My secret reason for writing a blog, and maybe even for getting up in the morning, is my longing for fulfillment as an artist.
It’s an odd thing to say given that I’ve recently produced a book, Did You Know I Would Miss You?, have written award-winning TV shows and, thanks to my work as a freelance writer and editor of dozens of publications, have managed to avoid having a real job for well over 30 years.
And yet my yearning for creative fulfillment howls in my bones like a starving wolf. Gathering up material to teach my creative writing course, Write a Wild Horse, a few years back, I was relieved to come upon the following quote by Steven Spielberg: “Have I really pushed the envelope as much as I want to? Not yet. Maybe that’s why I’m still hungry.”
Hey, if the Holy Grail of creative attainment still eludes one American cinema’s most commercially successful directors, then there’s hope for all of us.
And as with all things unfulfilled, I can find my biggest detractor by looking in the mirror, where I can spot stubborn traces of old assumptions about what an artist is. Growing up in the 1950s, if my parents or any of their friends referred to someone as “arty,” it was not a compliment. The term conjured up images of someone pretentious, odd, undesirable. A weird dresser. Worse than being a person who could not be relied upon to live a sensible life, never mind a moral one, an arty person didn’t belong.
Living in a family that moved every couple of years because my father was a Mounted Policeman, my sense of belonging already felt tenuous. Being unorthodox in any way was death – worse, humiliation. Unthinkable. And so I conducted myself in ways that would please those upon whom I depended for my sense of OK-ness. I kept up reasonable grades in an education system that rewarded obedience over originality; I stayed out of trouble; I stayed below the radar. I survived.
In the 1960s, even a small prairie university like the one I attended had its pockets of bohemian life. I was drawn to them like bedbugs to a basement suite. It didn’t matter to me if I had to sit in a smelly cellar, drink bad coffee and listen to music that sounded a lot like a traffic jam, or watch European films like Bergman’s Persona, or read books like Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. Of course I didn’t get any of this stuff. Yes, I faked an artistic sophistication that I hadn’t earned. Just like I used to fake swimming as a little girl by flailing my arms and legs while my tummy was safely on the bottom of the ocean. But I was reaching for something beyond what I’d been taught and what I’d believed to be true. I was responding to a call from my soul.
Decades later I still am. If that yearning hasn’t gone away by now, my hunch is it won’t. And the clash between the well-brought-up girl and the avant-garde arty one hasn’t gone away either. What a relief. Without this exquisite tension disturbing my days and haunting my nights, I would be sleepwalking toward a safe and easy death.
The starving artist is not a deranged person living in a flophouse, eating cat food, and compulsively writing novels that no one will ever read. The one our parents warned us against. The starving artist is that creative call within each of us that we can no longer afford to ignore.
How do we aid and abet it? Especially when our days are full of tasks and obligations. Here are just a few of the things I do – in no particular order.
• Read a poem out loud first thing in the morning and then free write for 10 minutes.
• Dialogue with The Muse in my journal
• Go on an artist’s date, as suggested by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. The only rule is it has to be fun, creative, inspiring – and solo.
• Grab an old journal, find the phrases and ideas that I find interesting (i.e., not whiny), and enter them in the appropriate file in my computer.
• Work on my book.
• Sing a song in French – at full volume.
• Dance to R&B in my living room.
• Go down to the ocean and watch the waves.
What do you do to feed your craving creative artist within? Email me at email@example.com and let me know. And in the meantime, keep an open ‘art.
“To all those creative people who have been ridiculed, reprimanded, and rejected because of their slightly unorthodox right-brain way of doing things. It’s payback time.”