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Ultrasonic Creativity

Michael Dean Clark

I wish there was an ultrasound for the creative impulse.

As I write that, I disagree with myself. Allow me to play devil’s advocate for my own idea.

Point: Recently, I was sitting in the doctor’s office with my wife and two external children looking at their half-done brother on a screen and it occurred to me that it would be really helpful if every once in awhile I could hook my imagination to a sensor and get a look at what’s going on in there.

I’d even put that nasty gel on my forehead to do it.

Counter: The point of art is the discovery. Knowing what is at present unknowable completely destroys the mystery that causes humans to seek. To hope. To wonder.

Hooking up to a machine to juice that system would only make a medium that can struggle with predictability even less impacting. What if the question inside my head that I can’t answer is supposed to be presented as just that: a question worth wrestling with an angel?

Point: Now, I’m not advocating a wholesale push to scan my way into ruining the beauty of the revelatory experience. I like finding out what’s going to happen as the story unfolds in my own work as much as I do in others.

I’m also not convinced that prolonged contact with whatever electrical signals are being sent out by a machine that could see into a part of a person’s psyche would be medically advisable, not to mention the increased use of said nasty goop.

But there are times when I can’t wrestle out something I know is there. I write it as many ways as I can think to and the character won’t take shape. The dialogue won’t stop sounding like a beer commercial. The conflict won’t stop sounding like it came from a Lifetime movie.  

In these instances, I think a mental ultrasound would work like Metamucil.

Counter: Really? A laxative for your head? There are just so many ways that metaphor hurts my feelings. I’m thinking that writing through the issue would work more like Actvia with Bifidus Regularis (you’re welcome Jamie Lee Curtis). Over time and with consistent use, the writing process will either fix the issue or provide the context that the author’s perspective on the idea they cannot articulate is what needs fixing.

Point: Here’s the thing: before we went to see the doctor for the scan, my wife was worried. She couldn’t tell if she was feeling the baby move or imagining it, a fear made worse because we hadn’t seen a doctor for a couple months courtesy of switching jobs, states, and insurances. She worried that there might be something wrong with him.

And then the ultrasound tech poked Judah with the scanner a bit harder than he liked. Soccer-ready, our boy kicked back. Later, Heather told me being able to feel the kick and see his foot moving on the screen made all the times she’d doubted whether or not he was actually moving disappear into certainty.

I imagine a similar certainty about the detail that eludes us in a story might clear a lot more of the paths we want to walk than just that particular piece of the puzzle.

Counter: Or, certainty robs the expecting parent of their faith during the waiting and the author of what makes their work even remotely original. And, how incredibly invasive would that scan be? I’d wager the experience would be more embarrassing than those full-body scanners that show you naked under your clothes to the groping eyes of TSA.

Either way, just imagine the types of things we’d see in images of our imaginations…Or don’t.

Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction who appreciates a good laxitive metaphor as much as the next guy (and probably more than the next girl). He teaches at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California where he lives with his wife and 2.5 chidren.