ink is dry on my final written word.

Mine has been a lonely walk: solitude whispers a silent story. And as we all know, life and living require interaction. But I was born alone, have lived alone, and will undoubtedly die…alone.  And that doesn’t require creativity.

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In The Absence of Dreams: Early Morning Writing

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Here I am again. It’s 4:00 am here and I am wide awake. Just cannot sleep! I have no idea why this keeps going on. It’s not as though I awaken flush with inspiration. To be honest, I wake up with the strongest desire to go back to sleep, which never happens. Trust me, the dreams I leave behind are far more vivid and compelling than anything I am likely to write in my semi-somnambulant state. But by the time I make my coffee and fire up the computer, these dreams have evaporated like raindrops on a summer sun-baked highway. Instead, I sit there foggy-headed for an hour, awaiting my muse, who is, no doubt, sound asleep deep beneath a pile of 600-thread count comforters.

I’d like to believe I am caught up in a creative rebirth and nature simply compels me, each morning, to cut the umbilical cord between the bed and my laptop. But it feels more like something went horribly wrong in the third trimester and I am struggling just to come full term in my writing gestation. Continuing this hobbled metaphor, it seems to me as though getting up to write for writing’s sake bleeds my creative juices and more often than not I just end up with a chronic case of literary anemia.

I have to admit, however, that I’ve known worse. In the past, I’d stay up this long drinking with all the intention to write, but end up putting a heavy hurt on a box of cheap red wine and searching for friends I’d once had. In those dark, drunken hours I’d spend all my creative juice on Facebook status updates and bumbling my way through endless offerings of StumbleUpon. I didn’t sleep then, either.

Now, without substances, I find myself chewing on these early-morning words, not swallowing them, not digesting, but getting my mouth wet, feeling their texture, getting their flavor. I hope this new addiction will take me far. If it means losing a little sleep, I’ll just have to learn to catnap throughout the day. As I child I fell in love with words; not just the sound, or meaning, but their shape. It’s taken me years to realize I want to spend my time as I did when I was most happy, when I was 5, sketching letters and making words.

And if that time happens to be 4:00 a.m., so be it.

Appalachian Woods

Our lives can best be understood in all the things we craft from wood
The dogwood laid our cabin floor, hung knotted pine our shanty door
Six bowls we carved from fallen maple, a burnt mahogany sets our table
A dozen spoons and forks by hand, hewn perfect fit for every man

And woman, too, with sharpened knife carve etchings of our humble life
Soft wicker thatched this rocking chair and spruce the toys sprawled everywhere
In wooden homes that we have built we hang on pegs our history quilts
Each patch a memory lovingly stitched, our purses poor, our lives quite rich

Our beds and wardrobes never falter, we hand-carved those from summer alder
Our coffins, too, of stout mesquite, for when our journey is complete
In wood we find our heart’s desire or pain if come the wayward fire
And even so, most grievous sin: not to build from wood again

So now you better understand how we live upon this land
Within the forest, and it in us, in God we hope, in wood we trust

Welcome to Insights and Observations!

Welcome!  The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for writers and poets to discuss their craft; their efforts, their hurdles and challenges, their observations, their successes and their failures.  Sometimes, when I am in the middle of crafting a poem, my thoughts walk off into the fog of introspection, and this forum allows me to share with each of you what I discover about: Why I write, to whom I write and why, what I have learned, what I can share….so that we all become better stewards of our craft, I have created this blog so that we might assist one another.  That we might build “knowledge bridges” to get our work across the rivers of despair.

This is not my blog…it is our blog.  If you have something you have written that describes your journey, feel free to email those insights and thoughts to dennis.l.mchale@gmail.com. Your opinions will not be excluded or edited. What you have to say could well lift many like-minded artisans move past their percieved limitations and self-imposed killjoys.

Thank you and happy writing,

Dennis L. McHale