Process Shmocess, or How I Art Like a Lunatic

I’ve been asked more than once to talk about my creative process as a writer, most recently over at me + richard armitage as part of an ongoing discussion on the subject.  My response has always been to recoil from the question because I’ve never really felt I have a process.  I do have a probably unhealthy fear of being a phony, which I would obviously be if I didn’t have a process.

But I mean, that’s ridiculous, right?  Obviously I’m a writer; here I am, right now, writing a thing.  So just as obviously, there must also be some kind of process to what’s happening right this minute. Continue reading

2015

I always feel like such a mercenary when it comes to be the time of year when I have to do this — promote my own wares. I’m very Not Good at it. But that’s where we are.

It’s Calendar 2015 time, and I’m quite proud of this year’s offering.

Nature’s Palette: photography from the Pacific Northwest.

2015 calendar sample

 

I don’t get a huge percentage of the proceeds, but it’s something, if you feel like helping out a starving artist in exchange for (what I daresay is) some stunning photography.

Help me, internet. You’re my only hope.

There is a question I’ve been unable to determine the answer to for three months now. I was given this absolutely gorgeous picture frame that I love, but I have no idea what the Tengwar symbols say.  I may be a Tolkien geek, but I never got around to learning my elvish languages.  The shame. I know only enough to know it’s not a simple matter of converting the symbols to English alphabet equivalents because they represent sounds rather than letters, and the position they have in relation to each other can change the inferred sound.

Can anyone read this?  It’s just that knowing the humor of the particular friend who gave it to me, it might well say something like “bitch” and she might be having me on when she says she doesn’t know what it means, and I probably ought to know before displaying it on my wall. 😉

elvish

Impressions

It turns out you can know what you want to say, and it can even be a relatively simple idea, but you can still have trouble finding the words to actually say it.  It turns out you can start and re-start a blog post at least seven different ways and still not find the right one.  It turns out that when trying to express a simple idea, wordiness is not an asset.

À propos of nothing, while I was composing those three sentences in my head, they looked like three drooping branch clusters of a weeping willow.

Something my new friend said to me on our choir tour is that she imagines one of the reasons people have a hard time getting to know me is because they have a hard time with the way I speak.  It’s the truth.  This, the way I write, is the way I speak.  It’s not helping me simplify this.

I’ve been trying to write about The Impressionists since I first watched it, back in late May (or was it early June?)  All I’ve wanted since then has been to express how clearly it spoke to me, how much of myself I saw on the screen.  All I’ve been able to do since then has been to fumble for the right approach to the topic, because every time I try to touch it with my words, I feel pretentious.

Me, an artist.  Me, comparing myself to the great trailblazers of art history.  Me, daring to speak of sharing the quest for their kind of artistic honesty as though I am some sort of iconoclast.

I’ve tried to come at the topic sideways, ashamed to admit to the degree to which I see myself represented in the characters portrayed.  Trying to brush it off and so maybe that way not appear so egotistical.  I’ve tried head-on, a straight-up review, but that doesn’t say any of the things that make talking about the film worthwhile for me.  I’ve tried being perfectly candid about my reasons for finding this so difficult.  Nothing has gotten me any closer to just saying what I need to say.

______________________

Three years ago, I was given a copy of The Artists’s Way by Julia Cameron.  I was in a particularly lost time and I needed something to show me a path, any path.  I’m not going to go into all the reasons why it didn’t work out for me (mostly because I already have, elsewhere.)  What I’m getting to here is an experience I had one day, when I was heading out on my “artist’s date.”  I wasn’t actually sure where I was going.  The major victory was that I had managed to get out the door on what was to me such a self-indulgent errand.  So as I drove along, toward no destination in particular, I asked myself what it was my “inner artist” most wanted to do for fun just then.  This meant trying to look this supposed inner artist in the eye and figure out who she is.

That was when I had this realization, in the midst of a pretty black and stormy mood.  I recorded it in my Morning Pages the next day:

1 June, 2010: Apparently I’m not as dark and cynical and hard as I like to think I am.  In fact, my photography portfolio reveals an entirely different story.  If you look at my view of the world as seen through the lens of a camera, I’m actually quite innocent and idealistic, even romantic, at heart…  I’m a child alive with the wonder of creation under all this jaded depression crap.  I cling to the hardness and the darkness because the romantic child underneath is soft and vulnerable.  And afraid.

