A FOREST OF IMPOSSIBLE DELIGHTS
By Dr P.H. Court
Like most of you, my head is a forest filled with strange creatures and impossible characters. From tottering giants to comical little people, quadrupeds made of chocolate and mechanical birds that sing punk songs. It’s a strange place. Everyone’s head is. Maybe your mind-forest contains a mystical foundry or an alien planet. Perhaps your forest is a fruit-filled orchard or a land of cactus and desert.
If people knew what was roaming wild in my forest, they’d call in the hunting party and cull the foolishness. But if I didn’t have this nature reserve, where abominations and curiosities could roam free, where would I find fun stuff to write? And I LOVE fun stuff. Even when that ‘fun stuff’ is a creature that has torn off my limbs or made a mockery of me. I’ll not take you through my forest. It’s mine. You have your own, go there and you’ll see what I mean, right?
For decades I have filled my forest with strange beings, odd events, experiments and accidents. They have bred and thrived, becoming new beasts I don’t recognise. It is a terribly fun place to roam. Fun. And terrible. And the most impossible gift. When I sit down to write I often don’t bring these creatures out of the forest because they’re not the creatures of the story. No, Instead I go into the forest and walk around… inventing a new being that fits the story I think I’m telling. And then that entity comes and chats with me and gives me the gift of something unexpected:
“You want to write that, do you? Maybe you’re wrong,” my created beast will often whisper. “Because I want to do THIS…” And so the story goes where I never imagined it would go.
Only, I guess I DID imagine it. But not alone. You see, I have finally realised I am never alone in this strange and ever-surprising forest. No writer is. When you’re wandering about in your imagination you are wandering around an entire world made not just by you, but also for you. Inspiration blows through my forest. I think of it as the breath of God. It rarely looks like God, or sounds like God… but then what do I know? What right do I have to tell God what he can and cannot do in my strange and terrible and wonderful forest?
So there is this amazing and confounding and often contradictory forest in my head where stories grow and sprout. Long, strong Lianas or stunning splashes of colour, the scent of fruit fills the air and monsters of claw and bone stalk silently. And yet I am completely safe here. Me and my God, creating together, unravelling truths and creating new metaphors.
There has been only one time in my life when my forest became a terrible burden. There came a time when I realised that some people didn’t realise I had this wonderful place and that I needed to walk there. These people were my family who relied on me to empty the bin and understand their feelings. But being in my forest was easier. And a lot less fraught. An impossible beast of incredible power is far less threatening than a daughter with a temper or a confused son! The reality is that having this wonderful land within me proved devastating to my well-being. And theirs. It became not a gift but an escape. I had this wonderful thing but I also had a lot of other wonderful things outside my forest. So I had to face that terrible choice: to become a loving, available father and spouse, or stay in my forest and become a vine swinging Lord Greystoke, away from my real world and out of touch with reality.
So when I noticed that my family life beyond the forest was unravelling, and aware that I had yet to visibly excel as a writer, I decided the forest needed to be tested. Was I a writer? Was I a creator? Or was I a pretender? Was I a lame Tarzan running away from my responsibility, or was I actually the writer I believed I was, learning my way through my forest? Filled with doubt, I stopped writing. I forced myself for a month to not write anything purely creative or imaginative. Life became a collection of shopping lists and factual recounts. Meanwhile, within me, the forest withered. The bark lost its lustre, the blossoms and fruit rotted on the tree. Creatures lay dead. And I didn’t write.
After a month I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t alive anymore. In fact, I was alive a lot less! The choice I’d set myself revealed something important – the truth was that I am BOTH Tarzan of the imagined jungle AND a family man of the Adelaide suburbs. From that experience I derived a whole new attitude to my existence as a creative person:
I will not survive. I will thrive.
My forest is where that thriving begins, but it is not strictly a private realm. From that forest I grow into the world, bringing the fruits of the forest with me, together with the fresh air and all the strange creatures. I swing though those trees and bring that feeling of joy and freedom into the family, into my relationships, to friends in pain, to people at parties and strangers in carparks. I grow in my forest of impossible delights, so I can thrive in the ordinary, everyday world.
To sum up, I’ll leave you with a quote from Jeff Crabtree’s book, Living with a Creative Mind, a core text in a subject I teach called ‘Surviving Creativity.’ In his book, Jeff talks about a whole gamut of things that make creative people creative, and that can make creative people crazy, regarding which he provides this incredibly useful insight:
The first step towards emotional resilience is devastatingly simple and totally foolproof, but only you can do it. Create, Create, Create. Produce, Produce, Produce. Whatever you do - start doing it. If you try to keep the emotion suppressed, it will extract its revenge on you one way or another. So let the fire burn out through your work rather than burn you up.
I have a gift, a forest of impossible wonders within me, forever growing and forever changing. It is a gift given to me, and a gift which allows me to give to others. If I don’t tend this forest, if I don’t share its fruits, I know it will die. But if I visit this forest regularly and tend it – wisely, knowingly, carefully and joyfully – it will become a gift I can enjoy and that I can share.
I no longer worry about the forest; I don’t even try to survive it. I’ve learned to thrive in it. This gift is for me. But it only truly gives when I share it. So now the screensaver on my laptop has a very poignant message. Just two words that wiggle and shimmy gently about on the screen whenever I stop writing for a while. Two powerful words. They don’t say a lot, but they say all that needs to be said:
Dr P.H. Court teaches creative writing and communication at Tabor Adelaide. He is also a broadcaster, satirist and author. He primarily writes realist fantasy, as he has a tenuous grasp on reality. When not engaged in pursuits literary, he mentors in radio and marketing and, when the moon is full, advertising.
Quote: Crabtree, Jeff and Julia. Living with a Creative Mind. Zebra Collective, 2011.
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