If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals . . . We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us — create who we are. It is we who created the system.
So, that was part of the Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami’s acceptance speech, for the Jerusalem Prize back in 2009. And I’m John Fanning and this is the Create with John Fanning podcast.
How’s it goin. Howy’re yis all doing out there? Hope you’re all doing well. So, this is Episode 3 of my series of episodes on creativity, based around my book Create.
First off, thank you for all the positive feedback to the first two shows. I really appreciate it and to all of you who’ve starting supporting the podcast on Patreon, thanks so much. I’m very grateful.
However, some of you, many of you creators I really trust told me: 1. The intro should have been half the length, and that the second episode should have been two episodes, one on creativity, and then the next on what is a creator. Then 2. You said I need to spell people’s names out as this form is the spoken word and not everyone is going to go to my website to look at the links and correct spelling of the individual I’m talking about. And I will. Fair point. And I’d never even thought of it.
So, sorry about all that. I was actually going to take down the episodes and do them again. I researched for hours how to do it technically until my wife Kerry told me to just leave them there, saying they’re an example of creativity, that it’s messy, that you have to learn from your mistakes and grow as you go. Also, people only ever look at the last thing you did, the last ten episodes, the last book, movie, so the first 2 will get buried she said by my tenacity to keep putting out episodes. So, this episode, and every one after it is going to be under 30 mins, accept for interviews later on.
Last time I said I’d get into family, friends and villains, but that’ll bring me over the 30 min mark, so today I want to talk generally about Walls, as the next 10 episodes at least are going to be about Walls away from creativity, before I move onto Doors towards creativity.
And I want to start with an anecdote, about when I left Europe for the first time, to come to the States. My first apartment in America was out in Brooklyn, after sleeping on the floors of other Irish immigrants in Sunnyside, Queens. They had warned me, whatever you do, don’t live in Brooklyn. A month later, I was living in a railroad apartment beside a scrapyard, with a drug dealer and his immense bulldog on the bottom floor, and a huge Puerto Rican family upstairs who practiced Santeria, a lot, judging by the amount of dancing and singing going on up there. The one conversation I had with the father of the family consisted of references to “orishas”, possession by spirits, and Catholic saints.
One day I came home from work to find my Irish friends waiting for me on the stoop. They’d cycled from Sunnyside to “surprise” me. They looked worried. I invited them upstairs. The bulldog hurled himself against the backyard door when we entered the building. They’d already met the owner outside. He’d asked them if they needed “some”, cocaine that is.
When I unlocked the door to my apartment we could see the bulldog barking at us in the backyard. Why? There was no wall in my kitchen. I found out later the family upstairs had “forgotten” to switch off the water in their bath and it had seeped into my wall, necessitating the removal of all the sheetrock by the tattooed “employees” of the slumlord while I was at work.
All my friends’ worst fears had become manifest. They looked around the apartment in horror. Besides my bicycle and some clothes, my only furniture was a mattress on the floor in the “bedroom”. One of them never talked to me again.
Every one of these things should have been a wall to me moving out of Sunnyside. Like my friends, a lot of Irish immigrants move all the way from Ireland to America and hardly ever leave the four walls of Irish communities like Sunnyside. The guy who never talked to me again had worked for the MTA for ten years, but had never been to Manhattan. There I was enacting the parable of the lost black sheep again, leaving my people behind, taking the leap out of the enclosure.
I landed in the right place, a now defunct cafe in the then vibrant, edgy and still affordable East Village. In that coffee shop, I met my real “people”, creators living on the cheap, well, by New York standards. Again, as with Camden Town in London, they were doing whatever they had to to keep creating. My willingness to step outside the walls of Sunnyside and embrace America, honor the culture I was in, led to me meeting so many of the New York creators I still love. I would never have met any of these poets, screenwriters, musicians, artists, eccentrics, students, film editors, designers and photographers if I’d not left behind the protective, safe walls of my own culture.
So by embracing a new culture, a new group of people, other creators, I felt more at home. Actually one of those creators, an American screenwriter, one I met all those years ago in that coffee shop in the East Village, once asked me this question while on retreat:
“Why have you built a wall about doing this non-fiction book, John?”
“Well, because I write novels.”
“I write screenplays,” she said. “And I paint. And I knit. And I tango. Should I stop painting, knitting and dancing because I’m a screenwriter?”
She had me, pardon the pun, up against a wall.
About a week later she said to me, “You know, there are about as many walls to creation, as there are leaves in that forest.”
Artists, writers, actors, inventors, academics, are no different from every one else. We’re all different, but we all have one thing in common: Walls. All creators suffer. At times they can’t create. They make mistakes. They have off days. Walls. What do they do? They accept they’re having an off day, what someone once called an inspiring dry patch, and keep working anyway. They know the off day is a wall, and that it will eventually disappear. And the wall of walls? Fear. We all have it. It’s insidious. I have it. I’ve known many very successful creators. They have it too. Their fears are the same as mine, as yours.
It goes something like this:
“I’ve nothing new to say,” or:
“It’s all been done, written, directed, created before,” or:
“Even when I get it done, it’s going to be sht. People will pretend it’s good, when they really think it’s sht. Even I will think it’s sh*t, because I’ll never be able to create it the way I envisioned it.”
It all leads to the same thing, you hit a wall, and the wall has this written on it:
Don’t do it! Give up!
Anything that says, in the end, don’t do it, is the ego, the mind, and the mind/ego creates fear. It creeps in, everywhere, every time as you’re about to create something.
Maria Callas would sink her nails into the arms of whomever was there before she went on stage to sing. She was terrified. She was the greatest opera singer in the world, and she still thought she’d get found out, that she wasn’t good enough, that her voice would fail, that she wouldn’t be able to give it her best, that people would laugh at her. Even Callas had imposter syndrome.
The answer? You do what you love, you sing anyway. You live passionately. You create anyway, knowing fear is simply part of the process.
Rodin would do thousands of sketches before starting a sculpture. You could say he was blocked, that he was creating a wall, or, you could see it like he saw it, as waiting, preparing for the right moment, the right movement to sculpt. Like Rodin you have to wait for the solution to come, naturally. And the only way to receive a solution is to be there. Keep on taking notes, sketching, planting seeds. Walls are a natural part of the process. You have to accept them, and begin again. They fall away with confidence. You allow your mind/ego to tire itself out, by having the faith to accept that every wall falls, with time.
So thanks for listening. I started with a quote from a Japanese but as I did last time, I’m going to end this episode with an Irish proverb. This one literally means:
Walls need spalls as well as large stones.
Fóireann spallaí do bhallaí chomh maith le clocha móra.
A spall’s a small bit or chip of a stone, that you get when you split a larger stone. A good mason can create any chip size they like with the right hit of a hammer, to fit into a hole, or hold up a bigger rock. The word comes from the Old German word spell, which means to split. Course this would’ve been important in Ireland centuries ago because they didn’t have cement to keep things together. So it takes all kinds to make a wall, and a balanced wall, if we look at walls from a holistic perspective, as are the ones that allow for the big things as well as the small things in life. One balances the other. Sometimes the little things, the spalls, are what keep us balanced.
This podcast is supported by you the listener via my Patreon page. If ya want to support the podcast and help me get a wage for doing it, because that’s how I see this podcast as a job, one I love doing, then please head over to patreon.com/johnfanning where you can get early and ad free access as well as extra episodes when ya sign up. Ifya can afford it then give me the cost of a price of a cup of tea or pint once a month. Ifya can’t afford it that’s grand too, ya can listen for free, but please leave a review on itunes or wherever ya listen to it and let your friends know about it so the listenership grows. Thank you! And thanks for listening.
If you’re looking for more episodes you can find them on all the usual places like iTunes – or on my website at johnfanning.me under “podcast” where I’ve put up overview transcripts with links to all the people and ideas I mention. If you’re into social stuff and you’re looking to engage with me one-on-one, check me out on twitter @fanning_j and instagram @johnfanning_. It’s been great sharing stuff with you today so until next time take care out there and be benevolent when you can!
Slán libh agus go n-éirí an bóthar libh.