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Overcoming Devil Mountain

When I lived in Berkeley, California over thirty years ago, my then wife and I invited a friend to stay with us for a couple of weeks. One weekend when she was away on business, Jean and I had dinner, drank a bottle of wine and then pretended to watch TV. What we really did was talk. Jean was an artist and at that time was concentrating on sculpting. I fancied myself a writer, which was then largely aspirational . What we talked about was creativity: Creator ~ the one who creates; Creativity ~ that certain something the creator possesses; The act of creating ~ sitting down or standing up and doing it; and Creation ~ the thing created.

Nothing exciting there, indeed, rather banal. But then things got interesting. After discussing the obvious, we discovered that we both experienced “resistance” before the act of creating, which sometimes could be formidably. We acknowledged that we enjoyed and valued the act of creating and that we often, but certainly not always, liked what we created. However, we had to be honest and say that there was often a hill, though more likely a mountain, to get over before all that enjoying and valuing could happen.

I need to pause here for the sake of clarity. We often use the metaphor of climbing a mountain and reaching the summit to communicate self-fulfilment, self-actualisation, wonder and beauty, etc., understanding that the “peak experience” would not be so “peak” if we had not first endured the challenge of the climb. The mountain metaphor I use here, however, is not about self-fulfilment. Here the mountain is something in our way, the climb is a pain in the ass and standing on the summit has no value in and of itself. When reaching the peak the best thing you can say is that you are only a microsecond away from something that will be fulfilling if you can only take one more step. This summit is not a place to get stuck, but if you begin the slide down, that is begin creating, then all kinds of enjoyment and value await you. It’s fascinating that that one last step can be difficult.

So how to explain a strong resistance to something so good? Well, it could be simply a resistance to getting off one’s backside and doing something. It takes discipline and is often hard work to create. Discipline because to write a story, paint a picture, form a sculpture, compose music, etc., takes time, sometimes a lot of time. You have to keep going back to it time and time again. And, often to create something is just hard work. You can get stuck, bored, discouraged, lost. Creating sometimes demands that you rethink and rework, that you stick to it. When I was writing Alien Love I had the narrative mapped out. I wanted to explore if a person could truly change and what explanations might be given if indeed change happened. I thought I would look at biochemical, psychological and philosophical/theological explanation for personal change and their implications about responsibility (did I change or did my chemistry change?). But when I got to that point in the story it was obvious that the strategy wouldn’t work. I had to rethink the structure and direction of the narrative, and I had to rewrite. It was a lot of work. So, maybe this mountain of resistance is simply a desire to avoid discipline and hard work. On the other hand...

Perhaps there are philosophical/theological reasons for a resistance to creating, though another pause is needed here. Theological language is metaphorical in nature. When I use theological language I am not saying I believe literally in that to which I refer. For example, if I were to speak of the Christian Trinity, that does not mean I believe some three in one being literally exists. The Trinity is a metaphor trying to give meaning to the notions of God, Christ and Spirit and the relational concepts that bring them together. Nor do I believe the words God, Christ and Spirit refer to realities in the same way that, say, Jupiter, Neptune and Sun refer to realities. So...

I googled Devil Mountain and got this.Creator, creativity, creating and creation are often associated with the divine or the divine within us. Destruction (and here I include the resistance to creating) is often associated with the demonic. And no, I do not believe in a god or a devil in any literal sense, however, the language is useful and refers to qualities of the human character, spirit or soul. Nor am I saying that I believe outside entities intrude into my life imposing divine and demonic ambitions. I’m saying that that certain something that drives us to create and the resistance to create is something within us. Theological language can indicates how powerful they both are. Besides, in our wine influenced talk Jean referred to her resistance to completing the sculpture she was working on as “overcoming devil mountain.” That certain something that drives creative acts can be understood as a divine spark or the divine within us all. That resistance to creating, and the destruction of creation, might be seen as that something within us, the demonic spark, that fights against the good.

Philosophers and ethicists have pondered for generations the relationship between goodness (here = creativity) and badness (here = destruction). No matter what approach one uses we have always been able to articulated reasons for the good: Natural law says we are good by our nature; Utilitarianism because the good is best for the greatest number; Virtue because of the quality of character, or because goodness determines who we were, who we are and who we will  become; Situationism says we are good to maximize consequences; Humanism that we are innately good. I could go on, however, the question of our badness remains. If we are naturally good, why do we go against our nature? If what is beneficial for the greatest number is the greatest good, then why are we bad. If goodness makes us better people then why do we behave in ways that undermine our integrity? If calculating the consequences of our actions is best, then why do we act in ways that lead to negative consequences. If we are possessed of a divine spark of creativity, then we do we resist it?  

Of course Jean and I came to no profound and final conclusions about what the resistance was, where it came from or how to rid ourselves of its bothersome influences. We simply went to bed agreeing that it existed within us, got in the way and needed to be overcome at all cost. Otherwise we would probably spend the rest of our lives watching television.

Copyright © 2014 Dale Rominger

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