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Painting by Gustave Klimt, detail

Senex and puer are not hidden. They do battle on the world-political and social stage, underpinning profound rifts between rigid conservatism and free wheeling expression evident everywhere we turn. — the senex-puer split can start wars and determine the course of history. It may be seen in the political divisions of the Vietnam era… The puer surfaced in the idealism of flower power. Today he infuses the mercurial minds of Silicon Valley, who show senex faces when their companies move to Wall Street. . The puer is in the twinkle-in-the-eye creatives who can never realize their vision, the senex enters at midlife, when the soul turns dry, vision has dimmed and unlived life begins to plague us. This pair is all around, roaming unrecognized and in need of our attention.

— James Hillman


“During the dark night there is no choice but to surrender control, give in to unknowing, and stop and listen to whatever signals of wisdom might come along. It’s a time of enforced retreat and perhaps unwilling withdrawal. The dark night is more than a learning experience; it’s a profound initiation into a realm that nothing in the culture, so preoccupied with external concerns and material success, prepares you for.”
― Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul

Creative people want to keep playing even when they grow up. We hardly hear the world’s injunctions to stop jumping on the beds. By the time we grow up, we have listened to a million reprimands over the years to settle down and get serious. A lot of us funnel our playfulness into creativity. The arts are attractive to us because we can create a reality and live in it while we make it as well as when it is finished. The intense focus of art making touches something deep in us. If you’re an artist, that pleasure of living on a deeper level can’t be satisfied any other way, or at least not as profoundly.

Touching your soul every day can be called a spiritual, a religious exercise, in spite of its frequent irreverence. We may secure our ticket to polite society by looking like serious citizens but we remain incorrigible children at some level.

Play is work — just ask any child. Artists labor mightily to bring off a successful piece, but they love doing it. Nobody makes them do it. The idea that art can be created dutifully or mechanically is laughable. When you learn to read a piece of art, you look for a combination of expertise and inspiration. Seeing what’s really there is a discipline, though children do it naturally.

As an artist you hope to go beyond slavish copying. All children are artists because they’re naturally in touch with themselves. The problem comes when you grow up after years of “education.” If you let the so-called serious people steal your sense that you owe yourself more than money, you will lose your birthright of creative play.

I don’t have anything against money. I’d like to have more of it myself. I’m just not willing to stop playing in order to have it. Devoting my whole life to it is more than I can do.

Of course we do have to work out a strategy so we can eat. I’ve been lucky there. I’ve been eating for eighty years and I don’t plan to stop. Everyone has to come up with a way to live in the world we are given and still be themselves. We have to fend off the “practical” idea that creative play is only for children.

I think one of our tasks in life is to keep that creative child from dying inside us.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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