Thursday, 8 November 2012

Fear of the Blank Page

On Sunday, I'm starting a new website devoted to my improvisation-related activities in association with monk-like improv anagarika, Luke Beahan. It's called Luke & Michael. Click here!

A new blog these days is like a new exercise book used to be. I am not alone in my fetish for stationery products, and I'm a proud lifelong fan of Ryman. There is something emotional about their shops. The promise they encapsulate – in all that pristine paper, those fully-charged pens and empty filing systems awaiting content – is overwhelming. The entirety of human creativity is there, suspended in perpetual potentiality. Ryman is a sacred time-locked temple of the possible.

When I was at school, my slowest, best handwriting and my most carefully considered words would fill the first page and a half of any new exercise book. Thereafter, with the first crossings-out, dog-ears and smudges, the quality would rapidly diminish. By the end of term, the thing was a complete disgrace.

By the age of twelve, I realised that maintaining the perfection of a new exercise book was a practical, philosophical and linguistic impossibility. In order to combat my instinctive terror of the first page, I got into the habit of deliberately spoiling it with messy scribbles or spillages. This act of rebellion against the blank page's stern reproof (an assertion of the supremacy of the id over the super-ego), liberated my creativity, and allowed me to write what I wished, free from the injunction to be perfect. Thus, content and creativity were always born out of a destructive act.

The notion of reality being born from an imperfection is well rehearsed in both religious and scientific narratives. The Big Bang is a wobble, the accidental imbalance of quarks and anti-quarks that crudely spits out matter and energy from pure undifferentiated light. Gnostic myths also tell of the physical world being an imperfect emanation from an uncreated sphere of unity.

Vestiges of that pre-Creation perfection remain in our imaginations, like a half-remembered Platonic Form, even as we get older. We see it in a freshly-laid carpet of snow on a January morning, into which we feel compelled to rush out. Or a blank canvas. Or the surface of a crème brulée. Or, if you like, the empty stage that exists in the moment of an intake of breath, just before an improviser steps out and opens his mouth to speak.

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