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July 24th, 2009

me

Highway to Heck

I hate travel.  That is to say, I like arriving and staying at cool places, but I tend to hate the process of actually moving from point A to point B.  Good companions and good food lessen the pain, but driving across country isn't my first pick for activity on a Sunday afternoon (or any afternoon, for that matter).

Part of it is that the highways always seem to slice out a cross-section of the world with a higher-than-normal concentration of ugliness and materialism.  A good example is the western entrance to Milwaukee, which crawls through a sprawling slum of old factories with yellow, smashed in windows.  Then there's the "Adult" Superstores and beer billboards and a steady flow of gas stations and McDs.  The dominant ethos is mechanical, fuel in and fuel out.  Casinos and Bacardi rum are trumpeted as the greatest joys in life.

On my recent four hour drive from Door County to Madison, passing through Wisconsin's patchwork of small towns and farmland under a steady drizzle, I got to philosophizing.  Thinking about what really gives human life value, meaning, and happiness, because as much as consumer goods and cheap food have improved quality of life and contentment, there must be more than Big n' Tasties and late-night comedies.

The usual answers came to me, and they're absolutely still true: God, family, friends, beauty.  But I also hit on one that's a bit novel for my thought: Creativity.  It seems to me that creativity--making something in addition to consuming and purchasing things--is good for the soul, whether it be simple sewing projects or writing Great American Novels (I do neither).  Or, heck, I'd qualify making AMVs or filk songs or even writing fanfic as creative endeavors.

Tolkien had the idea that, since humans are made in the image and likeness of a creator God, creation--more accurately, "sub-creation"--is an essential part of the human nature.  We have an inborn urge to think, to craft, to unite our hands, minds, and hearts in making something beautiful or useful from rawer elements.  Tolkien used sub-creation largely in reference to fantasy literature, but I think it applies to nearly any craft, from carpentry to opera composition.

Via craft and creativity, men no longer become passive creatures alternating between a minimum wage job and shopping runs to Wal-mart, or a gilded management job and shopping runs to. . .I don't know, Pottery Barn?  They become agents, actors, complete beings.  They reject conformity and bland sameness through creativity and the search for simple beauty in ordinary things.  A hand-crafted and hand carved desk beats sawdust composite furniture any day.

It's like this: My aunt and Trader Joe are mad tight.  Last time I saw her she was wearing a pair of earrings which one of the store employees had given her, crafted from laminated pieces of an old Trader J's gift card.  They were branded, but also hand-made and thoughtful--which made them awesome.  I'm no green-freak, or any foe of Wal-Mart and McD's (I actually enjoy a good clown-meal, oddly enough).  I just think creativity and craft even in small thing, or in a tiny area of life, helps seperate the men from the monkeys.

Man, this bloog is getting thoughtful.  Summer, what have you done to me?