In my first semester at UCLA, I was lucky enough to be placed with a screenwriting instructor who gave me back my favourite creative tool. I think I misplaced it somewhere around adolescence and replaced it with a fearful hunt for perfectionism or achieving an ever elusive end game that would allow me to stop hunting altogether. Because curiosity doesn't really want an end game. It's very survival depends on our willingness or even desire to not know, and to never really feel like we've reached the end of anything.
Those workshops were not courtrooms with my classmates in the roles of judge and jury, there to condemn me to either being innocent (I wrote a good scene or a good first draft), or guilty (I didn't). Instead they ran more like a fun 'Who done it?'. Missing or lacking elements in our work were treated with curiosity. We know something went wrong here but we're not sure what it is. Now it's a fun game to figure it out. A puzzle of sorts. Not an exercise in shame and applause. Success and failure. More like a treasure hunt. It generated an atmosphere of possibility and optimism. It gave me back my curious mind, which then led me back to the idea that the fun truly was in the journey, not the destination. Writing the screenplay became a game of solving a mystery. Once we'd solved it the game was over.
As adults we like to dress it up and call ourselves 'Seekers'. As children we don't need grandiose titles for our innate urges. We call it 'What does this button do?' or 'Why is the sky blue?', 'What happens when I put my sandwich in the VCR?' or 'What would happen if I tried finger painting on Daddy's car with the paint he's using on the house?' (True story). We are curious about everything.
And I was thinking when writing about cynicism, about just how dangerous it is for us to live with this aspect of ourselves repressed. Because when we stop being curious, it has to go somewhere doesn't it? And in my experience, that which is denied goes into shadow and becomes a dark and twisted version of what it once was. And maybe it starts with social etiquette or being polite. As children we routinely mortify our parents by publicly asking questions and making observations about what we see. And our poor parents, in an attempt to raise us as socially adjusted humans, tell us to shhhh. Or to stop staring. And definitely, please God, stop pointing. But if those curiosities go unacknowledged, then they go into the dark. "How did you come to believe that?" asked from a place of genuine curiosity, becomes a shaming, accusatory "How did you come to believe that?" with an air of condescension. Or we don't even bother asking because in our quest for safety, we develop the notion that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and so if we don't see our beliefs mirrored back to us, we just think, wrong. The naturally investigative part of us doesn't even get a chance to surface, because it has been so buried beneath fear and the need for a truth we can cling to for the rest of our lives, so that we can have rules to live by that make us feel safe. We don't want there to be any questions, not about the big stuff anyway. Because questions imply that we don't know. And when curiosity has been repressed, "I don't know" stops being exciting and instead becomes a threat.
I want to call curiosity a mentality of absolute faith. Because it says to me, it is safe to not know, to have endless questions, to constantly wonder, and to explore new terrain, because whenever you need an answer one will show up. And with a curious mind, life reemerges as an adventure, a mystery, and we can learn to tolerate the suspense as we once did, with wonder.