Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Necessity of Greed

No, this isn't a blog about Capitalism in the 21st Century. It's actually about creativity, and about what feeds the creative impulse. KP mentioned in the last thread that he once avoided reading in the fear that he would unintentionally copy the things he read. It's a theory I've heard a lot, and never much liked (so I'm glad KP left it in the dust;)). The most obvious problem, of course, is that it's not good for a writer in a technical sense, as it leads to a lack of exposure toward the basic craft of writing. It's like being asked to build a cabinet out of a hunk of wood, a hammer, and three nails. But, beneath that problem of craft, there is another concern: this avoidance theory fails to grasp the basic dynamics of the creative impulse.

So what is that impulse? Where does that creativity come from?

I'm gonna break the creative theories down into two camps (though this will be an imperfect analogy, as all such generalizations are). The first camp usually believes that creativity is an inward thing. They don't want to read, because then they'll be forced to steal other ideas. Better to stick your head in the sand so that you can sink into yourself. Find your originality deep within and pull it out, some pure and perfect thing.

The other camp believes creativity comes from outside. You have to find it and pull it in. Read those books, and read lots of them. This is the grist for the mill.

There are problems, of course, with both, but I think the greater danger lies within the ideas of that first group, who hold to the belief that creativity is an entirely inward process. Dig deep enough and you will find something unique and true... and yet if you bury your head too deep in the sand, and keep it there too long, all you might find is a void, a wide abyss of nothingness.

Creativity, I think, comes from the mind's interaction with things outside of itself. Creativity arises from the heat of friction, as the mind rubs up against the outside world, against all the stories that are propagated in and of that world. New ideas do not come out of the inward nothingness of isolation, but rather out of the carcasses of old ideas. Creativity, to me, is an organic thing, a growing thing, and the natural world of ideas is not so different from the natural world of our little terrestrial plane. Things die, they decompose, and then they are used to build something new.

Human invention is a tower built endlessly on the backs of old ideas. If some of Einstein's solutions have been proven false or inadequate... well, the better solutions were only possible because of those first attempts by Einstein to understand the physics of the world. And his own ideas came out of his studies, out of the imperfect theories of others. He read and learned the math, worked out ideas and solutions, and in so doing found something new. This is creativity, drawing in the world around and making something new from it. Seeing something new in it.

And so writers have to be greedy. They have to be greedy for personal experience (no, they don't have to sky dive or rob banks or see a war up close and personal... but they should observe the world around them, recording and remembering), and they have to be greedy for other stories. Read those stories, let them decompose into the mental soils... and then grow something unique and different out of that rich loam. And the more a writer has decomposing up there the more elements they have to play with, the more building blocks with which to build. Feed that soil and the garden that grows there will be the richer and stranger for it.

Yes, this outward idea of creativity has its faults and dangers. One of the greatest, and most common, is rooted in that Romantic idea of inspiration as something mysterious and otherworldly, a blessing of metaphysical grace without which a writer cannot work. This, I think, is an illusion, though for some that illusion might be helpful. Too often, though, it seems harmful, ceding control to an outward source. It's an abnegation of responsibility, of the need for effort and work and continual learning.

But, despite the dangers, I think creativity requires us to open ourselves. Let it in, let it all in. Let it churn around inside you. That friction, that heat of contact, is the driving force of the creative impulse. Our brains are like particle acclerators sending molecules winging around, banging into each other, propelling motion. Shy away from this and you'll fall into slow stasis. The void. You'll search, and search, and search...

Don't reach inward, but outward. Be greedy.

9 comments:

Bookworm1605 said...

Well said, and I totally agree with you, but with an addendum:

Total inward focus risks artistic atrophy. And complete dependence on outward sources for creativity severs the connection between art and artist. I believe that the key to genuine creation is the recogition of a connection between the inward and outward. It is when something wonderful, or horrific or funny or whatever, on the outside, catalyzes a sympathetic emotion within us, that something magic happens.

I think true art is intentional, and accidental. Premeditated and instinctive. However, it is not random.

