Novelist Meg Roscoff examines creativity. She’s a late bloomer, coming to the writing game, aged 47, with her debut novel, How I Live Now winning a major literary award. I haven’t read any of her work. Nor have I read the young Irish author Eimear MacBride’s A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, which won the Bailey Prize. But I do know who Anne Marie Duff is, although not her fellow thespian, Denise Gough. This duo were first up in this programme, sitting in Sigmund Freud’s workspace in London, with the couch the psychoanalyst used to analyse his patients nearby as a prop to discuss the relationship between the conscious mind, the unconscious mind and creativity.
Actors on stage or screen are not themselves, of course. Roscoff made the analogy that the conscious mind is the rider and the unconscious mind the horse. The latter does all the work. Getting into character is getting off one horse and onto another. Unhitching the supervisory superego and making your body into something else. Someone else. Edward Latson, principle dancer of the Royal Ballet, for example, believes it is a spiritual experience to dance and somehow and sometimes beyond his control.
Roscoff’s belief is that anyone can do it. That we can build better synaptic bridges between the conscious mind the unconscious mind. The problem here is fudging between what we mean by the brain and what is meant by the mind. But if we put that to one side and look at what Roscoff terms ‘magic’ such as the improvisation of a jazz musician acting spontaneously to a musical prompt then the science bit kicks in and we can guess that the part of the brain that manages the ego the frontal lobe, or more specifically the anterior cingulate cortex, which allows us to concentrate on one task at a time, while blocking out competing information is disengaged. The handbrake is off. Children are best are learning a new language for example, because they’re not; they do it subconsciously and not consciously ticking off the rules as they learn. They lack the inhibition of the adult self. Writers, I believe, have to write like a child, tap into that self.
I guess the best example of this is the story of the little girl that said she was drawing a picture of God. But nobody knows what He looks like suggested one interloper. They will in a minute, she said.
That’s the gist of it. We need to be able to take the handbrake off when we write, or act, or dance, or God help us, sing. We need to love what we do or else our body won’t respond. We need to be serious and play like we mean it. The ‘magic’ comes from within and without. A mental block is when we’ve lost that joy and think of writing more like a job lot that needs to be completed. I’ve gone offline here, adlibbing and adding my own thoughts to Roscoff’s insight. I guess she’d understand. Worth watching for those that want to learn.