For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
I’m John Fanning and this is the Create with John Fanning podcast.
How’s it goin out there? Hope yis are all well.
This is Episode 11 of my series of episodes on Imagination and creativity, based around my book Create.
Last time I talked about perfection and Shakespeare, and today I want to talk about myths and lies.
Myths can move us towards Imagination or they can move us away from it. So, it’s important to understand the difference between positive myths, and negative ones, because they work, whether it be understanding common universal stories or reinforcing common lies, Walls. A good example would be so called urban myths, which are basically falsehoods, masquerading as truths. There are many of these types of negative myths when it comes to Imagination.
If you read Clarissa Pinkola Estés or Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung, myths take on a positive role in society. We can also watch Campbell talking to Bill Moyers about “Star Wars”. Or George Lucas talking about Joseph Campbell. They’re fascinating readings of our historic stories, although many would say we’ve been creating some very different universal myths in the last decades what with Climate change and the Doomsday Clock prognosis.
It took me a long time to discover the truth of myth the way these people did. They helped me understand that we are surrounded by myths, of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Celts, Upanishads. And that there are modern ones too.
All these mythic viewpoints look at faith from different parts of the same animal. It took me a long time to see this too, and to understand that many of the myths I was fed as a creator are simply incorrect. Like Roman Catholicism, I was indoctrinated up to a certain age. Then I found, or more created my own spiritual myth of reality. And of course when I realized this I understood how the myths we’re told could be negative, counteractive to creation.
One of the first myths I was told was: All artists are broke. After my grandfather had anxiously wheezed, “Oh no … not that,” to me when I told him I’m going to be a writer, I asked him why? He hissed, “Artists never make any money.” Well, I say bulls**t.
Shakespeare was minted. If he were alive today he’d be in Hollywood driving around in a flash car. Picasso and Dali were filthy rich. Look at any “successful” artist. Are they broke? An artist I know makes 50,000 Euros a painting. It wasn’t so long ago I remember him not having enough money to pay for the nappies for his baby boy, and he and his wife were pregnant again. If I told you his name you wouldn’t know who he is. Is he not making money? Also, who gets paid to act, write, produce, and design all those Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu movies and TV shows?
Another one: All artists are drug addicts, drunks. Again, bulls**t.
Some of the hardest working people I know are creators. Some of them work ten hour days, a lot of them at least six days a week. They don’t have time for drugs. And they’re not stupid. They know drugs today are laced with all kinds of brain destroying chemicals. They want their heads together, so that they can get up the next day and write, paint, produce, build.
All creators are crazy. Bulls**t.
So, the Goldman boys on Wall Street, the people selling guns to countries to blow up other countries are not crazy? No, they wear tailored suits. They have luxury cars and watches and a woman half their age on their arms because they left their wife and kids. No. The artist in the garret, the inventor in her garage is crazy because she’s doing something she loves?
All creators are irresponsible. Bulls**t.
What, they all have multiple wives and don’t care about their kids? So do business men, teachers, any group on the planet. I’ve known many writers and artists who sacrificed decades of creative energy to raise their kids, the majority of them women, not that it ever stops them. It’s disrespectful and annoying to label these creators irresponsible. I left France for my family. My kids got into a wonderful school, and my in-laws are getting very old. I could have stayed in the mountains writing my novels like a true clichéd narcissist writer and running a successful business, but I left. It was very difficult but I don’t see it as a sacrifice, just that it’s the right thing to do.
One of the only persistent ways I’ve seen most creators being irresponsible is when it comes to representing their work, after it’s finished. A lot of them don’t. That’s irresponsible, or more, dishonorable, as it doesn’t honor all the hard work they put in to create their work. But each to their own. Everyone’s different.
Next: Artists are recluses. Bullshit. I ran a retreat. Creators go there from all over the world. If they didn’t need community, in a peaceful, inspiring place, then they wouldn’t go there. Creators are social. Again, this idea of the artist in the garret starving to death alone is bullst. Joyce had Beckett, Beach, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc. Then there’s the Bloomsbury Group. John Lennon had the other Beatles. Shakespeare had all his actor friends and business partners. Creators cannot function in a vacuum. They always need other creators to bounce ideas off, read their work, help them out on the set of their film, build their website.
Creators are all depression sessions. I won’t use that bad word again, but you get the message. I can’t remember the last depressed creator I met. In fact, most of them are the happiest people I’ve met. Why? Because they’re doing what they love.
How we see the world can change when we create our own myth, by asking questions about the positive and negative myths we are told. Today, ideas of progress and more and more as somehow beneficial because these ideas are beneficial to economies, are old myths. We can create new myths, positive ones, by questioning. We can question whether more is in fact positive. Whether progress is in fact progressive or simply a tool for the elites to push out what Plato called their noble lies. We can create new stories, where compassion and service to others become our new myths. Instead of slaying the dragon he or she can become our friend. Instead of heroism, something which only serves the kings and queens and the 1% of 1%, why not have new myths, stories based around compassion and service, amplify stories like Malala Yousafzai or Gandhi.
Is progress good for the planet, the forests of the Amazon, the animals disappearing because of the mass extinction occurring right now? Are we really profiting from all this loss? Our cultural mythologies of progress are not progressive. The insistence of more and more is costing too much, literally. Does all this new “wealth” everyone says our generation has — at least the white Western populations — make us happier? Are all the mass shootings a happy story? Do the mental health statistics paint a story of happiness? Is the myth that we are better off than our grandparents really true?
More importantly, does this myth of progress and more and more inspire us to live an inspired life? Does it really nourish us? Or would stories of compassion and service inspire and nourish us more? But do we look at myth like this? Do we see our stories as having meaning? Aren’t we simply relying on the myths of previous generations for our sense of meaning?
If meaning comes from the stories we tell ourselves, the myths we tell ourselves, then why can’t we create new stories instead of simply rejecting or accepting the old ones? Stories can open the Door into a new mythic world, one where we come together instead of apart, especially if we want to survive as a species. Yes, we have to know the old myths, and more importantly the negative ones, but we also need to create new ones, new Doors towards Imagination and creativity.
So thanks for listening. I started with a quote from an American and as usual I’m going to end with an Irish proverb. This one literally means:
There’s no truth to story without an author, which basically means how can you trust a story or myth if the person telling it is not there.
Ní fiú scéal gan údar.
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Slán libh agus go n-éirí an bóthar libh.