I forgot to post this link to a brief news segment I was on for the local news awhile back. This was as part of the “Destination DIY” show which happens monthly and is a lot of fun. I’d recommend checking it out if you are a Portlander. Also the interview I did with OPB should be up soon, I think, unfortunately the first edition of DIY Magic is on the verge of selling out already! So I am in the process of shopping the second edition around to literary agents. Stay tuned!
This is an excerpt from my book DIY Magic. It’s the first chapter actually. You can order the actual book here: www.floatingworldcomics.com/main/2012/02/23/d-i-y-magic-by-anthony-alvarado
Dropping the Spoon
1 comfortable chair, preferably of the cushy recliner variety
1 metal spoon
1 metal bowl or large ceramic plate
notepad and pencil
Time Required: about half an hour, depending on current state of alertness
It grants visionary states of consciousness, enhances creativity, and is not currently regulated by U.S. federal drug laws. No, I’m not talking about Salvia divinorum, but hypnagogic imagery. Before you go looking for that at your local headshop, take note you already experience it every single day (well, night). The trick is remembering it.
You know the feeling. You are laying in bed, or even better, napping on the couch, and the images of the day, the background thoughts which are always there, a constant hum, begin to take on a certain Cheshire cat-grin leer; fanciful and odd images begin to swim by as effervescent as soap bubble rainbows; fairy wings, a blue stag, patterns of red and blue (for me there is often a tunnel or kaleidoscope quality to the imagery) all swirl about, just as your consciousness relaxes its grip on reality.
Hypnagogia in Greek means, roughly, abducting into sleep, or leading to sleep, depending on how you would translate it. It is that liminal in-between state where you are just beginning to dream but are still conscious.
The most famous example we have of hypnagogia fueling the creation of art is perhaps Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s best known poem, “Kubla Khan,” which came to him after his reverie was broken by a knock on the door; some might blame his visitor for interrupting the creation of the poem, but the truth is that without the knock on the door Coleridge would not have been cognizant enough to begin writing anything down. Creative types from writers to inventors and scientists have long been aware of the rich trove of insight from our unconsciousness which can be made available to us through hypnagogic imagery. The list of inspired people who have made use of hypnagogic imagery is impressive; Beethoven reported obtaining ideas while napping in his carriage, Richard Wagner was inspired by hypnagogic imagery to write his Ring Cycle, Thomas Edison reported that during periods of “half-waking” his mind was flooded with creative images, the philosopher John Dewey said creative ideas happen when “people are relaxed to the point of reverie.” My personal favorite is the French Surrealist poet Gerard de Nerval (the guy with the pet lobster) who in Aurelia described it thus:
A vague subterranean world reveals itself, little by little, and there the pale, grave, immobile figures that dwell in limbo loosen themselves from shadow and darkness. And thus, the tableau shapes itself, a new clarity illuminating and setting into play these bizarre apparitions; the world of spirits opens itself to us.
Other geniuses knowledgeable of this technique include Carl Gauss, Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Brahms, and Sir Walter Scott, but the person perhaps most successful at harnessing the creative energy was Salvador Dalí.
A well-read student of Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dalí—who never used drugs and only drank alcohol (especially champagne) in moderation—turned to a most unusual way to access his subconscious. He knew that the hypnogogic state between wakefulness and sleep was possibly the most creative for a brain.
Like Freud and his fellow surrealists, he considered dreams and imagination as central rather than marginal to human thought. Dalí searched for a way to stay in that creative state as long as possible, just as any one of us on a lazy Saturday morning might enjoy staying in bed in a semi-awake state while we use our imagination to its fullest. He devised a most interesting technique.
Sitting in the warm sun after a full lunch and feeling somewhat somnolent, Dalí would place a metal mixing bowl in his lap and hold a large spoon loosely in his hands which he folded over his chest. As he fell asleep and relaxed, the spoon would fall from his grasp into the bowl and wake him up. He would reset the arrangement continuously and thus float along—not quite asleep and not quite awake—while his imagination would churn out the images that we find so fascinating, evocative, and inexplicable when they appear in his work….” —from Provenance is Everything, Bernard Ewell
How simple, how obvious and elucidating this is! To think that those images of towering giraffes, lions stretching out of pomegranates, and 4-dimensional tesseract crucified Christs were in fact straight of out dreams makes one realize that the mojo of the king of surrealism (not to mention a potion for creativity strong enough to intoxicate the likes of Newton and Beethoven) is in fact available to us right here and now, and the only cost would be trading in a nap for a drowsy state of temporary self-denial; the hardest part is simply not letting yourself go all the way to sleep.
My experiments have shown that a ceramic plate works just as well as a metal bowl. Of course some may prefer trying this experiment with a tape recorder instead of a pencil, but I have found operating “technologically advanced” equipment to be counterproductive towards fostering the desired dream state. Obviously if you are hunting for images rather than words, then only a pencil and paper will do. Another tip—you may want to dim the lights or even try writing with eyes closed. You will be surprised at how easy this is: you don’t need to watch your hand to be able to scrawl somewhat legibly, your hand knows what it’s doing!
So, it is as simple as that. And best of all, there is absolutely no hangover or come down to this trip. It is most pleasant, however, if you allow yourself the time to take a full and proper nap after you have gotten your notes and sketches down.
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
If there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint a hundred canvases on the same theme.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
Computers are useless, they can only give you answers.
I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.
Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.
Love is the greatest refreshment in life.
I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things.
Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.
Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.
Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.
Lifted straight from my notes on a book about creativity called Imagine, by Jonah Lehrer.
Take a hot shower
be in a good mood (insight is more likely to occur to an optimist.)
work at not giving a fuck—leave the mind
approach a task as an outsider with a fresh perspective
travel (see above)
wait a long time before redrafting a manuscript. Time off gives you an outsider’s perspective.
learn about fields that have nothing to do with what you’re studying.
work with other people that you are familiar with—but not too familiar. That in-between is the sweet spot for creative collaboration
new ideas often come from random conversations with other people
a book is like a conversation
ride a bike around in a city
spend time in cities. Bigger cities foster bigger creativity.
develop a large social network, network and collaborate
constructive criticism works
work in close physical proximity with collaborators. At the same table is ideal.
plan unplanned conversations
bad poets borrow, great poets steal
to succeed once, fail a bunch
ART IS WORK.
grit—sticking with it, is a bigger factor than anything else.
creativity takes chutzpah
80% of success is showing up
Here is an interesting little podcast that gets into secret societies, and Masons, etc. It features Adam Parfrey being interviewed by comedian Marc Marron. I just like it because it’s cool to hear two fairly skeptical and intelligent dudes debating something that’s kind of weird and out there.
Check it out here: