As a child, I had an endless capacity for invention and creativity. In grade seven, myself and a friend (well, it was actually mostly me) invented an entire system of planets and countries. I created a history of a people of great wisdom and magic who had fled Earth (from Atlantis, of course!), built an immense starship, and sailed across the deep of interstellar space to a new system of worlds. There, they gradually colonized the planets, founding countries and cities and evolving new languages. I drew dozens of maps of the different countries and worlds. I made lists of the names of the rulers of those countries, and the languages spoken in them, and even the currencies used in the different countries. I drew flags of all the countries. I wrote short histories and descriptions of many of the countries. I invented multi-layered histories of how the cultures of the inhabitants had developed. I made a chart showing how the different alphabets that they used had all evolved from one ancestral alphabet. Flipping through those maps, charts, and lists today, I marvel at how effortlessly I was able to come up with all the names of the different countries, and the provinces, cities, rivers, forests, lakes, and other features within them. I marvel at how easily I created story after story.
Back then, my dream of becoming a writer was very real to me. I knew that one day I would publish novels about the magical countries that I had created. I even created lists of the titles and descriptions of the books that I would write. Sadly, these lists have since been lost, but I still remember very clearly how I was constantly creating and inventing and imagining endless stories. The entire world was full of stories, and I was there to tell them. I started writing some of the stories, but I never finished them, and most of them never were extended past the first paragraph or two. That didn't bother me. I knew that I had lots of time. My life was all about beginnings, back then.
Eventually, I gave up writing and inventing my magical countries. In high school, I became good at science and math, and I was told by my advisors that I had to go to university if I wanted to be successful - so I did. In university I started to write again, and I realized that what I really wanted to do was to become a writer. And I'm writing now. Every day, I sit down and write something. But something has changed. Along the way from there to here, something has been lost. I have lost that endless capacity for invention that I once had. My once endless well of ideas has seemingly dried up. And - this, for some reason, seems to be key - I have lost my art of naming. The one thing that I was most impressed with today when I looked through those old maps and lists was the names that I created: names of countries, of cities, of languages, of friends and enemies who lived within the countries. And every single name was fresh and interesting and new, not copied from a book that I read. Today, names are one of my weaknesses. I come up with blanks when I try to think of a name for a character in a story. I struggle to find interesting titles for blog posts, stories, and poems.
Names, as any reader of fantasy novels knows, are a powerful thing. Wizards are careful not to give away their full names. In Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels, if you know the true name of something, you can control that thing. In the land of Faerie, beings respond immediately, from wherever they are, when their names are called a certain number of times. People don't use their true names, but merely "speaking names" - names that they are called by, but that can't be used to gain control over them. In the modern world, we have to deal with people who want to steal our identities - using our names and personal information to obtain credit cards and then leaving us with the debt. Many people, including myself, choose to not use their full names online - a situation rather similar to the "speaking names" of Faerie. When you name something, you gain a power over it. Parents who give their children unusual names may be influencing the course of that child's life to some extent. Often, we form impressions of people based on what their names are: whether they are male or female, what their ethnicity is, what their family was like, etc. We also judge books by their titles - the title of a book often suggests its subject and genre. When someone gives you their name, especially their true name, it is a sign of trust.
I remember that when I was creating my countries and maps, I never felt like I was inventing the names. I was receiving the names. They were given to me. Sometimes, I experience something similar today: a character in a story who simply must have a certain name, a blog post whose title occurs to me before its content does. When I try to come up with a name, then I struggle and falter. But when the name is given to me, naming is easy. In Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books, a boy or girl is given his or her true name by a wizard, sorcerer, or witch - someone skilled in the art of magic. In all cases, the worker of magic does not invent the name, but merely uses his or her special skills to recognize the name which already exists in the child. By giving the child his or her name, the magic-worker helps the child to become an adult. The art of naming, then, is intimately connected to the art of listening and the art of being open. And naming something can be used to bring that thing into full development and expression.
In today's world, it is often the writer, the artist, the person who is attuned to his or her creative self, who is the wizard, the worker of magic. It is the writer who possesses the art of naming. There is a delight in reading a book whose characters have names that perfectly express their qualities. And there is an even greater delight in writing your own story and recognizing a character's name that is absolutely perfect for that character. When that happens, when you discover the perfect name or title, you feel a thrill of recognition and of truth. In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron often speaks about how creativity is not about "thinking things up" but rather about "getting things down." It is not about straining your mind to come up with original ideas and names, but being open and listening to the stories and names which already exist. Your role is to recognize the name, the story, and give it voice. When you recognize the name or story, then that name or story gains power. Giving it voice, it becomes real.
Why is the art of naming the key to writing and creating for me? I think that it goes back to the concept of trust. In many stories, an individual will only give his or her true name to someone that he or she has complete trust in. So when we discover the name of a character in a story, or when we find just the right title for a story or even a blog post, then we know that we are open to that story and to letting that story tell itself through us. We are open, and we are trusting that we will be able to listen to the story and give it voice, whether through spoken words, writing, or some other form. Trust requires openness. Openness requires the ability to listen closely. And listening is at the heart of the art of naming. When we can listen, then we can speak. When we can listen, then we can write.
Being open and trusting in a story to tell itself through me is something that I still struggle with. I am afraid to open myself to the world because I am afraid of what might come in. But that is just what I need to do. That is what we all need to do, if want to create. Open ourselves to the world and let the stories introduce themselves to us. Practice the arts of listening and of naming. And then sit down and bring the stories into the world - whether through writing, through painting, through music, or through any other means of expression.