This is Essay #14 (a little late) of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.
While I hate disclaimers & always give my own students (and friends!) a hard time about them, I am making one now (hypocrite! haha!): this essay is bullshit. It's not an essay in earnest. It's really a journal entry disguised as a blog post (what's the difference, really?) (I know, I know: I'm being reductive.). But I haven't been able to really write this past week -- you're about to find out why...
I've been working at Vermont Studio Center this past week; I'll be working here all month. It sounds like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things --when it comes to writing-- it is not. It's a blip. Naomi Jackson is presently our visiting writer (she totally ROCKS!) and last night, after she read some work, she talked about her process. Her novels take years to write. Years, people, years. Which, I know is not unusual. This is why I'm a poet (haha -- I joke. Kinda.). Smaller number of words. Bite-sized pieces of literature. (Though, yes, there are those long-ass poems that tend to pop up from time to time.) But still, even poems take time. The writing process takes time. Today, during my conference with Naomi, she told me what I needed to hear: you can't rush the process. Honor that. And practice self-care. Despite me knowing this already, hearing it aloud from another person usually has greater impact.
I tend to forget these things. Because, you know, I write like I'm running out of time, like I need it to survive. ;)
Because I'm in a different space, literally, my writing process has morphed into something unfamiliar. To be honest, it feels like a big blob. As in: the pink jelly-goo from the movie "The Blob". I can see it now, oozing out the doors of that movie theater while people run for their lives. Yup. That sounds like my writing process right about now. Hah! But as with any kind of change, I am uncomfortable (which is to be expected) and I am trying to embrace that. The past week felt like --as my fellow resident, Pam, said: getting my sea legs. Which is not to say that I'm back (though, I might have said those very words earlier today). It just means that I'm remembering to honor the writing process for what it is in any given moment.
Right now? I feel like writing about the creative process, NOT a personal essay that has a narrative arc with some kind of emotional investment. And so here I am.
After my conference with Naomi, and after I digested some of her feedback, I spent some time visiting artists' studios, talking to them about their process. And I got some really fantastic stuff!!
I know nothing about creating visual art, so I wanted to find out how to an artist approaches her/his work. I talked to 2D and 3D artists and it was really cool to learn about their conversations with their work.
One said: Ask WHY. Why are you making this thing? What's the driving force?
Another said: Ask HOW. How does this continue the narrative of the work you're doing now? Of the work you've done in the past?
Another said: Art has the same language as music: composition, rhythm, tone. What is the sound of the painting? What do you hear? How do you translate that visually?
I just kept nodding -- yes, yes, yes!
What I'm noticing is that, generally, visual artists seem to have less attachment to their work. They can let go of it pretty easily. At least this has been my impression. If they are unhappy with what's emerging, they throw it out & start over. One artist gets physical & tears up her canvas. Literally takes a knife and cuts it in half. Some try to work with what they've got and see what emerges, as it veers away from their initial vision. They are more focused in the making of things, but not so much so that they are deeply emotionally invested and attached to what they create.
I talked to a few poets and writers about this over late-night wings. What we do is different in that we really invest a lot of emotional labor. So letting go is harder. And it looks different. What does it mean to let go of something in writing? What are we letting go?
For me, with this one particular piece, it's the letting go of a shield. Naomi told me that I was at the edge and I just needed to leap. I asked her: how? And she said: you know. And I thought: dammit! Because, of course, I know. Again, she said what I knew but needed to hear aloud. So I need to let go of the shield I've created in this one piece. To drop it off the cliff, the edge of where I stand. And then leap.