A bowl filled with feathers
In many places, August is a slower month: a time to ponder plans, dream big, and follow your heart. I thought it might inspire you to revisit (or, for some readers, discover for the first time) Melissa Unger’s journey toward creating Seymour Projects, a story of following your intuition, finding hidden capacities within yourself, and creating something real.
Imagination has always been a huge part of my life. As an only child, my earliest memories are of me playing alone in my room – alone, but never lonely. A vast inner world, filled with endless possibilities, always accompanied me.
As I was growing up, I was fortunate to have culturally curious parents who continually provided me with opportunities to experience art of all disciplines. I fell in love with the human mind, with the human heart, ever-fascinated by how they came together to form the most magnificent equations. Humans were to me the most extraordinary of creatures: seemingly if by magic gushed forth from them songs and dances, paintings and pictures, words that lifted up and ignited. Intrigued beyond measure, I soon discovered the meaning of the word ‘creativity’ – the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. In high school at the Lycée Français de New York, profoundly curious about how others engage with the world and make sense of their experience, I obtained a Baccalaureate in Philosophy. In college, the study of English Literature and Photography offered me additional glimpses into the human psyche and gave me my first opportunities to explore my own creative expression.
As an adult, I was naturally drawn to the creative fields. I worked for years in film, television, arts of all disciplines, surrounding myself with creative minds of all kinds, from the most famous and respected to the newly burgeoning. I was a gatherer, a researcher, a collector. Yet I had no vitrine, no stash to show, mine was an invisible treasure – the human imagination. I listened to musicians fiddle with their guitars, mesmerized as they followed their senses to deftly blend cacophonous notes into a song. I watched our generation’s greatest actors transform themselves from one human being entirely into another by bending their consciousness in ineffable ways. Sitting on the floor of endless studios, I watched innumerable artists enter into trance states as they painted and drew. I was so envious… I didn’t understand what was happening. I would watch their eyes shift focus to some invisible faraway point as they became animated by their inspiration, their muse. Some told me that their subconscious mind seemed to click in, others said they shut down their rational thinking and let their intuition lead the way, some told me that they were no more than instruments through which energy from the Universe flowed, and others still told me to stop asking questions that were unanswerable.
Unable to tap into this mysterious realm myself, I went in search of another manner to pursue my passion. For many rewarding years I worked with America’s leading public service organization to innovatively leverage creative ideas and concepts to positively affect social change. Until in 2004, for many reasons, some of them too intimate to share here, I reached a turning point. I was burned out, in need of change, of new horizons. I went off to Paris to visit my French grandmother. It was there, as unexpectedly as a summer downpour, that I too had my own incredible experience with inspiration and creativity – my own encounter with the elusive ‘flow’.
For this particular trip, I had chosen solitude. Very much in need of quiet and daydreaming, most days I would just walk around the city and let my mind wander. At first my thoughts darted to things that I had forgotten to do, calls I had to make, lists of all kinds. Then my mind seemed to drift into waves of memories. Ebbed and flowed, past events, old friends. Days on, my mind just seemed to go blank, soft, hollow, like a bowl filled with feathers. My body went on autopilot, my steps became reflexive, I almost felt as if I were floating on air. Everything in the material world around me felt very far away and yet, paradoxically, intimately near. I know now that when things go quiet on the inside, the world as we know it is transformed forever into something new and infinitely surprising.
One day on my walk, a single, random sentence popped into my head: Peter never ate. Insistent, it kept coming back again and again and in an effort to dissipate it, I put it to paper. The three words called out to me from the page. The short sentence was like some sort of motor or magnet I touched my pen back to the paper and let it lead me. Allowing something other than my rational mind to be in charge was a strange and invigorating experience. It felt like I was driving in a car on a dark road with no idea where I was or where I was going, but the headlights allowed me to see just enough to stay on the road. I would look ahead into the little illuminated patch of ground and keep inching forward. Each day I would try it again and each day that ‘click’, that ‘shift’ would happen again, and words would gush out of me like an open faucet. I would simply get myself to a quiet place, read the last paragraph I had written and then just pick up where I had left off and let the words flow through me until it felt natural to stop. My sense of time was completely altered when I was writing; a whole day would often go by in what felt like an hour. Most astoundingly, I didn’t have a plot or outline, characters sketched, or any idea at all of what I was going to write about, but the words came anyway. I wrote about places I’d never been, people I’d never known, experiences I’d never had.
Despite my years around artists, nothing had prepared me for the power of living this experience myself. It was the answer to all my questions. It felt like the answer to all of our questions. And yet, I knew it would be very difficult to explain, and that if I wanted others to understand it, I would have to make it possible for them to experience it themselves. So I pledged to myself that I would find a way to create an environment accessible to all in which they could do exactly that.
The experience of writing those pages, which became my novel Gag, was the missing element that pulled together all the threads of my personal and professional experiences to lay a path for me toward a life of enriching meaning and passionate purpose. The subjects that had always battled for my attention — philosophy, psychology, imagination, inspiration, creativity, public service; all come into harmony within me. In 2011, after nearly a decade of more scholarly research on the nature of self and altered states of consciousness, Seymour Projects was born.
Through Seymour Projects I seek to give you the tools to ignite your own inner spark – scintilla animae, as it’s called so poetically in Latin. They will help guide you toward the true you that is buried underneath your unfounded fears and supposed limitations. I invite you to take as much time to look inside yourself as you do outside yourself. Tap into your imagination, explore your subconscious, break through your conditioned thinking, and shout your soul through your fingertips.
The experience of writing those pages afforded me a new perspective on life and has changed it immeasurably for the better. I now live a much more vibrant existence in which the material world and invisible world co-exist in rousing harmony.
It’s impossible for me to share all the details of these recent life-altering years with you in this letter, but please know that today I have found not only my calling, but also lasting relief from my previously ever-present anxiety. My stress levels have plummeted. I am more creative and, dare I say, compassionate than I have ever been.
I wish that experience for everyone.
– Melissa Unger
Published: August 4th, 2016