"We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true." Robert Wilensky

Ink said...

Ha! I was wondering how long it would take for someone to call me on that... Not very long! Yeah, I agree, you actually need that inward focus at times... but only after you've absorbed a lot from the world and stories around you. Otherwise that inward focus doesn't do much. I thought the whole black and white thing made for better rhetoric in the post, though. ;) Though I couldn't help undercutting it with the whole all generalizations are partly false thing. I'm too kindly a soul... I don't think I have what it takes to be a shock jock.

And I love that Wilensky quotation. We even added extra monkeys and gave them Microsoft Word and still nothing! That experiment was a bit of a pisser, I guess...

:)

I agree with you, though. I truly think writers should open out to the world and suck everything in, as art isn't created in a void. But the most interesting part of the process might be that movement of the thought/idea/story/emotion/experience, moving from the outside to the inside, to something new, to that interior story you see playing out in your head. It's that alchemical moment of transformation that's key. Might make a nice blog post, that... though we've touched on it a bit in other posts.

Ms Kitty said...

I'm going to fall back on my technical day job and say: GiGo. It's not meant as an insult to anyone, it's just techie term. Which translates as "garbage in, garbage out."

The more experiences a writer has the better their writing will be. Also they will process the information they have, whatever that may be, to produce the product: their writing.

Take your average teenager, just getting started with their first story. What will they write? If their bookshelves are stuffed with Harry Potter, they may well write Harry Potter fan fiction. Or something similar to Harry Potter.

They have no life experiences to speak of, so they write fantasy. Great way to get started, as it is the technical stuff (like grammar) that takes the most time to learn.

Writing as an art form is not really spontaneous. You must learn to type, to read, basic language skills, some type of grammar. Then if you want to get published, you have to learn plotting, characterization, and marketing. If you are using a computer, then you need basic computer skills. And so forth.

So that puts me in the "not random" camp and the "not spontaneous" camp, as well as the "creativity requires massive amounts of input" camp.

PS - love that quote!

Bookworm1605 said...

As with most everything, there's usually no strict interpretation that's going to apply in all cases. I agree completely with both of you on all points, but I will throw out an interesting case study to consider: H. P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft was a very introverted man, sickly most of his life. And while he was a child prodigy by all accounts, he struggled with school. He also struggled socially and financially, living most of his life with aunts and never really seeing any monetary success out of his writing. But the interesting thing about Lovecraft is the nature of this writing. His themes are always dark and cataclysmic, often his stories end with his protagonist losing his sanity. The overriding message is that we are inconsequential compared to the cosmic big picture and when we come up against the forces of 'evil' the end result is madness.

Interesting when you learn that his father contracted syphillis and (as a result?) went insane. He spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. Lovecraft's mother eventually also went insane and spent her final years in the same mental hospital. It's obvious that these events not only deeply affected his psyche, but directed the tone of all his creative works.

None of this is to say that he did not have literary influences. He was very well read, citing Poe and Lord Dunsany as two of his favorites. But nevertheless, Lovecraft is an excellent example of an artist compelled by his inner demons to write in a very unique way. It makes me wonder what kind of writer he would have been if he'd had a normal life. As an editor once said about Robert E. Howard, if his life had been less dark, we, as readers, would have suffered for it.

Wanu said...

Crikey, Ink, that is profound, in a disturbing kind of way. For sure, trauma will engross someone, and for the artist, it will come out in their work.

I'd hate for people to be able to unravel my writings and say 'this happened to you, therefore you are hung up about this...'

Kinda creepy. Like when people try armchair psychology on you.

Having said that, there's so much to agree with here. Life itself is beset with uncertainty, and an artist must face that. Someone once said to me 'If God wanted you dead, you'd already be there.'

I don't believe in God, but it is easy to transpose that quote to suit any belief - chaos, circumstance, grand design, it's all the same when you say: 'if the universe wanted you dead, you would be!'