______________________

My memory ate the context of the conversation a long time ago, but I distinctly remember that I was talking to someone once about my music and I said to them – with the kind of guileless self-absorption that only a teenager can manage unironically – that I played the same kind of music all the time because I had a certain feeling inside me and I was trying to find a piece of music that expressed it.  I remember feeling, as I said it, that by finding that one piece of music and playing it, I would achieve a wholeness of self that was not to be had any other way; I also remember not having any particular sense that I would ever actually find it.

I’m a musician, but not a composer.  I have nearly no understanding of how to construct a particular mood with chords or note progressions.  Key signatures?  I can play them, but I don’t really get why they work the way they do.  I only know how to interpret the sounds that someone else has written.  Looking to someone else’s work for an expression of my innermost self will always be a doomed quest, and I’ve always known that.  It’s the search, the ongoing experience of tasting musical flavors, that’s the important thing.

I have to admit that even today, I still feel a twinge of weirdness at calling myself a musician.  I was conditioned stringently in childhood not to “pretend” to talents or identities I had no right to (which, in hindsight, was anything I was ever good at because my siblings didn’t want to let me in on the fact that I deserved to be proud of myself, but it’s difficult to overcome those feelings.)  I can own up to being a singer, because I’ve been doing it for so long and so irrepressibly, and have received objective competitive confirmation that I’m better than average at it.  But calling myself a musician, I don’t know, implies a level of professionalism I never reached despite the fact that I was about two breaths away from majoring in vocal performance at college.  Also it implies, to me, that I’m better with instruments than I am.  I tanked horribly on the viola, and my skills on the piano are no better than casual despite years of practice because of the hard limitations imposed by my poor hand-eye coordination and fine motor control.

But I am a musician.  I make music.  End of story.

I’ve had even more of a struggle to call myself an artist.  I am the one sad outcast with no drawing skill in a family of talented sketchers, so I always felt that there must have been a certain artistic gene in the family that ran out by the time I was born.  It has taken me my entire adult life to come to grips with the reality that there are as many kinds of art as there are artists, and that lacking an ability to accurately render with a pencil has nothing to do with a person’s creativity.  I like to make things that are beautiful.  I’m still experimenting with all of the ways I can do that.  One of them is through photography.  The awkward part of me doesn’t want to call that art, but the logical part knows it can be.  So I tentatively, shyly, wear the title of Artist.

The one thing I’ve never had any qualms about is owning myself as Writer.  It’s been who I am since I was in grade school.  I didn’t know how to answer the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question, because while the other children wanted to be princesses and astronauts and firemen, I already was a writer and I didn’t want to be anything else.  I’ve gone through periods over the years of thinking I’m a mediocre writer, but I’ve always known that I am one.

These are all tools with which I try to make sense of reality, and they each serve a different purpose.  I use music to explore myself, photography to explore the world, and writing to explore the people in it.

______________________

There were certain lines in The Impressionists that leaped out at me powerfully the first time I saw it.  These are a few.

Monet:

“For me, Nature is an end in itself.”

“…we will all draw him differently, and his feet will be different, just as we are all different, and the world is different in every moment of every day.”

“Nothing that makes me feel, nothing that art is for me even exists for [him]!”

“If we can’t paint what we were born to paint, then we might as well be doctors and tailors.  At least then we’d be doing something real.”

“No one can tell me there is no color in shadow, when I have stood here and seen it and painted it for myself.”

“I wanted to capture the impression of a moment.”

“For me, it was all about the moment… chasing the moment that will never come again.”

“Cézanne was a pioneer searching for his own truth.”

“How can anyone say that a landscape even exists when it changes so constantly?”

Cézanne:

“You are an inspiration to me, and you… you are Renoir.”

“I am trying to clarify the relationship between color and form.” (I thought I was starting to understand what he means by this, one night as I was drifting off to sleep, but when I woke up it remained as elusive as ever.  I suspect this may simply be a concept that is comprehensible only within the liminal spaces of my consciousness.  But it hits me somewhere.)

“Be good.  And if you’re not, you’re forgiven already.”

“It’s escaping…”

______________________

Even though they are never given a mention in the film, I came away from the story with an understanding of the Impressionist composers that has always eluded me.  I suddenly saw what it was they were trying to do.  Some music is story (a lot of music is story), some is a mathematical expression.  Some is a statement of theme.  I’ve always found Impressionist music beautiful but nonsensical.  I get it now.  They were trying to catch the abstract of the emotion of a single moment in time, never the same way twice.  And I realize that’s how I make music.

