July 19, 2014

The Rise by Sarah Lewis

The Rise by Sarah Lewis
Creativity, the gift of failure and the search for mastery.

This book is about the advantages that come from the improbable ground of creative endeavor. Brilliant inventions and human feats that have come from labor - an endeavor that offers the world a gift from he maker’s soul - involve a path aided by the possibility of setbacks and inestimable gains that experience can provide. What we gain by looking at mastery, invention, and achievement is the value of otherwise ignored ideas - the power of surrender, the propulsion of the near win, the crucial role of play in achieving innovation, and the importance of grit and creative practice.

As legendary playwright Christopher Fry reminds us:
Who apart
From ourselves, can see any difference between
Our victories and our defeats?

It is a cliche to say simply that we learn the most from failure.

Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish - Michelangelo implored, like a perpetual Adam with his finger outstretched but not quite touching Old Testament God’s hand in the Sistine Chapel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_Chapel_ceiling#mediaviewer/File:Hands_of_God_and_Adam.jpg)

Mountains are what create the illusion on the Bonneville Salt Flats - the massive can appear as if sky-suspended mounds of earth. The eye catches what we think must be their bottom, but that pile of rock bends with the exact down-slope of the plant, beyond our line of sight.

Artist Romare Bearden considered this fragmentary viewing central to his definition of being an artist: “An artist is an art lover who finds that in all the art he sees, something is missing; to put there what he feels is missing becomes the center of his life’s work. Michelangelo said, “art is an unending succession of contests”.

There is an inevitable in-completion that comes with mastery. It occurs because the greater our proficiency, the more smooth our current path, the more clearly we may spot the mountain that hovers in our graze. “What would you increase with knowledge? Jordan Elgrably once asked James Baldwin. “You learn how little you know,” Baldwin said.

The jolt of near-win is so enduring that the slot machines and instant lotteries are often programmed to display a higher than expected amount of one-number-off misses, to encourage follow-up play. Near-win scratch-off tickets, called “heart stoppers” so consistently manipulate the duration of sustained play that in the 1970s, Britain’s Royal Commission on Gambling put them in the category of industry ‘abuses’. The near-win is all around us, fabricated, or anticipated, even when it’s not.
“to manufacture failure, manufacture weakness just so it can be further motivation”.

Winning is easier than keeping winning (e.g. sport championship). The mental discipline and flexibility required to sustain excellence is different, and often harder, than the exertion it took to get there in the first place.

A near-win shifts our view of the landscape. It can turn future goals, which we tend to, envision at a distance, into more proximate events. We consider temporal distance as we do spatial distance. The near win changes our focus to consider how we plan to attain what lies in our sights but out of reach.

Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”. Churchill later admitted that while the idea was true, success had a damn good disguise.

Harold Bloom explained, many artists engage in to “clear imaginative space for themselves”. In his classic text ‘The anxiety of Influence”, Bloom develops his idea of this strong misreading, where an often younger figure sees the work of a previous master and bends that work into a new form that fits the immediacy of his or her moment. An intentional misinterpretation can also lead to a unique approach perhaps not otherwise pursued. Sticking to our own views might be best achieved by finding lessons from the people who oppose us”.

If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it - Toni Morrison.
Nietzsche’s idea of ‘amor fati’, to love your fate. “The demon that you swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”

The power in the martial arts of aikido comes from strategic non-resistance. If you have ever watched martial arts footage and seen a person abscond, retreat, and reemerge - calm and smiling and in a stronger position before the attacker or group of attackers even realizes they are gone. Aikido is the art of being thrown, falling, and standing up in a different, more stable place. It is the martial art with no kicks, the one that deals with perfecting both dimensions of life, how to go down and rise stronger. Relax when we feel threatened, so as to maintain access to our internal resources. Our primitive survival reflex is to tighten up in the face of stress.

Zero is the oldest number. Its value is foundational and yet unstable; it has what seems to be inexplicable properties. It can threaten some - multiply or divide a number by zero and you wipe out. Or it can act neutrally - add or subtract zero from any number and it remains. For centuries, it has been a limit that most civilizations have preferred not to consider, with the exception of Hindu societies, which embraced it. It is on the threshold, separating positive from negative, all that we want from all that we don’t. Surrender, like zero, doesn't translate into an appreciable form. It is like the denude of the artist, living on the line in between worlds where intellect, intuition and force meet, and unendurable beauty is born of enduring travails.

Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture makers - and their ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is and endeavor to remove the contradiction. This penetration vision went far beyond a theory of our response to pictures. it described the chrysalis nature of becoming.

The story of the Black List is not only about how many blockbuster and Oscar Winning and nominated screenplays it helped get made, but also about how many of these nearly never did, Landing on the list is often “the difference between a script that keeps getting passed from hand to hand without really being read and a script that gets an actual look from a studio and starts to get some money behind it.  Most scripts on the list are long-odds contenders from teh standpoint of how studios make decision. They were scripts written on spec. where often the premise is very strange, very niche, but because the writer set a relatively high bar and then cleared it, they transcend the expectation that the premier is too weird to be good.

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