Uncharted

I’ve been having a hard time writing recently. Sometimes it feels like I’ve got nothing left to say – not necessarily there aren’t any ideas for topics, but that all of them seem thin or redundant, either something I could only say one or two facile things about, or something I’ve already written about, or something that anything I wrote about would be so close to the common pre-existing conception of the topic that I might as well not bother. Usually I figure something out. Every time, though, it gets harder – not consistently, since some are easier and some are harder, but steadily, over time, the resistance builds up.

The world is vast, though, far vaster than my meager writings. Even my chosen niche, that of games and art and how we touch them and they us, is wide enough that I ought to be able to write on it indefinitely. Still, it becomes more difficult to do so meaningfully. Every time, there’s a part of me that’s scared that maybe I’ve mined this vein out, that maybe I’m running dry and I’ll just be unable to say anything more that means anything – without, perhaps, going out and finding new experiences, without prospecting the stories out from the world at large.

This fear reveals a gap, a hole, a bleeding wound in my conception of what creativity is. I have a tendency to view creation as the act of taking something out of myself and polishing it and presenting it to the world, and in exchange I take whatever their response is, be it emotional or fiduciary, and digest it, and then along with other bits and pieces of myself use that to fuel the next work, and so on, and so forth. The factory model, the miner model, where resources are stripped away and manufactured and sold and then more resources are acquired to replace them. It is a very American mindset. I am colonizing myself, stealing my territory, stocking my shelves off of my shipments of vital supplies.

Why would I think about myself this way?

I am not plundering when I write. I am not burning resources – even the time and energy it takes to write are still mine, as much as any time or energy were ever mine. I am just mapping the territory, charting the ever-changing landscape of my mind, of the world as I understand it. The work will always be incomplete, because both my inner world and our outer world which it resides in are in a constant state of flux. The work will always be imperfect, because it is impossible to understand anything completely.

We do not understand anything in the world as it is, but approximate it successively through symbolic analogy. The painting The Treachery of Images, by René Magritte, shows an image of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or “This is not a pipe,” written underneath. This illustrates the difference between the real and the image – but even the physical object we call a pipe isn’t itself a pipe, at least not on its own. What makes it a pipe is its perception as and use of as a pipe – the ‘pipe’ symbol, stored in our brain, as it is applied to the pipe-shaped object with pipe-like properties. This is the way we understand the world: pipe symbols, tobacco symbols, fire symbols, smoke signals, none of which are quite directly related to the world objects they refer to, and we become adept at understanding how the real-world objects can interact so that we can abstractly model these interactions using the symbols in our mind. This is what applied mathematics are as well: A methodology for converting objects into symbolic representations and performing abstract operations on them in an effort to predict how they will behave.

All of this is a long detour to state that, no, I can’t strip-mine my mind, because my mind cannot store a language to completely describe itself, just as a book can’t losslessly contain the description of a book ten times its length. No matter how much of myself I can strain to successfully describe, there will always be uncharted parts of my mind, left covered in clouds, stamped with a legend that says “Here be Dragons.”

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