Friday, December 03, 2004

Ethical creativity?

This line from the SR blog, "Every now and then while reading bukowski you'd think 'I can write this', and then later you'd realize that the only way you could write something like this is if you tried, and that the second you tried, it's lack of sincerity would be evident and sink it under the weight of it's own pretension," examines something I've been thinking a lot about lately, and makes a good jumping off point for talking about it. I'd been raised to believe that everyone was naturally talented at various things, and to become interested in only those things. If I am not good at something, don't do it. I eventually came to realize that was mostly wrong, too late to even rise up to the level of being bad at basketball or flag football or whatever.

Anyway, I think I realized this when I was talking to my father about Bob Greene and his demise at the Tribune. (This connects, somehow...) I said it's no great loss, his writing was insincere. Asked what I meant, I said that I always got the impression that he chose the emotion the reader was to feel from each column and wrote to that end. I always thought that was cheap and insincere, but my father didn't even get it. He wondered aloud to me if there was any other way to write. I tried to explain that I thought the "right" way to write was to tell a story. Describe what you see and feel, as you see and feel it, the best way you can. And have enough respect for the reader to let them choose their own feelings from your creation. I think that goes a long way toward sincerity.

There is a line from Howard Stern's movie that goes something like "Why do you listen to Howard Stern? Because I want to know what he'll do next." Stern creates something that people find captivating. A successful work doesn't need to play tricks on its audience to get them to keep listening/watching/reading. That comes from being good at telling a story, which in most cases takes practice, which means trying in spite of initial failures.

It's the same way for learning, to me. Some want to know only enough to get by, or learn the tricks of the trade without actually learning the trade. I always figured it was best to learn (and teach) the right way first, and let the "tricks" follow if they must. Like the episode of the Simpsons where Homer decides to gain weight so he can work from home. And he gets one of those bobbing birds to hit the "ok" key on his terminal, because, after all, his job is to hit the "ok" key when the question mark lights up. Faking it is often better than complete inaction, but it can't be an end goal, can it?

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