The Spark of Creation

It was late in the evening, just before the day was drawing to a close. I had been assessing and fixing things all day at work, but similar to most people, my brain is switched to a different operating mode when I am working. You shut down certain face recognition protocols for family and friends and you suspend the subroutines of enjoyment and inspiration. Your positronic net becomes enveloped in procedural rhetoric, even fabricated posturing. You become a collection of circuits and sub-processors, and nothing more. If it wasn’t for the blinking of your eyes being governed by a Fourier series, to simulate randomness so that you appear human, people may begin to suspect that you are indeed an android. Technobabble aside, you aren’t fully YOU and your higher creative self is asleep.

Many workplaces stifle your creativity by their very nature. For others, it is a management choice. If you make a simple mistake, will you be punished? Does your place of business pay other organizations to come in and make creative decisions? Are you micro-managed? Do you feel inhibited by routines and a lack of ingenuity? It is easy to neglect to re-engage your creative and crafty side, but you never know when that spark of creation will hit you nor how far it can take you if you aren't open for the adventure.

As I said, it was late in the evening and I was shutting down the back of the business, walking through a large production warehouse. I know those hallways very well, and so I walk at a slower than normal pace to take in as much as I can. I read the visual clues as to the work that had been done that day as evidenced by every moved palette and every shifted box. I take this time also as a brief respite from an arduous day; a time to let my mind wander and take a breath. A few of my best ideas or gaming solutions came from a slow walk through the shadowy corridors of this place.

Most of the lights are out at this time of day; only a few threads of sunlight weave in through rooftop windows, casting dark and shifting tapestries of a shade along the dusty concrete floor. The air grows cooler, heavier, and thicker with haunts. Old pipes clang together deep behind the walls, fashioning out a tune as if a traveling minstrel was waiting just beyond the door. His songs are at times a jaunty march, as we forge ahead onwards towards an epic battle, and yet other times he plays a solemn dirge, as if escorting me to the grave. I make my rounds below massive steel tanks and around cardboard towers. They rise and leer from overhead. I am but a small hobbit taking his evening constitutional amongst iron giants and white paper castles and I am not afraid. It is but a moment, but it is a good one.

Final digressions aside, it was late in the evening and I was closing up the back, when I passed by a large push-cart that is used for recyclable materials. This particular cart is commonly used for plastics, but tonight, the work crew had also thrown in something Styrofoam. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, merely allowing my eyes to sweep across whatever is in front of me as I moved on. Yet something about the bleached white husk, draped under a translucent sheet of plastic, had triggered something in my subconscious. I continued on with my stroll, checking doors and turning off ancillary lights. When I passed by the recycling station again, something deep inside made me pause.

Curiosity crept in and had to see the shrouded and discarded mystery object. I unwrapped the polystyrene baby from the swaddling of plastic. It was a conjoined duet of octagonal cylindars, tall and hollow, with one end closed. As I looked down into the bin I saw two more just like it, abandoned. They were a trio of direwolf cubs, left out in the cold and mewing for their mother. I vaguely remember seeing pieces like this before back here, but they never stood out to me in this way.

Holding the piece I felt it melt and transform in my hands. It was a polymorphic polymer, with a synthesized DNA of re-sequenceable bonds, encoded to react to the electrochemical signals of pure thought. With a twist of my mind, microscopic chains broke and reorganized, revealing new forms. For one moment, it was an armored bunker in a WWII scene, the next moment it was massive shrine honoring an Egyptian gods. I saw the honeycomb and grime of a space marine station or the fieldstone and weathering of a deep dark dungeon. The possibilities were endless.

Grabbing a large bag, I removed the styrene foam articles and I brought them home. They fascinated me for a few weeks, sitting on the edge of my work table, calling to me to bring them to life. I debated their purpose, as if their original function should aid me in how I would craft with them. The density of the foam made me measure my options. Do I cut or do I melt? Weathered or clean? Do I build upon it like a wooden frame or do carve through it like a slab of marble?

I ripped a sheet of college ruled paper out of an old notebook and began to doodle. My handwriting is aggressive and sharp, leaning to the right like a madman. I stroke the page in diagonal hashes, tightly turning through curves, and jotting quick notes. My thinning stokes are impatient, my light pressure prefers an intellectual approach, but my extreme compression is self-limiting. I didn’t like my first sketch, but I had decided that I was going to make something medieval in nature to suite a game already in progress. So I began again, throwing down lines of indeterminate specificity. A rough form was wrought from the scratch-marks and the fullness of the idea was born.

Halve the octagons and separate them into two cylindars, I thought to myself. Let’s keep once piece for another project and set it aside. Trim off the base that exists and save the scrap for structural supports. Create a new base that is sturdier and better balanced. Somewhat reminiscent of a talus or a batter, though not around the entire base. Accent what is there, do not hide it.

I would then make battlements for the top, widening the upper platform and giving to the form a stronger presence. With simple math on the angles, aided by generous fudging in application, each piece became an exact fit for the edges as I placed them.

Now for the texture of stone. The polystyrene adds a wonderful texture on its own, but to create a brick and mortar illusion, I would have to go deeper. Literally deeper. I measured and plotted the lines, but I added depth to them with the aid of a ball point pen and a dull plastic blade. With tedious pressing and gouging, the design of each brick was now committed to the canvass.

I decided not to add any windows or arrow slits as this structure may not have been intended to be used for battle, but as some outpost in the mountains. From there I thought of strength and wholeness, to protect the inhabitants from fierce summer storms and even harsher winters.

With a quick and simple foam board technique for the archway of the door and a final bit of knife work to carve out a small set of stairs, it was time to paint. Base the entire piece with black and more black, midnight and shadow, and from there you will build your colors. Add thin dry coats of darker greys, giving way to medium greys, and the stone begins to show its true nature. Add even lighter greys with accents of beige and green to pull out even more texture and weathering.

With naught but a gentle few strokes in a dry-brush technique, the building stood… both new and yet ancient. To look at it is to look back into another time when stone was hewn from the land and the royal architect had it built with a purpose. Seasons battered the frame, wearing down the stonework in small ways where life began to assert itself one again. And yet here it stands. The Watchtower. Firm and defiant to the ages.