The Unsolid Self of Creative Works

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Please note this column includes very limited, basic discussion of some spiritual beliefs. I do not go into fine details as it would distract from my core exploration and involve various interpretations over the centuries.  More may be coming.

Serdar and I often inspire blog posts for each other and today is no different. He posted on how projects don’t always end up where you expect, and it got me thinking.

Serdar notes we often view our works as having a kind of “Core,” a tangible thing that defines the work. We often discover it in the early lightning-strike of inspiration, and it guides our work. But in time, it can limit us because as we develop a story, it changes. That fear of getting away from the seed of our work, the core driving idea, often limits us.

That got me thinking about spiritual doctrines about the non-existence of the self. In Buddhism, we’ll hear of anatta, the (oft-misquoted) idea of “no-self.”  Buddha seemed disinterested in the concept of permanence or impermanence, focused more on the results of action and clinging. Taoists refer to the interaction of Vitality, Energy, and (many-faceted) Spirit from which we emerge and can refine, altering ourselves to become wise or even divine. “There’s no there there” is not an uncommon sentiment among those pondering the nature of life – and if there is anything permanent, a lot of what we identify with is impermanent.

This isn’t a sentiment everyone embraces. We want to think there’s a solid “me” there that goes on and endures. We also watch ourselves grow, age, and catapult towards inevitable death and realize that what we think of as me is mostly, if not entirely, impermanent.

I think the fear of “no solid self” is no different than the fear there’s no solidity in our creative work. We want to believe we’re real and solid – we also want to believe there’s some inviolable core to our creative work. That book we make, that comic we draw comes from us, we want it permanent – maybe permanent in a way we’re not.

But as we edit and revise, replot and reconsider, we find the book or comic or whatever is a process. It’s going to change and evolve, and we can’t fully forsee the future. That core idea is just a spark to light the fire; we don’t know what will be illuminated or how long it will burn.

Neither we nor our creative works have much of solid self. They’re processes and will never be “any one thing.”  To be creative is to face impermanence twice as much, in ourselves and in what we make.

I could probably go on to intolerable length on how to face this, and it would still end in some book recommendations you might not reach out of boredom. Something more may be coming, but let me say this in compassionate simplicity.

Impermanence can be a comfort, for we see how much we cling to and how that causes pain. If I’m not much of a tangible thing, then I neither begin nor end; I’m a process, more or less. Realizing this, I can just get over myself and get on with my creative work because that’s coming from whatever I am, permanent or not. I might as well get over myself, because it doesn’t seem very solid.

So whatever. Go on, create, do the thing you do. It’s all processes and change, so let’s see where it goes.

Steven Savage