How I became a Creativist, I
“Trevisia, you must be good at trivia! Why else would you be named so?”
After a semester and a half of failing subjects from Classical Painting to Introduction to Debate, I was desperate to find my calling.
“I’m no good at exams,” I told my roommates.
“These aren’t like exam questions. The questions in trivia nights are unusual.”
They wouldn’t tell me how, though. As we walked to the Electric Eel, I imagined the trivia-masters would ask questions such as identification of unusual colors, or the eight elements named in the Faerie Sonnets, or the right ratio of baking powder to baking soda in banana bread, that I would be uniquely able to answer.
But the masculinity of trivia appalled me. Trivia brought out the vilest parts of people. They tried to regurgitate answers that had been memorized from encyclopedias, newspapers, PHSS, the Internet, professors, missed questions on exams, word of mouth, or the “fact sheets” posted around campus and at the bus stop (for those who forgot to bring a book to pass the time).
I felt as if I were among Uniformists, except worse, because they were rowdy, all raising their hands, pounding on the tables, and clinking iced cubes in their drinks. I could feel the same answer being echoed in half the minds, even though I did not know what the answer was. Every time the Great Danzini directed a question at me, I came up with a random name, such as “Jeanatta Wullis” or “Ruthner Quorcum”. Unfortunately, not a single one was right. It was as if I was standing on one of the rings of Neptune, trying to throw a dart to hit exactly the pinnacle of Philosophocle.
After trivia night I decided to cash in my “free 3am friend” coupon. The girl behind the counter looked tired and pugnacious.
“I have a coupon…” I said tentatively.
She picked up the phone on her desk and dialed.
“Hey Agnes, we have a befriendee here…”
She gave me the phone.
“What would you like to talk about?” came the voice from the other end.
I took a deep breath. “I’m having this crisis, I just went to trivia night at the Electric Eel, and if I were to compare myself to a tree, each question they asked me wounded me like a swing of an ax…”
“I’d love to help you,” came the voice at the other end of the line, “but I’m helping someone deal with a breakup right now. I grant that losing at trivia night is a bad experience, but wouldn’t you say it’s a bit more… trivial? Give the phone back to Lisa, she can find you someone else.”
Lisa dialed another number (no response), and another (already busy with a befriendee). She checked the charts, “Joe takes the 3-4am shift off to listen to the radio hour, Jannie and Lura are out of town this week… I hate to say this, but we don’t have any befrienders available today.” She wrung her hands. “Looks like the world is just shitting on you today, you literally came the only time that we don’t have a single person available. I’ll give you a rain check on that, you can come for a free friend anytime… Here, why don’t you listen to the radio, perhaps it will have some ‘Mellow beats’ like last week.”
But instead it was some kind of primal screeching accompanied by clangs of metal.
“You sucking dicktail!” Lisa shouted at the radio, banging it against the table. “All I ask is some calming music and you give me this piss!”
Usually I don’t like caustic personalities. But somehow, at this unreal time, it seemed exactly what I needed. Lisa felt like someone flailing, beautifully. Like a dancer performing on the edge of a fountain, giving the illusion of falling but never actually falling. Like me, except that I would actually fall in.
“What about you?” I asked hesitantly, “Can’t you be my 3am friend?”
“Absolutely not! I’m the receptionist only. Though I don’t know why the freaking leaking hellspont I signed up for the job. Actually I do—it’s related to a social experiement—oh never mind. I’m not accredited, last time I tried it I made the befriendee cry.”1
She sipped a cup of fragrant black liquid.
“What is that?”
“This? Coffee. You’ve never had coffee before? Oh, you’re missing out, girl. Here, why don’t you have a cup. We can’t be friends, but we can be conversation partners. Is that good enough for you?”
Over the strangly energizing liquid I poured out all my troubles to Lisa. It turned out that the trivia night was just the tip of the iceberg that my ship had run into. Everywhere in Philosophocle I saw the unbending necessity to memorize equations, or “recall the classics”. Professor Klausicus told us that “we never make anything new, all we do is regurgitate the olds. Therefore, I will teach you to regurgitate the best of the olds.” When I told him that I made new names every day for fun, was that not “new”? he gave me a stern look and a tap on the knuckles, “Besides the mountains of literature, that does not even amount to a sand speck.” When I signed up for painting class, I imagined myself drawing winged horses, castles built from coral reefs, or aurora boreali, but the teacher insisted everyone drew the same apple, and graded us on realism!
When I wandered around campus for three hours in a daze after “trivia night”, it was not because of the stress of answering trivia questions under pressure nor the “iced tea”, but rather the combined pressure of my Philosophocle education thus far.
Lisa looked at me grimly.
“It seems like you need to meet the Creativists.”
She stood up.
“I’m closing tonight, as all our ‘friends’ are busy or slacking. Let’s go take a walk.”
