Friday, August 04, 2006

Creative Self-Indulgent Musings

We interrupt this war for a moment of self-indulgent reflection: turning away from the violence of the world if only for a moment, to remind ourselves that there is something else to this thing we call life besides the endless news relating the latest reports of collateral damage inflicted by various force involved in various “righteous” battles. For quite some time I’ve found it better for my health to avoid watching the news on the television. It isn’t necessarily that I’m looking for something more in-depth than what is normally found on the evening news, or their sensationalist philosophy for story placement: “if it bleeds, it leads”. No, my issues with the news mostly related to my proclivity for shouting at whatever talking head happened to annoy me the most at any given time.

Yelling at televisions is not, in the general scheme of things, something that is considered to be socially acceptable (unless it is during a sporting event and you are conveying your dismay at the perceived incompetence of the referee/umpire/judge). When there are particularly significant events underway, however, I try to make an exception to this quirk of mine (the watching and the screaming). Suffice it to say, at this point I’ve managed to follow the events of the current “war” being waged by Israel without causing my landlady to serve me with an eviction (though when she isn’t home I have launched a few ICBMs at the various network minions as they take editorialising to an entirely new level).

Which brings me to the self-indulgent reflection that I mentioned. In the best traditions (already initiated here) of creating posts completely through the stream of consciousness method, I am writing this “as directed by the spirit”. You could say that this is an effort to achieve “pure creativity”, but that may be even more esoteric than the idea of “stream of consciousness” … either way, the results are essentially the same.

The reason for this divergence into self is quite simple: I took a moment to read part of my sidebar on this blog. The last line of my profile caught my eye particularly, especially because of the last few days, and it made me want to say something more about what it really means. The profile ends with, “My why for living is creativity; so long as I have that, life goes on.” I was inspired to write that by a survivor of the holocaust who also happened to be an eminent psychiatrist: Viktor Frankl. Frankl developed an approach to psychotherapy called Logotherapy/Existential Analysis (LTEA) based on three concepts, combining the philosophical and psychological realms: Freedom of Will, Will to Meaning, and Meaning in Life.

When we are able to find meaning for our lives, Frankl discovered while in Auschwitz, the human spirit is able to overcome just about anything that it must in order to return to that life. By observing his own reactions to the concentration camp and those of his unfortunate campmates, Frankl learned that the key to surviving the horrors of the concentration camp, in a sense, became the means unto an end in itself, that end being a return to the life that had been taken away by the Nazis.

This seems more important to me lately, but I’m not entirely sure why. As someone who spends a great deal of time immersed in a world where reality is not of tremendous importance, it becomes very disturbing when I am paying attention to what is going on in the news and the realities of life turn out to be even more disturbing than the fictions that I’m creating (some of which are incredibly disturbing). Perhaps it is tied to “getting older” and felling a certain sense of maturity being foisted upon me, whether I like it or not (as is usually the case). Maturity never seemed to be much of an issue in the past (well, not in my opinion), but as the years go by it certainly seems that things that seemed important in the past are now revealed for all their triviality.

Even as I try to write this there seems to be a resistance from some part of my mind, likely the part that prefers hiding from reality and frolicking through the landscapes of fantasy that I’m creating, or conducting the constant soundtrack that plays in the background. On the other hand, it may be a sense of shame that I’m experiencing; that ubiquitous “Jewish guilt” that manages to permeate our lives, regardless of how well things are going. The reality of it is that it doesn’t matter. What is important is that there’s enough of something bothering me that my sense of equilibrium (in the creative sense) is off, and I’m disturbed.

As I said, this is just coming as it goes, a non sequitur perhaps, but an appropriate description of how my mind is currently working. That said … (segue to … cue strings, softly playing in the background) the current situation in the middle east has given me a great deal to think about in the past three weeks (not to mention the past three decades).

We cannot change what we are born to be. This is a statement that could launch millions of debates with endless outcomes, many of which would be diametrically opposed to each other, but what’s the point? Had I chosen to remain “inside my head” and ignored what was going on around me (which is surprisingly easy to do) there would be no point. However, I happen to believe in something else besides creativity adding value to my life and that is the presence of a conscience that cannot be ignored.

The manifestation of conscience, in this case, has a direct bearing on the current events in the world, especially since most of the world’s attention seems galvanized by the actions on a small nation that is holding the international community to its own time table, ignoring the pleas from some of the few nations with the testicular fortitude to stand against the status quo by opposing Israel’s policies. Without declaring war, or announcing its intentions through the United Nations Israel has entered a sovereign land with ground forces and has carried out countless bombing sorties with their well equipped air force.

As a composer I know that there are times when it “isn’t right” to compose. People have asked me many times how I compose, and it’s a question that isn’t easily answered because composing a piece of music is, in many ways, like writing a novel: there are characters, plots, and numerous other things that need to be kept track of as the piece is brought to life, and if the person behind that act of creativity isn’t in tune with what is going on, the process falls apart. This is not a universally accepted philosophy regarding composing, just mine and perhaps some others (whom I would say are very sensible individuals, demonstrating true insight).

So why not just go back to my music? Ignore the news. Turn off the talking heads. When I was attending McGill University I met some people in the music industry who would likely take that route. They adhered to the “art for arts sake” philosophy, not giving a damn about the world going on around them at any time. Unfortunately, this only results in an insulated individual who is so out of touch with reality that anything they may be hoping to create will not be able to resonate with the audiences that they have been cloistered from. While it may be true that the pursuit of the arts is often, by the nature of what we do, a solitary venture, there are points (at least in my experience) where it becomes necessary to break away from the solitude where you are pouring out of yourself to create things and seek to reconnect with humanity, to refresh the spirit, find new inspiration and rejuvenate the creative imperative.

