Yesterday wasn’t the greatest day either; in spite of so many good things (new art supplies, a day out, walking, a haircut), nothing seemed worthwhile. But this morning I woke up feeling like all was right again. Strange how these moods come upon me and then lift. I’m so fortunate in that they do lift… sooner or later there’s a shift in my brain chemistry or blood sugar level or the planetary alignment or whatever it is, and I feel like myself once more.
Anyway, I’m rereading LM Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon series, and it’s got me thinking about what it means to be an artist. Montgomery writes from a different era and different sensibilities, but every year I go through a phase when I need to read some of her stuff, and this time it’s Emily. I’ve only reread these books a couple of times since I first got them as a teenager, but on each reread I like them more. Emily is a writer and her dedication always makes me think hard about what I’m doing with my own time and aspirations.
A couple of months ago I was reading Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. He wrote to Franz Kappus:
No one can advise you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?
That same week, one of my capoeira classmates learned of what I do, and asked me, “What do you write?” I gave a half-assed answer (I always do, when faced with this question) but her question and Rilke’s together made me wonder again what it is that I’m doing.
I do know I have to create, and that if the whole world disappeared around me I’d still find myself writing and making some kind of visual statement (even if it was nothing more than stacking rubble in interesting shapes). But I don’t know what this means; I don’t know what I need to make (or, perhaps, what needs to be made through me). Would a really thorough diary be enough? A diary and a blog? Do I need to invent stories or paint portraits, write poems or draw comics? What I really want to know, to be brutally honest, is whether I’ll ever be successful as an artist. But then success for myself and success in the eyes of the world are not always the same thing. I come back to this question again and again: if I really give it my best shot, and can’t make it bigger than an out-of-print book and a couple of local readings a year, is that worth it? Is it enough to keep me trying? I think yes, if I’m truly doing my best, then that’s success… but if I picture myself at fifty with no more recognition than that, I do feel a bit depressed. Then I wonder if I’m shallow!
And then a wiser voice steps in and tells me sternly, but lovingly, to get back to my notebook or my paints, because all this speculation is just air. She tells me that if I really search out my most original thoughts and find a way to translate them into word and image, if I really develop my skills with all that is in me, it’s not possible that I will fail: the work will speak for itself. But I have to do the work. Rilke said it too:
If you meet [the question of whether you must create] with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse… Then… if out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not… for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it.
So that’s where I am for today. Funny thing about this week, isn’t it? — like all off-weeks when I stop to think about them. I’ve felt grim and angsty and useless, but I’ve been productive in mind and deed; I suspect I’ll be able to feed off this week’s insights for at least a for more weeks. You never can tell where a mood is going to lead!
I always strive to get to that place where my writing is so right that I don’t need to wonder. Sometimes I feel it. Most days I don’t, but on those days I try to remember how it felt, I screw my eyes and pretend, I try to fool myself. Quotations like this help remember, give it a jump-start. (And hopefully it’s not too anti thematic to mention that I love the new hair– it frames your face very nicely.)
Oh Anna, it’s lovely to hear how you feel about this too. And thank you on the hair! I love it more and more. 🙂 When it gets a little more disheveled than it is in these photos I feel like a Beatle. 😉
You haven’t had one of these introspective blogs in awhile, Lisa. So guess you were due a few days of down time. Really makes you appreciate the many days when your muse has you leaping new hurdles, pushing the boundaries, exploring your creative impulses. I have been marveling at your creative drive these past six or more months. How far you have advanced since this time last year! Don’t be too hard on yourself. Taking stock from time to time is mandatory — it goes with the territory.
You know me well! 🙂 Thank you for your smart thoughts — you’re quite right, it’s been a long time since I felt this way and that must be a good thing. I certainly have been working more steadily than in the past. And actually this introspective period has yielded some cool fruit. More on that in later posts. 🙂
Love the bangs.
Hope your mood is just hormones. They can be pesky, but if you’re able to soothe yourself, they can lead to these kinds of insights. More reason to be good to ourselves. So we can reap the wealth of our hormones.
‘Reap the wealth of our hormones’…that is such a good way to put it 🙂
Thanks, Ré! Could be hormones. It always amazes me how much we’re tied into these influences we hardly ever think about (hormones and changes in weather and such). But I’m definitely reaping some insight wealth these days. As I wrote above to Sherry, more on that in later posts. 🙂
Imagine how grim and angsty Van Gogh must have been….and just LOOK at the sheer volume of work he produced. Nobody took him very seriously while he was alive 😛
Looks to me like you’re in the perfect zone for producing very cool work. You may not be very happy with it, but then, aren’t artists always dissatisfied? 😉
I think one of the coolest things about you is your self-motivation and drive. You HAVE to create, you said it yourself, so keep at it girl! My advice? Swing with the moods! How boring would it get if we didn’t feel all these chemical changes inside us, 🙂
Haha, for a long time I was afraid I would never be able to produce any worthy work because I’m not generally grim and angsty. 😉 I don’t think artists need to be tortured all the time, but yes, dissatisfaction is important! I remember reading InStyle years ago and seeing a cushion in Mossimo Giannulli‘s house that said something like “As long as I’m dissatisfied, I live and create. Satisfaction is death.” It’s a bit glib but I’ve always remembered it because it’s true too… only now I think it’s possible to be happy and dissatisfied at the same time. 😉 But yeah, lately the dissatisfaction is outweighing the happiness and that probably means good changes ahead! 🙂
Okay, first of all, I am totally in love with your new haircut! It looks so fabulous.
Second, I’m so glad you shared your thoughts on this topic, because I’ve recently been working with letting go of attachments to end results/expectations, and trying to find that magic balance between giving something my all yet not being married to what the outcome will be–such a hard thing for me! I have found that regular meditation seems to make that much easier in my day-to-day life, though…and then all I have to do is try and let go of my attachment to the possibility that meditating regularly will help me let go of expectations. 😉
Hee, thank you! I love the haircut more every day. 🙂
Ouf, yes, I think this is really my biggest stumbling block to working: feeling like the outcome has to be a certain way or else it’s a failure. Haha, and that might be why meditation hasn’t yet “taken” with me… I keep thinking it’s a magic pill, and then when I sit and it’s worse than nonmagic, it’s boring… I decide not to waste my time with it again. ;b Still going to keep trying from time to time, though. Maybe one day I will be wise enough to let it just be what it is, and stick with it. 🙂