Nicholas Berdyaev, the great Russian thinker, whom I quote often, called this phenomenon “the dictatorship of consciousness.” Man defends himself against the chaos of his subconscious mind by “the censorship of consciousness.”
I am blessed and grateful to have grown up in a beautiful home. One of my mother’s favorite words was “beauteous,” another was “wondrous.” When I was older I thought Mom’s constant use of these words was kind of funny. If she were still around, I’d make a point of apologizing to her for having thought this way. She was a magnificent, overcoming woman. Her love of beauty and the artistic way she adorned our modest homes through the years are at the root of my love for color and design. But I knew unconsciously that there was more going on than met the eye, both in and outside our home — a hidden conflict.
Again, even though I loved and admired her immensely, my mother was sentimental. She lived in stubborn denial when it came to certain unpleasant aspects of reality. I don’t know where I read this definition, but it states it very well: a sentimental person cannot endure living NOT as they would like to live. Mom celebrated life, but accepted only those things she wanted to believe about it. She encouraged my creativity, however, and I’ll always grateful for that.
I don’t recall exactly how it started, but she probably said something like: “ Use your imagination!” If she did, I’m not sure she knew what was being unleashed. Of course, neither did I, but I seemed to know enough to begin to draw - from that fathomless well - the unconscious mind.
Berdyaev said “the faculty of imagination is the source of all creativeness,” and that “imagination springs from the depths of the unconscious.” Mom oversaw the beginning of that probe into primeval depths. She put the tools in my hands— most likely just pencils, crayons and blank paper— and cheering me on, proceeded to kick-start the grand adventure of my puzzling, creative life.
So, in a way, she allowed in me what she would never allow in herself. Mom only countenanced brightness and cheer in her home..but there was much more to the magic of the imagination than wonder and light. From it also issued all things dark and chaotic. For the rest of my life I would wrestle with these things, in the creative struggle to make everything new.
I don’t blame my mother for wanting to protect me: I was a vulnerable little bundle. She really wanted life to be “nice” (another word she used a lot) and was brave in her efforts to realize this fantasy. But the destructive forces rife in this conflicted world simply do not “play nice.” Fortunately, those called to the creative vocation don’t need to pussyfoot around either.
Of course, I wasn’t conscious of all these things back then. But “I knew in my knower” there was something afoot.
Questions arose like: why does my mother act so nervous and fearful sometimes, why does it seem like she is governed more by emotions than reason (although I’m really not one to talk in this regard,) like when she breathlessly spanked me after I had wandered out where the hobos hung out? (See my March blog.) Are the hobos “bad” people. I knew she didn’t think that. My mother couldn’t tolerate that perspective. To Mom, nobody was bad. Were they “good” then, I must’ve wondered? They couldn’t be if my mother didn’t want me to chance by their temporary place of residence. But they obviously weren’t “nice.” Maybe they were just conflicted like Mom.
And there were other questions springing up. My father was a Methodist minister. In the church there were a bunch of people who listened to his sermons every Sunday. Every day he’d work in his study on his sermon, a message designed to reassure the congregation. I wondered.. what was it about life that my dad had to work so hard to help his people get through it?
I’ll get into this next month. Walt Disney will be part of the discussion after that. I should also note that the partial quote “in the loins” of the first drawing in this blog is from H.G. Wells, a man laudably determined to focus more on the future of mankind than its past.
Notes on the vicissitudes of the creative life.