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September 2007


by John Clay, editor-in-chief

It is the best thing about any creative project. And the worst thing. "There is no limit to what we can do. The possibilities are endless." One of my own projects—on the philosophy of democracy—just refuses to fall into place. Every time I sit down to organize my approach once and for all, instead I come up with multiple new approaches, any of which might work. Choosing gets harder instead of easier.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz has noted (see The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973) that the human ability to make our biggest adaptations to our environment culturally within the lifetime of an individual, rather than genetically across successive generations, is possible precisely because the human brain has evolved to be extraordinarily generalized. While other creatures follow orderly lives grounded heavily (though not entirely) in predetermined, instinctive responses to their environment, humans can—and in fact must—invent their strategies of response, sometimes even doing so moment by moment.

The limited options of instinct are still present in us: We still feel the old two-option fight-or-flight response welling up within us when we face situations of risk. But we also feel our versatile intellect, our highly generalized human brain, springing into action: What's happening? What should I do? Is the situation really as risky as it seems? Should I fight? Who? And how? Should I run? Which way? Or should I stay and investigate before even deciding what to do? The possibilities, as we say, are endless. Of course at some point we decide on an option and take action—usually.

Although the good and bad fortune of endless possibilities does effect (or afflict) all of us, it is the special bane of artists and writers—those of us who pride ourselves on our embrace of open possibility. It is because of this mindset that there is something called writers block—and not accountants block or plumbers block.

So what does an artist or writer do? What I am going to do is open the floor to all of bhag's current contributors, and to any of bhag's visitors on the web, to share their experiences and strategies. How do you explore your possibilities, and how do you limit them? How do you turn one day's dream into the next day's finished work? Please send your thoughts to editor@bhag.net.

Posted in recent months in bhag are works that assure us that the flurry of possibilities can, in fact, land on solid ground. Art by Avery Schwartz, Siegfried Schreck, Nathan Combs, and myself in Visual Art, employment tips from consultant Vicky Oliver in Public Journal, new fiction by Mark Katzman Literary Art, and a second interview with composer Robert Ceely in Interviews.

© John Clay

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