Divine Creation

Someone has left Scoop on the free shelf at my library and I keep picking it up, deciding it’s in bad condition, and then putting it back.1 Someone else is clearly doing the same thing, because it keeps moving around in circles on the shelf.

It reminded me that I read Brideshead Revisited not that long ago, and this one passage has stuck with me for quite a while:

“I had felt the brush take life in my hand that afternoon; I had had my finger in the great, succulent pie of creation. I was a man of the Renaissance that evening – of Browning’s Renaissance. I, who had walked the streets of Rome in Genoa velvet and had seen the stars through Galileo’s tube, spurned the friars with their dusty tomes and their sunken, jealous eyes and their crabbed hair-splitting speech.”2

I’m always searching out these passages of what it feels like to be in the moment of art, or sports, or whatever. I think most people have heard the term flow, but I usually think of this as “bliss” rather than a kind of focus. I seem to confuse a few things all together: one is a kind of rightness of being in the moment, and one is a kind of productivity that shuts out other distractions. Reading is not the same kind of flow as editing a novel. Hiking is not the same kind of flow as drawing. But the shedding of the constant noise of thought, rather than the accomplishment of a task, is what actually makes these activities pleasant for me. It’s less what can be achieved in them but rather the peace that comes from focus.

I’m also curious about how much study and practice play a role in the pleasure of creation. From experience, I think a lot. Just as practicing a sport and improving makes playing a sport more pleasant, the same is true of writing. The more experience and references one collects as a writer, the more pleasant writing becomes. I feel like I make this comparison a lot: that the raw act of putting text on a page is very much like playing a sport, in which I don’t really have to think because the practice has already been done. Or rather, it’s not that one doesn’t think, it’s that thinking means something different in this case.

A lot of writers write about the craft of writing, but I always feel like there’s something missing and I will never really understand what mechanism is employed in the creation of a text. Maybe the joke’s on me and it’s muses after all. Who knows.

  1. And remembering how many unread books I have at home, and recalling the slowly buckling shelves…
  2. I actually listened to it as an audiobook, and I couldn’t find the actual passage in the book, so I hope this is about right…given that it came from The Internet.