I think most artists kinda realise that we're very flash-in-the-pan as individuals. Indeed, on the one hand, Christians might say 'all the hairs on your head have been counted, why is it important to chase selfish desires?' and on the other hand, all the evolutionists might say, 'It is the species, and not the individual that matters. Play your damned part, and if you've inherited duff genes, you'll die off, and future generations will be better off for it.'

Either way, if you follow God, or science, the individual human is a very small thing. Don't at least some of our artistic thoughts embrace that? Buddhists make sand paintings as an exercise in appreciating the ultimate unravelling of effort - hours spent arranging different coloured sand gets wafted away on the next breeze.

That's us! That's the human condition!

How can something this big, this looming, not influence our creative drive?

I think artists are the new cultists, we're the only people 'allowed' to hold these things up to the light and say 'look at this'.

I love that scene in American Beauty where the artist talks about wind whipping up some rubbish, and how beautiful and perfect it is. I've met quite a few people who see the world this way, and they are truly inspiring, just to be in the presence of. Yet most of them are fairly ineffective in the world, it's too big, too perfect, too overwhelming for them. These people are mental, by societal standards.

Yet! If you actually video a small whirlwind that picks up a few bits of rubbish and twirls them around and around, and you exhibit that in a gallery, 'normal' (everyday) people will watch. NOT, I believe, simply because it is in an art gallery, but because in those few moments in which they watch, they are excused, they are allowed to take the time to view a small scale natural phenomenon. They'd pass such a thing on the way to work without pause (c'mon, most of us would, I certainly would), but in those carefree moments of indulgence they get to look, and say, 'that's kinda mesmerising, and if you think about it, the different routes of atmospheric conditions, and people discarding things that were manufactured miles away, these all came together to create this little dance... that really is something to behold.'

I think that's our job, to some extent. To hold up the ordinary, and remind people that it is extraordinary. This is why I read lit fic, and not fantasy, I love connecting with the real, with being involved in something so amazing it simply has to be true, or at least so convincing that I have doubts about whether it is biography or fiction. I love that. Fantasy... this seems babyish to me, big building blocks, simplified psychology.. nah, I want the world, as it is, interpreted in snippets of the everyday presented as things which I'm allowed to look at, indulge in, think about...

I want to put people on the spot, too, and I have a great story lined up to do this. I wanna show you guys, but I'm miles behind on the crit stakes, so I'll keep it in reserve for now, but shocks, take an idea, a cultural ideal even, and poke the holes in it. Doesn't this also happen in American Beauty 'Come down, and save me' - ? You can really turn some things on their head, because art is about perspective, and from one perspective, a kindly woman wishes to bring emotional turmoil out of a struggling man and soothe his fears... yet from another perspective, the same situation features a selfish woman who is desperate to be needed, and she merely fulfils her role in order to feel wanted. We get to chop and change things, show what is, and what may be, and I've strayed miles off the original point.

Bllx, this one is about greed, isn't it?

lol! Never mind, I'll post my thing anyway.

What I would add, is that I've been holding myself off one story that I really wanted to write, and trying to force myself to write another that is beguiling and annoying to me. However, my timetable has moved on, and now it is time to concentrate on that other story, and I'm on fire! lol! I have been aching to write this thing for nearly a year, and now the floodgates are open I am both productive and happy. This is crazy! This is how short-term desires can send us into a spin, even though we're a 70-yr life expectant piece of gism-borne primate which really doesn't matter.

Short term desires are actually the only way life, on an individual level, could work.

One of my biology lecturers once said that if you asked a plant what the meaning of life was, if it could talk, it'd tell you 'to give rise to the next generation.'

True of us all, again!

See how these tributaries channel into the same brain and come out in the same blog post?

This is what we do!

Yes, a plant would say that.

But its DNA wouldn't.

Christians are right - all the hairs on our heads have been counted, the actual number, and length, and how often they will fall out is all written right there, in chemical codes.

Yet DNA does not have any ideas of its own, no agenda, or desire, it simply acts how its properties dictate.

It propagates, because it can.

