Tag Archives: artists

Boozing the Muse

Originally for Author Magazine

Fitzgerald.  Hemingway.  Steinbeck.  Faulkner.  O’Neil.  Poe.  Kerouac.  Bukowski.  Capote.   Dorothy Parker.  Katherine Anne Porter.  And so many many others.  Why is the muse so thirsty?  I want to know the answer.  Allow me then, to muse upon the muse.

For the sake of this pursuit, I’m going to make some assumptions/projections about writers, as a woman who’s been writing for half her life.

Writers think we have something to say.  And not just that.  We’re not sure we’ll be okay if we don’t say it.  It’s that tree-falls-in-the-woods thing.  What if no one’s there to hear it?  Do our words matter?  Does all that widening of the third eye count?  Does all that standing in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing, risking the soul’s “life” and “limb,” matter if it’s just a confluence of country road?  Crows and scarecrows and maybe a few crickets?  Most of us would say an emphatic “no.”  We want the trajectory met.  We want our readers.  And still…we write.

And here’s the thing:  we’re not supposed to complain about it.  Because…it’s not like anyone asked us to write.  It’s not like we’ve gotten sword taps on the shoulders by the royal Queen of Literacy.  We’re just poor slobs who get off on sitting in dark rooms staring at computer screens making shit up.  And without those computers and dark rooms, we’d be poor slobs walking around asking someone if we can borrow a pen to write on walls, and if someone objects, we’ll write on our hands.  But we’d still want someone to read our hands.  And not for fortune.  We don’t expect fortune.  Just a little daily bread and a few people who say, “I read what you wrote.  And it helped me.”

Some writers write to understand.  Others for the greater good.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s just that we have to.  We can’t not.  Sounds dramatic, I know.  But it’s true.  And here’s the thing:  it doesn’t have to be our undoing—not being read, not being published.  Unless we truly consider it bloodsport, and for some, maybe that’s just the way it needs to be.  But not for me.

Have you ever seen that painting in the Met in New York—of Joan of Arc being called to war from her country life in the garden?  Have you ever seen her face?  Have you noticed the ghost-like spirits over her shoulder?  Looked at her outstretched hand?  She wants it.  She can’t help but listen.  The voices are too loud.  That’s my girl.  That’s me.  I martyred myself for a long time with my writing.  You wouldn’t know it from the outside.  But inside I felt so called to do what I did/do every day, that there was a level of entitlement.  And then the inner turmoil and pain of meeting with rejection.  A LOT of rejection.  How could the publishing world have a grid boasting cracks through which I would fall over and over and over again?  Especially with an agent.  Especially with such positive rejection letters.  I knew I could write.  I knew that I had something to share.  I just couldn’t make being published happen.  And I was miserable.

So I gave up.  Not on the writing.  On the publishing.  The alternative was to self destruct.  And I didn’t want to do that.  I have a great life.  Who cares if I’m a writer.  I have a husband and kids and horses and land in Montana and a house and a garden and friends and…life is good, just like the t-shirts say.  So after a huge publishing deal fell apart, my father died, and I found myself in a red wine daze crying on my office floor, I decided that it was total insanity, basing my personal happiness on things outside my control.  What I could control was:  writing.  Creating.  Submitting when what I wrote was good.  And then letting go.

Writers don’t have to martyr themselves.  That’s a story we tell ourselves.  We aren’t our writing, as much as we’d like to think we are. 

Our writing is of us.

But it…is…not…us.

We need to create a new paradigm for writers.  Writers may walk around with empathy as their middle name, channeling the human experience, but the beauty and heart break of that can be filtered through the fine mesh of an inner agreement that we do not have to suffer because of it.  We can go with the pain.  We can use the pain.  Just like we can use the joy.  And to feel the pain does not mean that it then has us wanting to numb it away.  It does not control us.  We control us.  And I’ll say it again because it took me a long time to understand this:  we can control what we create.  And then, I believe, it’s best to let go of the rest.  The real freedom lies therein.

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"Glory Daze"

Okay– I know it’s obnoxious to post a photo of yourself when you weighed 119 pounds and all your dreams were coming true, but I want to use this newly dug out photo for my grade school alumni news as a tool of inspiration. This photo was taken in 1981 at my grade school graduation. That smile depicts THE LAST official “Glory Day” of my life (excluding obvious things like my wedding and the births of my children)……until I got my book published. In the realm of personal achievement, that was my Mt. Everest. I won the drama, art, writing, and speaking awards. That stack in my hands contains the proof.

In the 29 years to follow, there would be a desert in this regard. Nothing grandiose to put on my resume. So what, I wrote and completed 14 NOVELS. So what. Nothing to hold in my hand and show off. And the spiritual scum that ensued had me in knots.

On April 1, 2010, I had the next installment of “Glory Day.” I had a book published. But it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I spent the day in a NYC hotel room with the stomach flu. Cosmic humor abounding. Because as much as I wanted to be the answer to that dreamful girl in that white dress smiling and believing that the rest of her life would be one long drawn out “Glory Day,” I knew that glory days are myths. And that success lies inside us. Even and especially if we’re sitting on the couch with greasy hair feeling lumpy. Or throwing up in a hotel room on one of the most momentous days in our lives.

We create something, people do or don’t relate to it. We move on. And we create something else. Success is an illusion. But happiness is real.

To that end, I’ll tell you a secret. As much as the below picture is of me feeling the temporary bliss that comes from achieving a dream…it’s really just a fleeting moment. So to those of you who are beating yourselves up with your dreams, go easy on yourselves. Do what you need to do, create something you are proud of, and let go of the result.

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Pianos in NYC

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128029071

This story so inspired me tonight as I was making dinner and listening to NPR. I just yesterday blogged about the things we weed out in order to stay sane, wherever it is that we live– city or country or somewhere inbetween. I’m so interested in this subject because I’m interested in how people build community and share and inspire one another, and I fear the ways in which we cut ourselves off from community and limit our empathy. This just made me smile SO BIG! Pianos all over New York city, just standing there for the playing and the sharing. Now THAT’S community. Bravo to the fellow who had this idea and made it happen.

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Quotes for the Writers and Dreamers

 

Here are some of the quotes on my writing desk that I refer to daily.  Hope they help.  Dreams can come true.  But it’s in the creating where the true power lies. 

yrs.
Laura

Paul Auster:

“And that’s why books are never going to die. It’s impossible. It’s the only time we really go into the mind of a stranger, and we find our common humanity doing this. So the book doesn’t only belong to the writer, it belongs to the reader as well, and then together you make it what it is.”

 ”Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.”

Cynthia Ozik:

“I wanted to use what I was, to be what I was born to be – not to have a ‘career’, but to be that straightforward obvious unmistakable animal, a writer.”

Pablo Neruda:

“While I am writing I am far away and when I come back I have already left.”

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To the writers:

Last May I started this blog because I felt I had no power in the publishing world and I wanted to share my writing. How interesting it has been ever since. Please…if you are a writer or a dreamer or both…keep going…and please share your thoughts here. 20 years I’ve been writing– 14 books–just now…one published. I want to help writers know that they NEED to perservere. If I can help with your inspiration (can’t help with the publishing world, alas)…let me know. I care about this (and you) very much. I would love to start a forum here for writers, if there’s interest.
Yrs.
Laura

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