Thank you, Jack. I’ve known of that statement a long time --- it actually has a place of honour on the Official Philosophy Wall in my classroom (yes, of course there really is such a thing; why would you doubt it?) --- and I’ve always liked the insight it makes into human nature. In fact, it automatically popped into my mind the other day, grist for the mill, when I saw a question put to J.K. Rowling about where to write; more on that momentarily. (31 years of teaching adolescents tends to train your mind to make lightning fast connections between seemingly unrelated things. At least, it had better do so.)
Lewis wrote that statement more than seven decades ago, as far as I have been able to determine, which is simultaneously ironic and shocking, don’t you think? I certainly do. Seventy years ago --- during the Second World War --- Lewis thought that? Really? Let’s put aside the maelstrom of noise and chaos invariably accompanying armed conflict, because I don’t think he was referring to that at all. No, he was talking about ordinary, everyday lives. Starved for solitude, silence and privacy. Seventy years ago. Eons before the advent of television, computers, the internet, social media, email, texting, cell phones... my gosh. What would Jack make of the Babel of shouting voices today, surrounding us everywhere we go, attempting to drown out not only opportunities for solitude, silence and privacy, but also the very capability of engaging in them? If it was relevant back then... if it was worthy of an acute observation/warning back then... how much more so now?
Rowling’s answer to the query of where to write was, ‘anywhere,’ which got me to thinking. (More grist for the mill.) Now, I know perfectly well Rowling is one of the most widely read authors on the planet, immensely successful at what she does. And I’m aware of reports she wrote her early Harry Potter in the equivalent of a Starbucks. Writing at least the beginnings of one of the most popular book series ever in a public coffee house... well, it’s hard to argue with that kind of success. Nevertheless, I’m going to try, because... Jo, I’m sorry, but... you’re wrong. At least, I think so.
And as I’ve said before, let’s be clear: I like Starbucks. It’s a great place to go and buy any one of many fattening drinks and chat with friends. (Ever noticed how the consumption of food or drinks is such an overwhelmingly social activity?) Whenever I go, I invariably see numerous people sitting around the store perimeter, hunched over laptops or tablets. Ah, I think to myself, the Great Unwashed have sought... what? Human contact? Nope, can’t be that, silly. Well... human proximity, then? Hmm. Guess so, but it doesn’t make much sense, at least to me. Most are also holding cell phones in one hand. And many who don’t want to listen to the endless musical loop played on the store speakers are also plugged in to iPods. Yikes.
I’ll confess here and now to a sneaking temptation: I want to go over to these people, tap them on the shoulder, wait until they’ve cleared auditory canals of ear buds, and then whisper softly: “Are you trying to be creative? Here? In this almost comically orchestrated barrage of ADD-causing devices and sensory overload extravaganzas? Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND?” (That last would be said with slightly more volume than a whisper, I concede. And don’t worry: I have, so far, managed to resist this temptation. Because hell hath no fury like the Great Unwashed interrupted.)
Arghh. You want to be creative? I’m going to be subversively countercultural here. Follow Jack’s implied advice. Go somewhere quiet with no kaleidoscope of sensory overload. Find someplace where silence and privacy are possible. Stop looking at your damned phone --- you can do without the endless parade of cat videos, pictures of food that people are dumping all over your newsfeed, and the other mostly incredibly banal stuff people are posting. Shut out the distractions, the Babel of the outside world. Then... listen. Just listen. Listen to the silence, listen to your mind actually thinking, forming thoughts. If you’re so inclined, listen for God’s voice. And if you’re writing or trying to be otherwise creative... listen for the voices of your characters. They’re there, desperately wanting to be heard... but your daily routines tend to discourage that.
Yes, as I’ve said before, I do listen to music sometimes when I’m writing. But it ain’t vocals. It’s instrumentals. And I tend to listen to film soundtracks where the music corresponds to the mood of whatever it is I’m writing. Music used in that manner can be a powerful tool for stimulating creativity.
Now, I’m not saying you have to become a hermit to be creative. (Or anti-social, although that sometimes comes with the territory of being a writer.) What I am saying is when being creative, you might want to temporarily isolate yourself from the plethora of distractions we have allowed to insidiously infiltrate our lives and now can’t seem to be without. Because they’re stifling our ability to think, to focus, to maintain attention span, to be creative. I see it in people all the time, folks. Including my students.
By the way, on a last note, Lewis also had this to say about solitude and silence and privacy:
“Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile --- Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end….The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.”
Of course, these lines are in a different work of his: The Screwtape Letters. And the character supposedly writing them? A senior devil, writing to advise a junior devil on how to lead humanity astray.