It changes, and some of those changes are successful in further propagation. Not because there is an agenda, just because: this happens, and this happens, and this happens. That doesn't happen, but there is neither remorse nor a 'so what?', the stuff that does happen just keeps happening.

Nature is one of the most vicious places there is.

Check that out!

I mean it. Look at a hillside, on which trees flourish, beyond which the ocean rolls... the leaves of those trees are producing lignin as fast as they can in response to caterpillars eating at them, which are eating as fast as they can in order to store energy for the big transformation which they don't even understand, and beneath the bark of that tree, parasites and grubs eat and savage each other. On the ground, little furry creatures are eating crickets and such, always on the alert because birds and cats are trying to eat them. That ocean has a bunch of single-celled creatures which get eaten every second, by creatures that get their asses kicked by bigger creatures, who in turn get eaten...

What a beautiful landscape! lol! Perspective is such a big thing, and the brain that churns out differing perspectives makes art, and I really believe that most people think these thoughts, they just don't have the time to develop and share them.

For whatever reason, other people are driven crazy by possibility, circumstance, different perspectives, cool stuff, crazy shit, man, all kinds of stuff that they want to prod others about and say, "Check this out!"

You know, the other person might have walked past it on the way to work, but if you truly get a chance to go 'Look!!!!' then there's your own job satisfaction right there.

And on a planet with a life expectancy of c9billion years (before the sun goes supernova), it doesn't mean a thing!

lol!

Happy New Year!

Ink said...

I like that scene of the windblown bag in American Beauty, too. I think that's kind of what I mean about being open to the world. Creativity comes from the outside, or at least it starts with some experience (or group of experiences) from the outside. That's sort of the job of the writer or artist, to really see something, to pull it inside and understand it, and then reflect it back out into the world. To use it, to create something from it. I suppose the best way to say it is simply that it follows an outward-inward-outward pattern. You reach out, and then you pull things in... and then there's that alchemical trasnformation, and the transmuted substance is then sent back out into the world.

I also like seeing the mundane as something extraordinary and unique... and yet one of the things I like about fantasy is that sometimes the extraordinary is extraordinary too. There's a vividness and release in the best fantasy that's wonderful... that draws you beyond the known world without ever losing touch with it. You see the mundane of the world... but vastly transformed.

I do regret the psychological simplicity of some of the stories at times... though I think some of the best fantasy has this depth and complexity as well as the wonder of the fantastic. Though, actually, I think the simple ones can serve an important function as well. Upcoming blog? Stay tuned...

Wanu said...

I don't think anybody can live without having that 'from the outside in' thing going on.

There are books about perspective, and I read one which looked at everything in great detail. One of the central concepts this book dealt with was how nothing happens in isolation - you can't walk, for example, without there being something to walk upon. You walk one way, and in relative terms, the ground goes another.

You cannot do anything without being absolutely connected to all other things which make your action possible. The author who presented these ideas then made the case that everything changes over time - the atoms that made up a man three hundred years ago, are now constituent parts of other things, and they'll change from those, too, and become parts of yet other things, same as the components (on an atomic level) of our own bodies, us blogging and reading here.

It's weird to think that the atoms in our bodies are four and a half billion years old!

In this way of looking at the world, the author then said, as nothing exists in isolation, every action and 'thing' (for example, a cat) in the world is an expression, not in isolation, but merely as an identifiable part of one whole mechanism.

Such actions and expressions have been defined (in language) by humans in terms of how those things appear (temporarily), or the ways in which they interact with their environment. These linguistic constructions (e.g. 'cat') are, when you get right down to it, erroneous.

In other words, a cat is not a cat. It is a part of our universe, defined every bit as much by the things around it, as the qualities it exhibits itself. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to say 'this is a cat'. It would be more accurate to say 'this is a part of the universe which is catting, at this particular time'. The 'cat' is a collection of bits which are temporarily being a cat. There's no cat, there is only catting.

Obviously, the book is more of a convincing journey than my summary of it.

In terms of perspectives, I love all this. On the one hand, there is a sort of brilliance to these ideas and explanations. But on the other hand, the entire text presents an unworkable and fairly pointless set of observations!