The difficulty that I am faced with (again, the self-indulgent part) is that the usually easy to find pockets of tranquillity that serve as ideal oasis for recharging my creative batteries all seemed to have been usurped seemingly overnight. It is impossible to go anywhere without encountering people either discussing the political (and military) situation that is getting increasingly unstable in Israel and Lebanon or the continuing saga that has become the 21st century incarnation of Vietnam for the United States: Iraq.

It is possible to turn off the news, or not go to particular websites that I know will aggravate me, but what I find even more difficult to cope with are some of the comments and conversations that will end up being expressed either directly to me, or merely in passing. As someone who was raised in a household where racism was banned (including racist humour, which may be called many things, but not funny), it never ceases to amaze me how easy it seems for some people to resort to absolute base ignorance when they have nothing else to use as the foundation of their arguments.

As has been written on this blog before, I am vehemently opposed to the racist apartheid policies that Israel has implemented against their second-class citizens. Israel is a nation founded upon false promises, lies, deception … and hope. Many peoples have invested their lives – their souls – in the hope that Israel would thrive as a nation, a post-holocaust homeland for the displaced European Jews who had escaped the horrors of Hitler and his maniacal henchmen.

Alas, even before the ink was dry on the plans, the hopes and dreams behind the creation of the modern State of Israel were transformed, hopelessly distorted by a small handful of manipulative politicians and ideologues who decided that the idea of a “Jewish homeland” was too small a dream to include the other people who were already living in the “promised land”. In a sense, these hard-core Zionists merely usurped the ideologies that Hitler had espoused when he proposed the political annexation of Austria. The desire for “breathing room” was used as an excuse to dismiss the first movements of the Third Reich while they consolidated the traditional, ancient homelands of the Aryan people.

Perhaps the psychotic Zionists who decided that it wasn’t going to be possible for Jews to live next to Palestinians and Arabs really believed that the Jewish people needed a homeland that was ethnically pure … free of goyim and anyone else who wasn’t one of the “Chosen” people. Then again, they were probably just a bunch of bigoted assholes whose hearts had been so hardened by what they had experienced in life that the idea of living with anyone other than “their own kind” was reprehensible.

Ah, there’s the rub, for out of these hardened hearts was born an environment that could, without much prodding, produce an atmosphere of distrust, abuse, inequality and oppression that forced people into unbearable situations. I make no concessions for the use of violence: in my heart, I believe it is – and should be – the last resort, never the first. I cannot accept that the acts of infamous organizations such as the PLO were, in any way whatsoever, justified. Killing civilians is never something that is justified. Soldiers will die in battle when there is a war, this is a part of what they expect when they sign the dotted lines on their inductee paperwork. Civilian deaths, on the other hand, are not ever acceptable.

This does not excuse what is currently taking place in Lebanon. After slaughtering innocent children the Israeli government stated that they would stop their bombing runs into Lebanon for at least 48 hours while the deaths were investigated. This cease-fire of embarrassment did not last the 48 hours Israel stated – it barely lasted twelve. Consequently, the State of Israel has become as guilty as any terrorist or terrorist group that takes the lives of innocent civilians.

A conscience is thus seared by the ongoing and seemingly senseless violence that assaults us in the ceaseless reports of violence, retaliation, countermove, and so on until all that remains is to count the bodies left over. When I was younger I discovered that the ways of the Ostrich were not very effective for dealing with things that seemed threatening. Sticking your head in the sand so you cannot see what is about to destroy you does not, in general, make that thing go away. It does, however, offer a much better target of opportunity for any potential enemy.

The only question, I suppose, remains “who is the ostrich” in this equation. Israel is approaching their policy towards Lebanon and Hezbollah with unmitigated arrogance, seemingly unconcerned with what the rest of the world things of their actions. Hezbollah has continued to do what they have done since they began, launching more missiles into Israel in retaliation for Israeli aggression, and the Palestinians continue to try and live in a land that is at times unliveable. Following the rules of a ruling nation that acts more like an occupying army than a sovereign land, which results in the encouragement of more extremists, ready to offer their lives for the cause of martyrdom.

Conscience is seared by the question that remains unanswered, and often unasked. It is a question that has no answer of meaning, for that answer makes no difference: the question being “who is to blame for this madness”. Some are claiming that to criticize Israel is to support the terrorists; to this neo-conservative rhetoric I have but one thing to say: wake up and smell the coffee.

If two people shoot each other, does it really matter who fired the first shot? Not to the families burying the bodies. Perhaps it is something to ease the conscience of those who believe there is “righteous violence” and that Israel is taking up the fight against worldwide terrorism, but that is really only a cop out answer, it doesn’t resolve the real issue. In this case, the real issue is not of blame for the violence, it is of why intelligent, articulate people cannot find an end to violence.

So long as we resort to the easy way, the path of least resistance, we will find ourselves in places where innocent victims are dying. The reason is quite simple and will only change if we change: we must learn the lesson that violence is not the way to resolve our problems. Violence does not advance our species, it pulls us down into the muck and mire of the most primitive creatures that do not think but live their entire lives with violence.

As it is written, “he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” The truth of that, it would seem, becomes more pronounced every day.

May you know peace, and may you find a place to rediscover creative inspiration.

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