The Process of “How”

I have not taken the chance yet to share my thoughts.  Something I thought about, or contemplated, was not the reason “Why” we do everything we do, but rather “How” we do everything we do.

Many of us can look at a painting or read a poem.  Some of our immediate thoughts are: “Why?”  We want to know why this poem appeared.  Why does this poem exist?  “What” is the poem’s meaning?  Rather, sometimes, I think we need to ask “How?”  We use the “how” to learn from others and incorporate that into our skills.  Have we really thought to ourselves that “How” may potentially have more value than “Why”?  If not more value, then equal value?

I’m not really saying any of these things on behalf of any of you. I say this for myself.  Sometimes when I read something or when I look at a piece of art, I always ask myself first: “What” does this mean?  “Why” did this person do this?  I rarely ever start with: “‘How’ this person did this?”  I don’t mean technique, or talent, or skills even…  Though, those things do make up the “How” in what we do.  Rather, I’m talking about a cognitive process, one in which a person combines the elements of creativity to thought and emotion.

As creators…  There is a part of us that says, “I want to write about that!”  Or, “I want to create that.”  We pick up our pens and paintbrushes and decide we’re going to do it.  We focus and set our mind on something.  We are determined to bring it to life.

We always start somewhere…  But where?  I even recall this in my own poems.  When I go back, I see there is no other line before the first line, which is the Title.  Many English critics have said that the most important lines in a piece of work are the first and the last, and even more-so, the title.  But what about anything in-between?  Well, scholars will say, “Of course!  The middle.  The climax (at whatever length) will be the next important thing.”  Okay, very well.  I can see, in this particular case, a literary piece of work is a formula.

But what if I don’t want a formula?  What if I don’t even want a title?  People may say, “Oh of course, poems don’t need formulas and titles.  Make it a poem then.”  What if I don’t want it to be a poem?  What if…  (be patient with me)  the most important line is not the title, the first lines, the last line, or even the climax? What if the most important line is one I find important? Or, what if the most important line was all of it?  It could be every line!

Again, another perspective–  What if the most important line was something someone else found important?

To defy all gravity of this:  What if none of it was important at all?  Sure, I may write something important for myself.  If I hand it over to someone across the street, they may, in fact, think it isn’t important at all.  That shouldn’t discourage you from expressing what you think to be important.  In the end, the numbers don’t really matter, because people value different things.  Some people value food more than literature.  Some people value money more than food.  Some people value other people more than other people.

Yes, poor Herman Melville sits in the grave.  Maybe you go on your whole life without reading Moby-Dick.

There are people who are apathetic towards literature. I find most of the time it is because of the “Why.”  The “Why” is either too fundamental or unnecessary.  I say… Next time, focus on the “How.”  How did Herman Melville write Moby-Dick?  How do you interpret it?  How do you see this work?  How do you see the world?

I don’t say this in lecturing anyone.  I have not finished certain books because they became dull, boring, or predictable.  In some way the “Why” was too simplistic and altogether, I couldn’t relate to the work.  When I come back to the “How,” it grabs me, because the “How” is a perceptional mystery.

I keep coming back to this “How” as both a creator and interpreter of art.  I have challenges for us to complete.  Next time you want to create something.  Next time an idea strikes you, try this:

  • Every time you do something new to your piece of work, jot down a few words explaining
    • how you created it (what process led you there)
    • how does it work
  • Every time you finish a work, write down the reasons
    • how you finished it
    • how your story got from one point to the other
  • If you’re a photographer, ask yourself
    • how you decided that shot spoke to you most
    • how you made it work

I know many people like to create, but as many of us know, better interpreters make better creators (like I said before, “better readers make better writers”).  If we really want to know “How” things work in our brains as readers and interpreters, try this exercise for a whole week.  I would start first with something natural and simple, like a tree.  Write down some notes after each exercise:

  • First day: look down at the tree for only 10 seconds (remember to set a timer)
  • Second day: look at the same tree for 30 seconds
  • Third day: look at the tree for 3 minutes
  • Fourth day: look at the same tree for 15 minutes
  • Last day: Look at the same tree for one hour

What did you notice?  How did your brain work in looking at that tree?  How did you arrive at your notes?  Do you know how you looked at it?  What did you learn about the tree?  From this whole experience, what did you learn about yourself?  How did this all happen?

Now, next time.  Apply the same exercise to a literary work, like a poem.  See what happens next.  Look closer and see “How” it all happens.  As you know, the “How” can help with the “Why” and vice-versa…

 

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