Brilliant!

Some of the logic, though, is irrefutable, and for sure, we cannot exist independently of the things around us - air, the ground, food, other people.... In some ways, a human being is really only a sack of organs that does nothing more than continually respond to the constant barrage of stimuli around it.

You wouldn't converse, if there was no one to talk to. You wouldn't fight, if no one annoyed or attacked you. You wouldn't eat, if you didn't feel hungry (a stimulus from inside the body, that one), or if there was no food available.

Everything we do is influenced, maybe even defined, by the things that go 'from the outside in' to us.

The artist has a very interesting position here.

We know that what 'goes in' is important, because it is a part of what 'comes out' as artistic expression.

Most writers acknowledge that reading the work of others is important, in terms of learning craft, in terms of knowing what standard to aim for, and in terms of processing high quality material for inspiration.

In real life, though, some things can hit us hard, and like Lovecraft, we could very well find ourselves examining the same thing over and over, looking at it from different angles, and in different situations.

Now, do we have something of an obligation to expand, as much as possible, the range of things that 'go in' to us?

I'm very interested in this, because I've been a bit 'life is art' in the past, and made it something of a mission to collect 'experiences'. As such, I've seen and done and experienced a helluva lot of stuff. Like any collection, though, my cache of experiences can be wiped out by disaster (Alzheimer's or a severe head injury for example), and I won't be able to take it with me when I go. My collection, despite all the pride of my youth in working on it, now seems every bit as foolish as a collection of novelty bog-roll holders.

(For anyone outside the UK, 'bog-roll' = 'toilet paper' :P)

Having said that, my new(er) hobby/passion/desire, to write, I believe is much fuelled by my collection of experiences.

I've read that a human mind can only account for five hundred different world views, that is, you can only 'understand where you're coming from' for the first five hundred people who you get to know very well.

After that, you can't process any new kinds of positions and will simply reject them.

I don't know how much truth (if any) there is in this theory, but I have sometimes felt 'full up', like I can't take on board any new stuff. Sometimes, I've lamented that I've seen too much, because the broader your perspective becomes, the blurrier things like 'good' and 'bad' become. It's not simply that you cheer for Buster while watching him rip off a Royal Mail train to the tune of millions, and less than an hour later cheer for Sherlock Holmes who is hot on the heels of some would-be train robber...

These responses to movies are small-scale and happen within suspension of disbelief, and we're brought 'on side' by clever writers of screenplays and novels to kinda befriend the main character through a mix of sympathy, empathy and intimacy.

In real life, though, it can be confusing to understand both the cop, and the criminal. It can be personally confusing, and I think this can lead to an almost amoral personal philosophy.

Or maybe I took too many drugs and got fried. Whatever, I'm taking this in the direction of 'how far do we push it?'

I believe I've pushed it too far, and apart from giving myself a good crack at becoming a serious novelist, I haven't done myself any favours. My CV is a hotch-potch of all the different things I wanted to do, broken up by long blanks during which I was teaching English in India, or hitch-hiking around Australia, or being the live-in lover for a rough, council estate mother of three, or taking so many drugs that I can't really remember what I was doing, nor for how long.

Once the smoke settles, and you look back at years like that, they don't seem like such an amazing way to have spent your time.

I've done a lot of stupid things, simply because I expressed my own freedom of choice, claimed life as a piece of art, and launched into them with the determination to brush any future regret aside.

I can't remember who it was, but an actor made himself homeless as a personal growth experience. When I heard about that, I loved it, I thought that was a brilliant expression of searching and finding, and choosing the unusual.

I think if you're going to live like this, you should do it when young. Responsibilities tend to increase with age, and energy declines.

I love this phrase: "I used to want to change the world, but now I can't be bothered to change my socks."

It really happens!

So I'm thinking, for someone who has led something of a more sensible life, what would I recommend, in terms of how far to push it in order to get a really hot mix of things from 'out there' to the inside?

