Life Is Not Conducive to Art

I was sent a very sweet, private email from someone asking me not to stop blogging and writing.  When I decided to quit, I frankly hadn’t considered whatever impact that would have on anyone else. I’m not, by nature, one to leave people feeling abandoned. Perhaps it’s the Leo Male thing, or just my upbringing. In any case, I do feel a responsibility to those who read this blog, and in particular my friend. So I will continue to blog. Maybe if I share the turmoil trying to be a writer has caused, that will be of value to someone. Perhaps not. In any case, this 1st post is a start.

They just don’t know, fellow artists, do they? They listen to us; they nod in all the right places, say they understand. We do not doubt their sincerity. But, they just don’t know. They can’t.

When they bleed, it only hurts awhile, and then it stops. When we bleed, it gives meaning to our lives. If the bleeding stops, we die, a little at a time, until we are able to bleed again. To non-artists, that statement probably sounds more than a bit pretentious.

I bleed, therefore I am.

Perhaps it is. Still, if you are a writer, a poet, a painter, an artist, you already know what I mean. There is a … pulling … in us that we cannot explain. Hell, we can’t even define it. The art is there, and it haunts us.

As a photographer, I see photos everywhere, always. I cannot look at a woman without seeing her in full makeup, and then stripped raw to her beauty – the lines, twists, curves, and wrinkles of her. I can imagine light glistening from the sweat atop her breasts. I can see the heaving within her chest, as my lens takes her, awakens her power, and shows it to the world. I see more than she intends to show, but it is still less than I wish to capture.

As a writer, I can close my eyes and type her song. I can sing it for you, in her words, and make you weep upon feeling it. I can rend my veins, and bleed on the page, for you, because if I do not bleed, you cannot know her pain. I take it in, keep it to me, and, when I can bear it no longer, I cut myself open, and give it to you. I cannot feel the words, but I weep as I type them. And, if I am honest, my tears stain the page. When you touch them, they creep into your flesh, and perhaps, you weep just a bit from their joining.

It is not a gift, it is a burden. They just don’t know.

I sometimes … often … cannot breathe when I write. The words gush forth, and my fingers are not nimble enough to keep their pace. The words now form a character, and the character a person. Her story begins to write itself, in my head. She intrudes at work.

“I have a name,” she says. She whispers it, too faint for me to hear. Perhaps it is Jeanne, perhaps Juliette. I settle on Jeanne, if only to cease her endless whispering. It deafens me.

A friend shares a joke and my new burden smiles in my head, and whispers to me. “I am like her,” Jeanne says. “I don’t smile when I tell a joke either.”

“Do you know it is a joke when you tell it?” I ask.

“That is for you to learn,” she answers. Jeanne dances away, and my work friend tilts her head, wondering if she has lost my attention again. She has not lost it; she has focused it. However, I can no more explain that to her than I could explain that the words I write are not mine.

They come faster now, like the pacing of stolen breaths before a climax. When they come, they will be loud, and fast, and furious. They will consume me, and nothing will matter but their taking of me. It is not congress; that is far too tame. They must have me.

I have no other purpose.

“What’s your rush?” I ask.

“Do you feel it?” Jeanne answers in question.

I feel her now. She lives with me. She demands to be written. But I refuse. It is hard, so very hard to write.

The only thing harder than writing is not to write. It is like painting, while blind. At my best, I write that way, with my eyes closed, seeing the story unfold. The words are visions, sometimes nightmares. I see the scene vividly, turn over each stone, capture each fragrance, each tear, every piece of the burden. And then, only after the climax has passed, and I am left breathless, do I open my eyes, and see … my art.

And, it is shit.

Sure, others see it, and tell me it’s “good … nice … amazing … you made me cry.” But the words are wrong. I saw so much more than I wrote. The colors I write are faded, the song is off-key. And, horribly, as quickly as she came, Jeanne is gone. If I have not captured her story, if I cannot remember it accurately, it is lost forever.

“What’s Your Rush?” I cry. “Now I feel it!” I am desperate for her to return. It is too late.

She has gone, and taken the words with her. I am left with nothing. I am heartbroken, but only because I know what I have is less than watch she gave. But it matters not. Her emotional congress with me has ended. I am devastated, for I know even if those who see the art love it, it is not enough.

Never enough. It is never fucking enough.

What’s your rush? Do you feel it?

It is such a brief time, being an artist. There is so small a window in which we can, in which we must. You cannot waste a moment of it. It doesn’t matter if you write down the stories, they will write themselves, as my friend reminded me this morning.

For a period of around five years, I wrote poems and nothing more. I would walk here and there, jot them down, and do nothing with them afterward. Then I wrote The Stream: Discovery. It had nothing to do with anything I had ever seen or experienced. And, as I wrote, a magical thing happened: my poems began to fit themselves neatly into the book.

I wrote the sequel, and more poems entered, re-written as prose. These unrelated bits of data had been stories – there all along. There are perhaps a dozen of them secreted in the books. There are 2 or 3 more that brazenly display themselves as poems.

It is a gift, which feels like a burden.

