The Woman Who Values Herself is about 90 percent of what I envisioned when I set out to print a pocket-sized book of 31 affirmations for women, each illustrated with a line drawing by Sheila Kennedy. I suspect it is just as a grown child is always about 90 percent of what a parent hoped for. And of course the parent dwells on the 10 percent. What's right:
- cover color (love the green! There is no name for such a green!)
- most of the drawings
- the fact that this book exists at all
- the kindness shown to me by all the blurb contributors
- that this is Sheila's first book and she's thrilled and she should be, she is awesome
- that this book might be of help or comfort to somebody somewhere someday
- pricing ($10; thank God I asked for advice!)
- They didn't add one of my corrections
- The paper is thick and I'd hoped it would be opaque, but it's not
- The back cover with its three colors looks better to me than the front with its two colors
- They didn't vertically center the blurbs on the back; I mean, it's okay but it's not perfect!
- Yes, the spine is 1/4 inch wide just as I wanted, and admittedly it is the thinnest possible size for a perfect (glued) binding, but it drives me wild when the microscopic printing on some of them is off by a millionth of an inch
Then it occured to me that driving is a linear, objective task, a left-brain task, and for weeks I'd been waltzing in a right-brain ballroom of swirling words and limitless inner pictures and ideas. Even taking daily walks, very early or very late in the day, I didn't "do" straight lines; mostly I took gorgeous photos of gorgeous summer butterflies and wildflowers, and did only the barest minimum of anything else. Too swirly even to follow a DVD; Lost in Translation sat on the top of the player for three months and when I watched it, it made no sense. House was a wreck. I tried to construct and sew a simple skirt: disaster, thrown in trash. Presence in one place meant absence in another. Then I wondered if it was just the way things are for writers. Most of us have had a writing hangover. Binge on writing and you get a skull-buster of a writing hangover. It's not a joke; it can really impair you.
The problem was the transition from one type of task to another, and given one day and one night I got better at making the switch. I read an article that said it would have helped to do crosswords, Sudoku, or math problems. But I'd really like to live the high life in that right brain all the time.
The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive.
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god, and
failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create--so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.
It sure is! She showed up in his future in a Tarot-card reading as the Queen of Cups, the Creative Queen. She's an introspective, intuitive type, serene, always inspired. What's more, she's blonde! She lives comfortably, is probably an artist of some kind, surrounded by art and artists. I bet Boyfriend is especially intrigued because her focus is elsewhere and she's as busy as he. ("Men seem to like that," I said, merely to myself.) And she has a loving heart.
I was furious. I could not compete. About to post an article titled "How to Surf Match.com Just for Spite," I realized I could be the Creative Queen in his future. If I chose. So I chose. Every day I put on a dress and jewelry, and regally work on artistic projects. I'm not kidding. It feels great to rededicate myself. I have an appointment to have my hair dyed blonde (that, I'm kidding about).
This past week I drafted new work that I think is crazy: way, way off my usual path. This is the good kind of crazy for a writer.
That was during vacation time. Now I'm back to being mentally healthy, according to the standards of this culture: A clock wakes you, you shower and go to work and earn money, and try all day not to destroy your body, bank account, and relationships. You never tell your co-worker or boss, "I need time to myself" or "I'm busy writing a poem; go ask somebody else to do that" --that's so seriously nutty that they call it career suicide. If they catch you working on your novel or memoir (or blog), they won't listen when you explain that you are DRIVEN to do it by unknown forces and that you were born that way.
So we writers lead two lives from the start. One is crazy (according to non-writing mom, stepdad who wanted me be a court reporter because they really rake it in, boyfriend who thought writers get thousands of dollars when they complete a book, etc.). The crazy one is the fun one, the one with the starry dream world and infinite potential. That's also the one with the workshop that is happy, even thrilled, to read each other's crazy writing.
What's a few wet footprints on the carpet compared to inspiration? Each gift of sudden inspiration comes only once, to only one person. You don't want to lose it. Even Emily Dickinson thought, " 'Twill keep," but it won't -- and you don't want to have to say along with her, ruefully, "The Gem was gone -- /And now, an Amethyst remembrance/ Is all I own."* Get out of the shower, out of bed, or pull over the car, and write down that idea or first line. I do, even if it's a bother. My personal research says that you have two or three minutes before the gift turns to vapor. (Writers do receive other gifts -- such as book ideas -- that are less perishable.)
To be an artist is to be a channel or gateway for creative power. Enjoy your appointment to the welcoming committee!
*"I held a Jewel in my fingers--" (#245)
The Internet has its users making their own films, posting their own writings and music and art, organizing and collaborating, and sharing ideas, opinions, and new software. But the Internet is only part of the arts revolution. The postal carrier does crafts; the doctor paints; the street kid makes up poems; the stay-at-home mom does Japanese-style gardening; the teenager designs and sews her own clothes; Grandma writes and publishes her own cookbook.
Somewhere I read that "The M.F.A. is the new M.B.A." and I believe it. Employers used to shun "creative types," thinking them too dreamy or weird to become compliant worker bees. Now these companies are clawing the walls to get creativity.
During the T'ang Dynasty, if a man wanted a high-level job he had to go to the regional capital and take exams. One of the tests was whether he could write a good poem.
You can't have good solid serious journalism without journalists who love what they do and take it seriously and don't have to be people-pleasers. They must have freedom. The newspaper editorial was invented specifically so the suits would have their space to vent. Now they use the news to vent and we have what's disparagingly called "the media", very obviously brokers and spin doctors, and if nobody wants to read newspapers anymore or watch TV's nightly news, it's no mystery as to why.
Despite the serious, prizewinning work she had done as a journalist, America's former sweetheart Katie Couric was not taken seriously as a nightly news anchor and after five years -- granted, an era where nightly network news is no longer important -- is on her way out. It isn't her femaleness (although the cuteness she used to stay on top at Today works against her now). She's just no good at being stuck in front of a camera with nothing else to do, nowhere else to put her energy but her voice and determined facial expression, no one to argue with. It's the dullest, most "figurehead" of the high-visibility jobs. She's a journalist who wasn't creating, wasn't writing, wasn't free except to do the occasional special or interview (such as with Sarah Palin). It gave Couric a discomfited, even constipated expression. Who wants to watch that?
One woman described her husband getting nervous and suddenly needing her when she tried to shut her door to write. "What would happen if I called HIM at work and told him to come home immediately and take care of MY emotional needs?" she asked. Of course, short of illness or death in the family he would tell her to take a flyer, and rightly so. Another woman described her husband's verbal abuse. It was classic:
1. Horrible verbal abuse occurs regardless of the seriousness of "what's wrong." (Crooked miniblind is as enraging as a wrecked car or an IRS audit.)
2. The abuser denies that it is abuse.
3. The abuser declares that if anything, the abused is the abusive and crazy one.
4. Verbal abuse never occurs in the presence of witnesses (except children, whose testimony is easily discredited).
5. The abuser denies that abuse occurred, even when there is proof, such as a recording.
6. To others the abuser is affable and reasonable and socially is the better-liked of the pair.
To anyone out there with this problem, let me save you five or ten years of trying to fix it: There is NO cure short of separation.
The people to hang out with, live with, be with, as you begin to write, are the people who support your efforts, and if you haven't got them at home, join a writers' group.
I was going to say how I can't forgive myself my premature publications and missteps, but realized that writers grow up in public, more so, than say, business or pre-med majors. There is still every chance that a fire will consume the archives. I wonder how it'll be for the young writers growing up online. I sure am glad there was no Internet when I was 19.