Art versus stomach

This afternoon, I put in some good work on a fun book for Shra, and I had a good morning too… and then in the afternoon my stomach started to feel a little unsettled again, and I’ve had to stay close to the bathroom since. Luckily no cramps today (oddly) but still. I wrote about my frustration on my other blog.

I can’t help but feel that if only I were a real, serious artist, I wouldn’t let a little thing like an upset stomach stop me from creating as I need to… part of me extends compassion and excuses my lack of productivity, but another part believes that Serious Real Artists work in ghettoes and garrets and stop not for poverty, ill health, loneliness, sorrow, exhaustion, etc, etc. I wonder if I’ll ever reconcile these different perspectives.

Oh, and I started reading Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life. So far it resonates very strongly. Here, see for yourself:

Our aesthetic sense, whether in works of art or in lives, has overfocused on the stubborn struggle toward a single goal rather than on the fluid, the protean, the improvisatory.

The model of an ordinary successful life that is held up for young people is one of early decision and commitment, often to an educational preparation that launches a single rising trajectory. Ambition, we imply, should be focused, and young people worry about whether they are defining their goals and making the right decisions early enough to get on track.

This is very true; I long thought I could never be anything unless I’d trained for it from childhood. I’m still fighting that assumption constantly when it comes to drawing and visual art. If only I’d taken art classes… if only I had started trying to draw perspective from when I was a kid… It’s wonderful for me to read Bateson’s words and see that someone else negates this view of success and ambition, someone who is not just young and trying to get it together, but someone who is already successful and accomplished in the eyes of the world.

It also occurs to me that what she’s saying is in direct conflict with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour/childhood-training argument in Outliers, which is interesting to think about, because I agree with them both. Perhaps Bateson would say that we put in our 10,000 hours in ways that don’t fit neatly into specific disciplines? i.e., I don’t have 10K hours of piano practice, but I could still make some kind of musical life for myself because I do have 10K hours of creative improvisation and imagination? After all, Gladwell’s book venerates the single-discipline star, like Bill Gates or musical virtuosi; Bateson is celebrating lives that are more multi- and inter-disciplinary, perhaps so much so that they cannot be easily described… ?

All too often, men and women are like battered wives or abused children. We hold on to the continuity we have, however profoundly it is flawed. If change were less frightening, if the risks did not seem so great, far more could be lived. One of the striking facts of most lives is the recurrence of threads of continuity, the re-echoing of earlier themes, even across deep rifts of change.

This articulates what I have discovered about change and continuity in the past three years, since leaving grad school and taking many different paths in career, geography, worldview, etc. Bateson’s take on change also reflects Pema Chödrön’s wisdom on the subject.

I am eager to read the rest of Bateson’s book. She offers several models of women’s lives — which are successful in a way that is far more improvisatory and patchwork than that “great biography” trajectory she denigrates — which I have long searched for and badly need.