Editor's Letter: First Breath
i. I woke up this morning with a coppery taste running down my tongue and polluting the inside of my mouth. My room was humid; the sun shined through the windows in a way that was pretty but also intimidating—it filled nearly every corner of my room, and the heat was so powerful that it yanked at my windpipes. Sweat lined the top of my forehead and all I needed was a drink of water, but the drowsiness from last night’s sleep kept me where I was—my eyelids almost collapsing, my arms propped up against my pillow—and once again I fell into my dreams.
ii. I need something to feel more original. My eyes stare at my fingerprints, and at my skin, and I study the mountainous ridges and valleys that are held together with biological stitches, forming the one thing that protects me from everyone else. I am within this unique skin but I still feel so insignificant. My eyes scan the children’s books lining the shelf in my room, and suddenly I become wholly aware of how similar they all are—same soothing color schemes, same adventurous yet boring plots.
iv. The sun is setting over San Francisco and the sky has turned an orange-pink that I resist to take a picture of. Why can’t I live in this moment? Why can’t I be alone, in the now, without having to share something with someone? Can I live for myself, or am I always dependent? I almost throw my phone across the lawn but in my head thoughts of zen and inner peace clog my aggression, so that all I am doing—despite my mind's violent battles—is closing my eyes, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, enjoying the breeze on my cheeks and knowing that I am safe under the purple clouds that float above me. Somewhere, I think, there is a person doing what I am doing. Thinking. With closed eyes. Who am I if I'm not individual?
I went through an inordinate amount of days with one goal, and one goal only: to find originality. To find identity. What makes people different, and are they a good different or a bad different? Is being a bad different worse or better than being a conformist? Identity gives us space to think about these things and more; it gives us something to hold onto with the false hope that we are always original and individual.
Over time I’ve come to terms with the idea that nothing is original. But again—it took time. And reading. And just straight up talking to people. I wanted something earnest to exist in my life; something that wasn’t affected by the hands of society, or transformed or created based on the general public. Where was the sincerity, I had thought, and if I myself am a growing member of society will I become the very thing I disliked most: artificial? I felt stuck within a bubble that I couldn’t pop, a humid room filled with air similar to that of enticing sleep, a fruitless and ineffectual process of speculating my own decisions. How could I be a creator if I couldn’t be purely creative? All of the words I knew, the phrases I wrote, the sentences I structured seemed imitated--but where had I gotten them from?
I wrote all of it—my thoughts and records regarding my troubles with being original—in a letter to myself that I eventually crumpled up and placed in the trash. A couple of hours later, I picked it up and decided to keep it with me, just in case I became inspired and reawakened by newfound ingenious that I never knew I had... or something of that sort. (It never happened.)
Sudden originality and spontaneity might sometimes never come, and I realized that at times, I need to create something makeshift in order to make my life less.. platonic. There’s a quote by Lewis Hyde that speaks exactly to this point, regarding creators and innovation and being “pure”:
“Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”
From this I don’t mean to say that originality doesn’t exist, but I do think that being original exists from an unoriginal foundation. It’s a bit of a paradox—you need old knowledge to create something new—and it’s confusing, but the concept makes sense. Most artists are converted to art by art itself.
It’s interesting to see what we can build out of something that already has a presence in the world, and it’s rewarding to not just passively experience something you love but to conjoin your own magical, creative abilities with it. Like: Your Favorite Thing Ever 2.0. And that’s not to say that I condone copyright, or that I want you all to steal people’s work and take complete credit for it—integrity still exists, guys! But making something, or manifesting a dream or an idea that you have doesn’t have to be built on the concept that everything must be original. The process of creating art becomes much easier that way.
When I came across that Lewis Hyde quote, I wrote it down over and over again. I recited it to myself, thinking that, slowly but surely, the originality/creativity balance would crystallize. And this repetition worked: I began to write more. Draw more. Take more photos. And that flexibility extended to everything in my life. I felt more… free. But I still have problems with blank pages. Total perfection and consistence in thought is like veering into another realm.. however, in the end, I reinvented what I thought about art and the artist.
And I didn’t do it on my own. I did it with another quote.
This can also be applied to social justice issues. When I have discussions about feminism or intersectionality or various other social justice movements, I often find myself unconsciously retreating from everyone else simply because I feel the need to say something groundbreaking. But in the end it's always the same: I come up for air and I've got nothing to say. 60 minutes have passed and I've said nothing.
Ya know what, though? It's okay in these places--talking about the important happenings and injustices in our world--to ask questions. To be confused. Because while originality is ~amazing~, so is just talking to people, making comments, and getting into the deeper questions, the deeper discomfort that stands as the catalyst for change.
This season, Woken is blending Fall and Winter 2015 into one MASSIVE issue that represents everything that this letter is about. Quiet reinvention. Starting fresh versus finding inspiration. The obstacles that stand before this process, before everything gets going and feels new and whole: feeling stumped, creatively blocked, staunched. Fall/winter is about quiet beginnings. It's about that time of year when everything turns blue and white from colors like orange and brown. It's about feeling scared, and not really knowing what you're getting into, but knowing that you'll get out the other side feeling great. And that process is something to embrace, really, because the end result of these experiences is completely your own.
P.S. If all that didn't totally ignite some fall excitement: