As I stood looking at a series of paintings which were recently completed by a dear friend, I was struck by the beauty of them and the shame they invoked in me. Art is supposed to make one feel expansive or introspective or soothed. While the art I appreciated today brought those emotions to the surface, it also caused me to realize that the last many months of my singular and short existence had been taken hostage from me.
Over the last many weeks, I have been straddling the line between active resistance of all things unkind and restrictive & semi-invested participation in all things creative and life-affirming. I am at my worst when I conclude that my efforts are ineffectual or dismissed. Conversely, I am at my best when I am creating. In my case, that creation is found in the construction of stories about struggle and triumph, about betrayal and loyalty.
Over a year ago, I finished my seventh novel. Since that time, it has sat in a box on my bookshelf waiting for me to read it. As it quietly aged, I edited other manuscripts, pitched literary agents, and refrained from any creative writing.
That was a mistake. Like any other practice, to remain “good” at something requires daily commitment.
For laudable and foolish reasons, I stepped away from my inventive instincts.
I told myself that it was important to join the ranks of other progressives to confront hate and get out the vote only to ultimately realize that I needed to rent full battle gear for the next many years. Months were wasted in playing the role of indispensable citizen. (Side note: Sen. Hatch still voted for DeVos to be confirmed despite my call.)
I told myself that it was silly to start another novel when I had seven waiting to be edited, pitched, contracted, published, and sold only to find that I don’t write for my share of future books sales. Months were wasted in adopting the notion that money is the motivation to write anything in the first place. (Side note: revenge brought me to the vocation of writing.)
I suppose it was a “set up” on both accounts. By opening my mouth and expressing an opinion, I ran the risk of being deemed “all talk, no action” if I didn’t follow with my behavior my publicly shared political statements. I had to act.
By telling people that I had “been writing” and had “completed manuscripts,” I opened the door to be asked about whether I’d be self-publishing or going the traditional route. It was never whether to publish, it was merely how that eventuality would happen. The underlying assumption being that no one would ever write a book–let alone seven–unless she expected to become rich and famous.
On both accounts, I allowed myself to buy into the expectations of others. When one allows the parameters of her life to measured by the yardsticks of others, the only honest result is that a whole lot of time was lost.
Tomorrow is the first of March. Tomorrow I will start writing again. Not for money, not for fame. Tomorrow I will write for the practice. In that daily, committed exercise, I will produce something remarkably and uniquely my own. I will create something imperfectly mine that I may choose to share. Unlike snappy one-liners thrown out in the hopes of dismantling repressive ideologies, I’ll write tens of thousands of sentences. One by one, day by day, week by week.
If the past is an accurate indicator, I should be done with my eighth novel right around my baby’s 10th birthday. The time spent writing from tomorrow until the end of April, I predict, will be as challenging as it is wonderful. For every time that I have finished a book, I have always thought, “That was a good time,” which stands in sharp and ugly relief to the scores of wasted days I’ve strung together over the last long while.
Life is short, and time is precious. So I’m off to use mine creatively, which I now clearly see is the very best way to use of this limited resource.