What is the value of wonder?
This is something I have been reflecting on lately, and the idea was brought into sharper focus when I was running along my usual route. The path beside the water was dappled with winter – there were icy patches in the pavement cracks and streaks of frost on the grass. But the landscape was not yet consumed by winter’s silence: it was still alive and visible beneath this surface layer of cold and snow. The water was also not subdued: it moved with great freedom, waves that rolled in sharpened wind.
Even though it’s been quite a while since I’ve added new content to jensul.ca, I still wrote over 40 posts during 2016, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and so I thought I would make a post now reviewing some of my highlights from the year, as well as looking ahead to the “re-launch” of jensul.ca I’m anticipating for 2017. One of my major projects that I have been focusing on as of late in lieu of this website is my current novel. I have been working on this book, which I would class as literary and philosophical fiction, for the past year and a half, and decided to devote my writing energies principally towards its completion. On that front, I am excited to say that I am only a few short chapters away from finishing. It has been an intense and engrossing journey, for while it will be the fourth novel I have written, it is the most extensive in terms of the world and cast of characters it encompasses, as well as the style and philosophical ideas I have tried to include in its pages. With this end in sight, I am excited to be able to invest more time and attention into writing regular posts for jensul.ca again.
In writing reviews, I look for films that hold some deeper resonance or artistic merit, something I can latch onto like a thread to further unravel, forming a reflection. Yet there are some films which resonate with me so profoundly that it is a struggle to think of translating them in some way or shape into the medium of language. This reveals, in a sense, the divide between the image and the word, and the limitation of language.
The image is what gives a movie its special power and significance. An image can strike and affect us in a way unlike anything else. Think, for example, of the face of a suffering person: perhaps a close family member or friend you saw going through a hard time, or even the face of a complete stranger you saw on the news in connection with some calamity. Such a face can remain in our minds with almost a haunting endurance. Of course, images can be evoked by good writing as well, and when I think back on many of my favourite novels, I am reminded of a particularly potent image of a scene between characters or of something that occurred in the plot. Yet this is still different from the way in which the image confronts us so boldly in the course of a film. Sometimes the sharp detail of this image affects our emotions in an immediate and powerful manner we are unable to describe.
I am a creative person and have often defined myself by my creativity. But sometimes I experience what I might call creative erasure. My mind, formerly filled with ideas and dreams, words and stories, becomes a blank slate. The prior rush of passion and ambition slows almost to a still.
I think that self-definition based on the mind is a habit into which we often fall. We speak of the body, of the heart and soul, but when we attempt to isolate the most fundamental aspect of self, we tend to focus on the mind. We ask, “what is it that makes me me?” and thus confront the question of personal identity. What makes identity secure? What allows it to endure over time so that we can say we are the same person now as we were a year, a month, a week before? Perhaps we have the same body, or possess a soul that is pure spirit and so superior to matter, or perhaps our psychological experiences are the key to self-discovery.
Although the dying days of 2015 are gone and 2016 is already a week underway, the New Year is still sufficiently new that I’d like to take a look back at the journey of jensul.ca so far and at what is next to come. I officially launched this website at the end of September and since then it has been up and running with approximately three to four weekly posts for 15 weeks.
I am so grateful to all of the people who have read any of the posts at jensul.ca and those who have subscribed to my weekly newsletter (if you haven’t done so and would like to, just enter your email address in the box at the top right of the site). All of the feedback I have received is so meaningful and encourages me to keep writing and sharing my thoughts in this forum.
I always carry my notebook with me and I always bring my pen. There is something terrifying about the thought of leaving home without a pen. To venture into the unknown without this essential piece of self seems unwise and unsafe.
My pen is silver and cool; it has a nice weight to it as my hand glides across the page. We have been together for so long, my pen and I. I wrote my last two novels with it and other things since. I have many different pens, and yet I always write with this one when I want to access something real and true. I keep buying ink refills and when they run out, I feel slightly despairing until there is a new pack in my hand.
Life does not occur on a level plane. There are inevitable highs and lows. Yet this is what gives to life value, and preserves the sanctity of wonder, joy and beauty, so they are not reduced to a monotonous existence, an impoverished understanding of life. Life has what I might call a natural and necessary ebb and flow. This is evident in the changing seasons of life. There is a circularity in the yearly repetition of special occasions and holidays. However, there is also a singularity to these events: they happen once in the entire cycle of days, and their value would be denigrated if instead they were constantly recurring.
This is true of both the creative and the spiritual life (since the two are inextricably connected). Creative ascent is so named because it involves a movement above the normalcy of life. The creative individual is given this unique ability to transcend his human capacity and earthly height, in order to see from a higher perspective. To me, this sort of miraculous rise (and by miraculous I mean creative or spiritual insight that seems to go beyond the limits or processes of reason) can be compared to the climber’s trek up the mountain.
We are all naturally creative beings.
I believe strongly that each person possesses this innate creativity; it is a part of the deepest realization of self. Whether or not we recognize this creativity has no bearing on its presence within us. As created beings, we necessarily have a share in this creative power that inspired us into existence.
I think the problem is that many of us don’t know how to access our creativity. I frequently hear people rejecting a “creative” label, saying things like, “I’m just not very creative” or “I’m not very good at creative things.” However, at this preliminary step of self-labelling, we block our natural capacity for creativity. Why do we reduce the value of a creative act to external judgements of “good” or “bad”? Is the purpose in expressing creativity merely to display said creativity, and to gain objective approval?
No. In fact, when we define creativity by these terms, we transform it into a kind of utilitarianism. Creative acts become valued for the end or for a purely practical purpose, and the joy and beauty of the creative process is lost as a result. Creating with such a goal in mind does not channel our true creativity but instead stifles what is good about the creative act. It does so through our attempts to control and manipulate the thing we are creating, rather than giving it the freedom it needs and deserves (similar to the freedom with which we were imbued at creation).
I want to be a person who doesn’t care about success.
Success is such an incentive for so many of our actions, but definitions of success hinge on fleeting concerns with which the world supplies us. We are told something matters, and so it does. It matters externally, and yet we strive to adhere to this external standard with the notion that it may make us happy if we meet it.
Most of these ideas of success revolve around the concept of control: of being able to control one’s own fate and steering it in the desired direction. Success conjures up images of responsibility and hard work, of unceasing effort and a refusal to accept one’s limitations as the farthest extent that one can go to achieve the pinnacle of all their hopes and dreams (or what they have been told should be their hopes and dreams).
I want to say something that has probably been said a million times before. It’s about reading- in case you couldn’t tell from the title- and why we could all benefit from doing more of it. I hope the following words don’t simply sound like a hollow advertisement, a brochure about the importance of books, especially in this “modern” world.
So how do I create something new out of a message that is tired and overdone? Maybe I won’t accomplish this feat at all, but I think I’ll make my attempt by detailing my own reading experiences. I have always loved writing, so perhaps it goes hand in hand that I’ve always loved reading as well. The two are closely related, obviously. From reading, I have learned a lot about ways to weave words together, and through reading, I continue to gain new insight that helps me to hone my craft.