The other side of the creative process. The one they don’t tell you in art school.

There’s a thing about art that they won’t tell you in school. What they don’t say when you’re getting a degree in creative writing, or in a performance art. There’s something that happens between the tour busses and the ballet barre, between the late night ads and the morning coffee shops. There is a price for pursuing the creative process, and that price is fear.

Imagine if you will that we live on a world perfectly divided in half at the equator. On the north side, there side where we live, there are plants and trees, houses and apartments, cites and farms. It is light and sunny, exactly like our world, with one small difference, the best fruit, that is the fruit that everyone wants to eat grows on the fabulous trees near the equator.

Now the south side of the world is dark and populated with monsters, horrible and terrifying ones that will happily chew you up and spit you out. We are a delicacy to them. These monsters mostly keep to themselves, but they like to come over to the other side now and again to get a nice snack of human. So what they do is hide near the fabulous trees at the equator, waiting out of sight for the humans to come and pluck the fruit.

A few other things. The fruit from the fabulous trees grows sweet just about everywhere, but it is sweetest the further south you go. It needs a certain amount of darkness to be sweet. Also, the trees you first encounter, that is the trees furthest to the north, have fruit that is already very sweet. From there the amount of sweetness increases slowly as you travel south, the difference being more and more subtile the further you go. So when you first step up to the fabulous trees the fruit is wonderfully sweet, but you cannot get too far south until you’re not sure if the fruit from the next tree is going to be as sweet, or sweeter then the one before. Eventually you find yourself having to pass 3, 4, 8, or more trees to find fruit noticeably sweeter then the previous. And all the while it is getting darker and darker.

And of course, the further south you go, the more likely you’re going to run into a monster.

For me, being a retoucher is like picking fruit right near the beginning of the fabulous trees. The fruit is sweet. Sweet enough, and I make a good living selling it to the people who have neither the inclination or ability to reach the fabulous trees. The nice thing is it is a fairly safe place to pick the fruit. The monsters have to travel a long way to get you, and you can usually see them a mile off. There’s plenty of time to pick up your bags and run. Also there are a lot of fellow pickers around you. This makes it easier as you can watch over each other like a herd, and gang up on them if they come. Mind you, there are retouchers who pick their fruit further south than me, some of them much further, but the difference in price they get for their fruit is not all that much higher than mine, and of course they work at a greater risk.

This is not the only time I’ve traveled to the fabulous trees. I’ve been there before as a musician and songwriter. Back then I was too scared to go very far south, and too ignorant to know the difference between the sound of an approaching monster and that of someone picking fruit a few trees ahead. This ignorance was costly, and eventually convinced me to give up fruit picking all together, at least as a musician.

What I didn’t realize when I started writing stories is that I’d be working much further south than before. And I’d be working alone. And this is the price that you pay as a creative. Sure my appreciation for the fruit has grown stronger. I can now detect the subtile differences in flavor that used to baffle me before, but I got that way by picking fruit closer and closer to the monsters.

The people who never pick the fruit know all about this of course, but their knowledge is perforce limited by their experience. They think the line between the safe side of the equator and the other side is a clear and distinct. Like its a line marked on the ground with one side being light colored, and the other dark. But those of us who travel deep into the trees will tell you there is no line. The world does get darker the further you go, but the differences eventually become so subtle that it is almost impossible to tell. Worse, the change is so subtle that its easy to get turned around, and head the wrong way. You can think you’re walking home, and instead head straight for the monsters.

Sometimes when I am out there I can hear the monsters. The ones I fear the most are depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia, but there are other ones nameless to me further in. Depression I’ve battled so many times he almost counts as a friend. Sometimes he captures me, sometimes I kick his ass. But he’s a devil I know, so I fear him, but I also understand him. Its the other two that really scare the shit out of me. And I swear to you, there are days when I can feel them out there. They are just over the horizon. I can smell them. Hell, I can point to them. Sometimes, to pick the fruit of a particular nice fabulous tree, I find myself up on a rickety ladder, my body extended way past what is safe, clinging to the tip of the tree with nothing but thin branches to break my fall if I should make the slightest mistake. And all the while I’m up there with my back turned to the monsters. When I up high like that, I can feel them. I can hear them slithering around just beyond my vision. And I know If I make a mistake, they will drop on me in and instant.

But the fruit….