There are those who wish to help. But they cannot, because they don’t understand how hard this is. It is magic, this art. Pure fucking magic. However, the world is skeptical of magic. They look for the trick, and finding none, pooh-pooh it as crass chicanery. They want to see the mirrors underneath.

It is science they crave, when magic is all I have.

These pictures that punctuate this overlong post – if you look elsewhere on the blog, you will find them, tucked away, minding their own business. And yet, like the poems, they fit neatly into my diatribe, exactly where they were always meant to be. And I did not put them there. God did.

Because if there is no God, then it must be magic.

You see friends – fellow artists, and especially those of you whom are not artists – putting down the words is not what is hard about writing. To quote one of my characters, Trint Sandahl, “I do not write. It writes all by itself.” (Forgive Trint, she has a Bruce Lee obsession.)

I can hear your question. “Then, if the words are easy, why do you whiny idiots claim writing is so hard? It’s just making up stories.” And you are right. They are only words.

Except.

Anais was right. They must sing. We must exhale, that you can breathe them in. And moreover, once you do, you must feel them. As a writer, I have no control over whether you do or not. I cannot even control if you read the words. I can give them to you, as I have done, but that is all I can do.

I have written four books, not counting the one I am writing in my head. I have not begun the process of putting the fifth book – Jeanne’s words – down on paper. I may never do so. Because, you see, I am not capable of singing her song with the clarity she deserves. This book, not yet written, is the best thing I will ever do. It will break your heart, and if it does not, that will break mine.

People tell me to risk it all – to throw caution to the wind, and just write. And all I can reply is that the writing is the gift. All the other – the marketing, the cajoling, the begging them to read, that is the burden. And it is a burden I can no longer bear.

You have not seen the writing I am capable of producing. And I sit here, under Anais Nin’s shadow, and know that she is right. Our culture has no use for it, unless I bleed.

The time of artists has passed. All that is left is marketers. Marketers do not understand what it is to bleed, and have no one notice.

I’d rather die an artist than live as a marketer, chasing commercial success. I know, to some, that will make no sense. But I don’t expect it to. I don’t know how to be commercial. I only know how to be me.

And if that is not enough for you, then so be it. I will no longer allow it not to be enough for me. It is possible that no one will ever read my books during my lifetime. I don’t use simple language, and yet tell a complex story, like J.K. Rowling. I am not masterful, like William Faulkner, using poetry as if it were prose. I am not obsessed with detail, like Stieg Larsson, blinding you with it, until you see only what I have shown you. I am just a writer.

But there is no other me. Read the books, or don’t, it matters not. The songs will whisper whether you do or not. And I will be here for the few who need me to be.

And it will be enough, finally enough.

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7 Replies to “Life Is Not Conducive to Art”

  1. Fantastic – only when we murder the reader in our mind can we clear the way for the exhale of words.

    I am posting this on my mirror – “But there is no other me. Read the books, or don’t, it matters not. The songs will whisper whether you do or not. And I will be here for the few who need me to be.”

    Tolstoy defined art as the ability, through various mediums, for one person illicit a specific emotion from another person – to connect with them. http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/361r14.html

    This post is art.

  2. in this post, I hear your voice bill, loud and clear. Not from the head but form the heart.It is brave, honest, very captivating . I think you speak for many artists and writers.I’ve had a tearful week from hell with my painting. I decided to give up but then yesterday the magic came through (also, your struggle really had me thinking) and I can now see that I must go on. I ‘hate’ writing, I ‘hate’ painting.but it’s who I am and when it works – I love it. A close friend had a meltdown after her first painting exhibition . I wrote this poem for her, About her paintings and the deeply personal process she went through in painting them .I wanted her to know that what she did was important. I hope you don’t mind me putting it up here for you –

    The Art World is no place for artists (for sally) by Sue Conradie

    slouching
    inward
    downward
    silent howls slosh
    somewhere in deep graves

    she cranes
    she stirs

    stroking the fabric
    the quiet screams swell
    spread
    like blood on white cotton

    like mud flung off a cliff
    the dark reek makes it’s mark

    light weeps
    through yawning pits
    offering
    glistening galaxies
    in frozen primal fluid

    and still they ask:
    is it important

  3. My God, that’s perfect. You bleed on canvas, and all they see is blood. Thank you for sharing. I tell people all the time, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Now though, as I struggle through trying to sell my work, I no longer love having written.

    I suppose we must realize that this is a part of the process. Instead of tormenting ourselves and giving up, we have to find support. I remember reading about the Harlem Renaissance here in the U.S., when poets and other artists aligned, and created a magical body of art. Sure, they critiqued each others’ work, but more than that, they created support.

    When one of the few supporters I have starts criticizing – not my work, but my actions – it makes me wonder if it’s worth it. I was being told I am a coward for not investing tons of money trying to market my work. Well, I have decades of experience that tells me never to invest a dime without first doing a business case. So, in the face of being kicked in the face for trying to balance “art” with “responsibility,” I reacted by deciding to quit.

    I can’t give anyone that much power over who I am. None of us can. It is hard enough to bleed, without being told where to bleed, or how much.

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