In all honesty, I would probably limit it to things like: visit a third world country (like taking a holiday - don't quit your job and such!); tag along with people you don't normally mix with for a massive drinking session (be they posh, or money orientated, or artistic, or punks, or... you get the picture); if you really want to know what it is like to be in a fight, pick yourself a drunken asshole and teach him a lesson with your fists (obviously, if you win, don't keep going when he's down!); if you really, really, want to experience the cops first hand, while I'm not trying to encourage civil disobedience, there are routes to jail that aren't too bad - you can get arrested. I'd recommend drunk 'n' disorderly, or a little bit of criminal damage (a sign, or something), because if it's your first offence you'll only spend one night in the cells and walk away the following afternoon with a slap on the wrist; if you're interested in the darker sides of human psychology, don't read a book, meet someone who is mental - a murderer, or schizophrenic, or psycho even. Again, do it organised! Don't meet them the way I did - get into their car because you've been walking for hours and they were the only bugger that pulled up! Believe me, you have never felt the comfort of a simple camping knife so much as when a huge guy with a shaven head, covered in cuts and scars, who has three Alsations in the back of his tatty car, starts to tell you about his psychiatrist and how many people he wants to smash up every day.

And stupid! I actually walked between two armed Israeli soldiers and a bunch of rock-throwing Palestinian children. I experienced, at fairly close quarters, the sound of 'dum dum' rounds being fired from behind me (dum-dum rounds are the name for when two bullets are in a rifle - one in the chamber, and another dropped into the barrel). When fired, the double-explosions of the initial bullet being struck, and then the first bullet hitting the second, as they both fly forward from a confined space, makes a sound so loud that you find yourself flat to the ground within a split second of hearing it! I thought I'd been shot! It was unbelievable, my body jerked with the impact of that noise!

I love that these things have happened to me, but I really wouldn't recommend to others that they invite this kind of calamity into their lives. You can broaden your range of experiences in short, controlled bursts, and that's what I'd recommend. Want to meet a dangerous criminal? Write to one in prison, and solicit a meeting there, in front of the guards. There's no real need to put your life on the line...

Ink said...

Wanu, you've finally confirmed it for me: you're crazy. :)

Interesting post. For me (being one of those more sedate livers of life), I don't think it's really necessary to throw yourself into extreme experiences for the sake of life learning that will translate into your writing. That's a little too Hemingwayesque for me. I do think writers have to live with their eyes and ears open.

It's like that garbage in the wind thing in American Beauty. I think it's the writer's job to see that sort of stuff, to see meaning where other people wouldn't. Whatever sort of life you're living, well, live it with awareness. Try to see and understood the people around you. What makes them tick? What makes them tock? Observe the world. The colours of a sunset... and the colour of the dirty slush on the side of a dirt road. Observe the flowers... and ovserve the rotting paper bag fluttering in the long weeds that scavenge along the edges of ditches.

To me it's about details and the potentiality of meaning. A week or so ago the temperature jumped up and it poured rain, melting a foot and a half of snow. The ditches overflowed, and the first third of my front lawn was flooded. And a muskrat came out, swimming around and diving in my giant lawn puddle. Fantastically odd thing to see, and fascinating. What's the meaning? I don't know... yet.

But at as a writer I think that sense of fascination is important, that desire to see, to watch and record something. A month from now, a year from now, a decade from now... that image might come to me with a new meaning, someting for a character to see, or a symbol or metaphor that deepens the meaning of a story.

It's hard for the fires of the imagination to burn without tinder. I think living with open eyes is what allows the imagination to work. To make that big pile of gold, first you need a lot of lead. Now, some people are going to have more of that lead than others. I think books are one of the reasons writers don't have to head out into the back yard to start digging. Reading, in a sense, is experience. It's a shared experience, a communication between writer and reader. You can come to see and feel things inside your head without having to actually go out in the world and experience them. You know, getting shot at might be a good one to experience vicariously rather than personally. :)

In the end I guess what I'm saying is that writers, wherever they are and whatever they might be doing, should pay attention. Pay attention. Seems a simple thing to do, but I don't think it is. I think you can see it in stories. You can see writers that pay attention, that take life and transmute it into fiction, and you see writers that don't. Stories lack life, lack the details and human drama that make them more real than realness itself.

