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18 January, 2007

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Several years ago, I made a conscious decision to overhaul my belief system about living the creative life. I threw out the old tapes, and adopted two basic tenets:

One, I decided that being an artist and being sane, sober, and faithful in marriage did not have to be mutually exclusive conditions. At the time, this was repudiated by almost every role model I ever had, but if no one had ever done it in the history of the world, I would invent it. It was just going to have to be.

Two, I decided that there was plenty of talent, energy, inspiration and luck to go around, and that it wasn't necessary for me or anyone else to cower in the corner, hoarding our meager ration of it.

You can guess what happened. As I bought into these ideas, I started encountering more and more evidence to support them. They manifest themselves almost daily now.

Turns out I didn't have to invent the healthy artist. Today I know all kinds of them. I make it a point to know them. I don't mean they aren't complex people who struggle. Just that they are dealing with their demons, not being ridden by them.

And about there being enough of the good stuff? More like a surplus. It overflows and sloshes onto me. Like yesterday, when I was fighting with the baby over the remote control, and I happened across the tail end of a Q & A session with Michael Chabon, where he talked about how much he dreads going to sit down and write, the way people dread going to the gym, but how if he doesn't do it—if he indulges his desire to watch a ball game instead, for example—he feels unwell. He knows it will ail his soul not to write, and so, five days a week, he drags his ass to his chair and he writes. Then he talked about how hapless he feels in general; how it never seems like he is doing a good enough job in all the other areas of his life.

It was such a kind and generous thing to share. I wanted to jump up and kiss the screen (except it is so grody with grubby fingerprints my lips would probably stick to it). See, if Chabon were hoarding his talent, he would be too afraid to share those vulnerabilities. He would just swagger around, hoping you couldn't see through the swagger to the terror, and I would go on thinking there was no hope for me, because real writers must wake up with a burning desire to get to their desks and are above being troubled by the kids not having their homework signed or bouncing a check or not being the kind of person who brings casseroles to sick friends.

No hope for me, and no cure for what ailed me, who lived with that unwell feeling for so long, I almost couldn't feel it anymore. And that, my friends, is terminal, stage IV creative blockage. You know people who are living—dying—with it. You've seen it.

Then I had an email from a dear friend of mine who has published several books, fiction and non-fiction. She wrote me to say she had sat down over the holidays and had caught up with several months worth of writing on both blogs, and had lots of nice and encouraging things to say about them (I keep a folder on my computer called Moral Support, and this is where that sort of thing gets filed, against the days I am most starved for it). But the best was when she confided how anticlimatic it always feels when a book gets published, and all your friends and family say is, "It was great!" or "I liked your book" when you've spent years of your life toiling and sweating over each turn of phrase. Again, it means hope for someone like me, to know that the hunger for praise, for notice, doesn't go away with publication. That it, like the dread of going to one's desk, is just a condition you learn to work around.

Yesterday morning I did sit at my desk, dreading and procrastinating all the way. It is much harder for me to settle into the writing of poetry than prose, because it so much more jarring for me to have to resurface. As I have described before, I get the bends. But I really want to have new material to read next month in Ireland, so I forced myself. I began by grumpily sorting through my manila file folders: published, unpublished, drafts closed, drafts open. An envelope fell out into my lap. It was a review of one of my poems that someone anonymously sent me after it was published. Someone actually went to the trouble to find my address, copy the review, buy a stamp, and mail it to me. Several months before that, someone else—another poet—had gone to the trouble to tell me about the anthology, send me the submissions information, and bug me until I mailed some stuff in. I will never forget getting the letter in the mail that said they were accepting nearly all of the poems I'd sent. Or getting the book when it came and seeing them in print alongside other poets I admired.

None of that happened because people were worried my coming to the table would mean less for them. Everybody just schooched over and passed the bread.

2 Comments:

Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

what a wise and generous piece. i love it .

8:06 PM  
Anonymous erthsister said...

I just recently found your blog(s) from who knows where. I started out as a fine artist (painting, et al), but in the last 10 years have shifted my concept of art/creativity to cover any creative act or process, even my life. I'm enjoying your musing over the creative process (and other things). Your blog so far puts me into an interesting "trance", a different space of consciousness -- and I like it. Thanks.

8:29 PM  

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