I told Lisa how my dormmates were Uniformists who kept pressuring me to join. They had donated all their old clothes to charity and replaced them with a wardrobe of U-shirts. How I shudder to think of a wardrobe being replaced like that! Imagine my rainbow colored shirts—one for each day of the week—all replaced by a uniform gray! As my three roommates descended deeper into Uniformism, I could no longer tell them apart. They would all eat breakfast together—identical slices of toast and cups of milk, everything—and I’d be along in my room, eating my box of Fruity Puffs. They’d all be smiling when they saw me, offering to lend me one of their U-shirts.
Not to mention, when we arrived at trivia night, they joined their Uniformist friends.
“Come join us,” they had said, but I refused, and was team-less.
“What a backhanded ploy to get you to joint the Uniformists!” Lisa said, “I’m glad you didn’t give in. But how could you miss the Creativists? Weren’t you at the Ideologies Fair at the beginning of the year?”
“Yes. It was so threatening, though! When I went in, the Theoreticians and the Applications were screaming at each other, and both of their presidents appealed to me to pick a side. I just backed out the door. As I was leaving, though, someone came up to me and gave me a coupon for a free friend.”
I noticed some ghostly figures drifting across campus. The two leaders had blankets draped over their shoulders.
“Who are they?” I asked.
“The Wonderers. You really missed everything at the Ideologies Fair, didn’t you? It’s alright, I’ll give you an overview.” She pointed at the stars. “What does that look like to you?”
I squinted. I tried to make out a deer, a wok, a stairway to heaven, a snake eating its own tail, anything, but came up with “a glob?”
“Exactly. So that’s the Uniformists, there.” She pointed at various constellations as she rattled off the groups. “Then you have their arch-enemies, the Creativists, see how that’s a person singing, dancing, and waving a paintbrush at the same time? That dark patch—there’s the Self-Effacers, you won’t see them much. Then there are the Techies and the Naturies, the Society for Family Values, the Sexists2, and the Poly House, the Vegetarian Co-op and the Omnivorous Co-op, the Existentialists, Nonexistentialists, Rationalists, Utilitarians, Relativizers, Altruists, Egoists, Feel-Gooders, Faithers, Experimentalists, Unknowers, Choosers, Stoners3, Freewillers, Determiners, Probabilists…”
We ducked under an archway of two kissing trees and came to a humble blue doorway. Lisa fiddled with the lock and the door opened. She struck a match and lit a lantern hanging beside the door.
“This is the Scoop. There aren’t any cookies here now, though there is some delicious cookie dough in the fridge. But the real exhibit is downstairs.”
Just looking at the cafe for a few seconds under the dim light, I could tell it was a friendly place. The walls were chalkboards upon which students had wrote poems that I did not recognize as part of the “classics”. Unlike the identical, industrial stools of the Electric Eel, the chairs were all flawed in their own way, like individual people.
After Lisa fed me some cookie dough, we went to the Workshop in the basement.
There were three long tables, filled with art supplies like glitter, glitter glue, scissors, metal hooks, plastic eyes, pipe cleaners, bubble-letter tracers, a Random Quote Box, beads, thread, yarn, buttons, colored pencils, paint, spray paint, construction paper, felt, cardboard, burnt-out light bulbs, cut-out book covers, magazines, shells, stones, clay, sketch books, craft books, pop-up books, T-shirts awaiting color, used-up toilet paper rolls, starcharts, toothpicks, cotton balls, socks, flower petals, acorn caps, last autumn’s leaves, feathers dropped from birds in flight, and coconut shells. The floor was covered with old newspaper. There was a U-shirt hanging from a clothesline, which had been defaced by the addition of a set of arms and legs to the U. (I saw then, crystal clear, what U meant: it was an empty receptacle, waiting to be filled, incapable of filling itself.) There was a half-decayed mushroom palace, made from the fruits of a mycological expedition.
The whole place smelled like alphabet soup. I smiled as I remembered long dinners of focused rearrangement, trying to find the most mellifluous combinations of phonemes despite a lack of vowels.
“Wow. Can I use this space?”
“You can if you are a Creativist. But you must complete the initiation before you can become a Creativist. Will you accept the challenge?”
I nodded. I didn’t trust myself to open my mouth to speak—if I did, I was sure that I would spew out a series of never-before spoken words. The language I knew seemed inadequate to express what I felt.
Lisa opened a drawer and took out a small wooden box with a handle. “This,” she said, “is a Randomizer.”
The befriendee had been a Uniformist whose girlfriend just broke up with him because he insisted on her joining Uniformism before they got married. Lisa had absolutely no sympathy for him. “It’s very difficult to be a Befriender,” she concluded, “You have to be able to be anyone’s friend, even if they have the complete opposite philosophy. I like to choose my friends and enemies, thank you very much.”↩
Webmaster’s note: In Philosophocle, the suffix -ist primarily means “someone who does or believes in…” rather than “someone who discriminates based on”↩
so called because when they meditate, they sit as still as stones↩