Of course, all this is pretty vague, ain't it? Any supportive evidence, Mr. Ink? That sure is some jabber there...

But fun! Which is good enough for me.

Wanu said...

lol! Ink, I love the difference there between me trying to be sensible and you actually doing it.

You've made a lot of sense there. And I concur: keeping eyes and ears open, being aware, draws stuff into the creative mix. Sometimes, we get stuff in there because of basic curiosity or circumstance.

Some years ago I found a lecture on selfishness available to download, and I did. It was very interesting, this woman's basic assertion was that selfishness was a good thing - natural, and easily managed.

I had never really thought about whether selfishness could be defined as good or bad, but I was aware that to be labelled 'selfish' in our culture was essentially to be insulted.

This idea of a totally positive take on selfishness intrigued me, and sat well with the fact that people are highly motivated to serve the self. It made a lot of sense.

I can't say this lecture altered my personal philosophy or anything, but it did give me a great idea for resolving BPS (which was about selfishness anyway).

So, yes, definitely, all those accidental sights, squirrels and rats, rainbows... We get short term intrigues, I think, and that creates the 'focus, look and absorb' mechanism. You'll probably all be able to relate to this, a little bit of people watching: I was in this sort of mood yesterday. On my way to work I popped into the Chemist and spent more time observing the other customers than I did trying to locate what I'd gone in for. In particular, a young couple caught my attention. The girl was very pretty (which helped me to choose what to look at first!) but unlike most attractive women, she hadn't done anything to enhance her appearance - clothes, smart enough, but understated, and a tasteful pair of glasses, with rims perhaps a little too stark, did something to make her look intellectual. She was lovely, sexy and beautiful, and yet she looked very ordinary - too ordinary, like she must have attained personal happiness and conviction in herself, she was an understated package of level-headed loveliness (at least from the outside).

Her boyfriend was very similar, almost like a male version of her - he was huge, perhaps 6' 1", broad shouldered and in good shape. His voice was very deep, and had he not seemed a little lacking in energy, I would have thought him very manly. He looked good, but again, somehow very ordinary. The same understated yet smart dress sense as his girlfriend made him blend more into the background than perhaps he belonged.

I thought, young though they were, that they might be married. There was definitely a connection, you could tell they belonged together. When they made eye contact there were no fireworks, there wasn't a romantic track blaring in the background, they didn't sparkle, they were just being normal people, but I got the impression that they saw each other in colour, and the rest of the world in black and white.

Black and white in both senses. I think they knew what they were doing, and how the world works, and were comfortable, both with the world, and any challenges it might offer. I shouldn't think the big guy would start any fights, but certainly, if pressed I reckon he'd give it his all, and they both had this quality of potential about them, as if slowly, together, taking measured strides they were basically 'winning' the game of life.

They handed over a prescription, and sat down, and I concluded my business and continued on my way to work.

A little while later, the girl came into the shop where I work, and having spent so much focus on her before, I recognised her, and said, "you were in the pharmacy." She recognised me, too (mostly, I suspect, because I look a bit like the TNA wrestler The Monster Abyss, and I may have been a bit too casual about perusing her face. Hey, at least I looked at the boyfriend, too, although maybe that could have been taken as a form of sizing up a potential opponent, ready to take him into the famous squared circle and go crazy on his ass).

The Monster Abyss could have beaten that guy up. I would have struggled. You know, in the way that 'struggled' can mean 'seriously got my ass kicked.'

Anyway, I had a little chat with the girl, and she was pleasant enough, although she told me her boyfriend had been puking up, and I imagined a guy that size could produce a lot of vomit and said as much. Interesting conversation!

I think those two should be in a story...

It all goes in, doesn't it? We do find extraordinary, right there on the face of ordinary, and it really is worth having a play with it.