Why Are We Gathering Rocks?


Image by Straaf (Creative Commons)

To one-day build a castle of our own, right?

At one point in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Choke, the protagonist’s best friend, Dennis, starts gathering rocks compulsively. He’s doing it to distract his mind from his sex addiction. When the protagonist asks Dennis why he’s doing it, Dennis just spews some babble about how he doesn’t know, and that he’ll know once he accumulates enough rocks.

Towards the end of the story, Dennis lugs home and accumulates so many chunks of stone that he decides to start building a structure of some kind. Though he doesn’t know what kind of building it’ll be. He just starts spreading mortar and sticking rocks together, one by one, until he builds a wall, and then another wall.

I thought this was a great metaphor for the creative process of any artist. We spend so much time accumulating things—experiences, knowledge, wisdom, inspiration, and the work of other artists. If we’re an up and coming director or actor, we watch movies and T.V. shows obsessively. If we’re trying to bust into the writing scene, we’ll devour as many books and articles as we can. We’re in the apprentice stage, gathering and consuming and digesting.

Thing is, we’ve gotta know when to end our apprenticeship and start the creative phase of our lives. We’ve gotta know when to stop lugging home those rocks (watching other films, reading other novels, etc.) and start building something of our own.

Although the apprentice phase is helpful, even essential, to our own creative evolution, we can overindulge. To the point where we shift from the dream of becoming active creators to the frustrating reality of becoming slothful, passive consumers.

Question to you is: Do you need to gather more rocks, or should you start slapping ‘em together?