______________________

Whatever it is about the movie that speaks to me, it’s beautiful – an actual work of art on its own merits.  Real credit is due the cinematographer and artistic director, because every frame is like a painting.  It’s worth watching for the aesthetic value alone.  The performances are genuinely offered.  Richard Armitage as Claude Monet is charming, life and enthusiasm bursting from the brightness of his eyes, from every barely-controlled line of his body.

I’m not going to pretend that my work is in any way visionary, or that the landscape of literature will be changed by my contributions to it.  I write fantasy novels; they do what you expect them to.  I am not the Monet or the Cézanne of fantasy fiction.  I’m not at the forefront of anything.  Where I see myself in these characters is in the dogged drive to continue honestly making the kind of art they feel compelled to make, despite a lack of support from the outside world.  Sometimes the will to create sinks beneath the despair of being unknown and unappreciated, but in the end the art will out.  With Monet I share that wide-eyed wonder at nature.  With Cézanne I share the frustration of feeling unequal to the work (and also the poor manners, eccentric habits, and lack of social awareness.)

There is something larger here than I’ve been able to say.  Or maybe I’ve been able to say it in the empty spaces.  Maybe I speak best with silence.

not as manic as I sound, I promise

We’ve been saying for a while that October was going to be an interesting month around here.  I don’t really know if that was the right way to put it, or if it was saying enough.  Tim is away, has been for nearly a week now, at his big yearly SCA thing in California.  The spawn left on Monday to join his grandparents in traveling to a family wedding in New York, gone until next Tuesday.  It was going to be more interesting, because I was supposed to be leaving on Saturday for eight days to tour the Midwest with my choir.  The two of them fending for themselves for a week was going to be… interesting.  And me in the constant company of thirty near-strangers for eight days, away from my safe zone and my routines and my decompression time – there’s another word for what that would have been.

As it is now, the tour will only stretch over the weekend and I’ll be back home just before the boys instead of nearly a week after both of them, but this is still a big deal and it has meant certain arrangements had to be ironed out regarding the pet situation (nothing so straightforward as asking someone to come by the house a few times and make sure they have food and water.  Not with our dogs, not under the circumstances.)  It also meant we had to spend money we could ill afford to spare renting a car for the week while Tim is gone, since the Mirage is sadly beyond repair and we haven’t yet come to a permanent solution to that.  But practical considerations aside, this is a bigger deal because, well.  I’m autistic.  Pretending that the whole idea of this trip isn’t freaking me the hell out for all of the reasons would be disingenuous.

To be clear, I’m excited about it in more ways than just the excitement of terror.  I do actually want to go.  There was a moment, in the beginning, when I could have said no, but I chose to opt in.  Back then (oh, August, how long ago you seem now!) I was enthusiastically blinkered to all of the ways in which this is actually beyond my coping skills, and was only seeing the tremendous experience-broadening and artistically fulfilling possibilities of the thing.  Now I’m just about ready to start hyperventilating.  And this is without even getting into the fact that I’ve never before headed into a concert feeling this unfamiliar with the material.

But in the midst of all of this psychic turmoil, there remains the germ of eagerness to get out there and prove I can do this.  All of this:

Getting myself together and out the door on an out-of-town trip without anyone else standing behind me to make sure I’ve got everything I need (even though I’m always the one performing this function for others and know perfectly well that my powers of organization are up to the task), and to push me if I balk; taking care of all of the administrative preparations necessary to leave the house unattended for a few days; bearing up under the strain and the demands of traveling with such a large group, with a rigid itinerary not at all dictated by me; being among people and their sensory output for so long without melting down; successfully performing this difficult and extensive set of music that I haven’t learned to anything like my satisfaction; belonging to and with this group of musicians in a way that makes me an asset rather than a liability to the whole.

And because this is simply the way my mind works, now that I’ve got too much to do to actually have the leisure to sit down and unravel my thoughts into words, I find myself turning back toward the piece I started outlining about my reaction to The Impressionists.  It’s because I’m preparing to immerse myself for the next few days, rather selfishly, in activities that are entirely centered around my art and my self-expression as an artist, and I don’t do that, like, ever.  Certain mental associations have been called forth.

Tomorrow, if I finish all of my preparations with enough spare time, there may just be an entry not about my thoughts on the film, which I am still sifting, but about my need to justify the right to call myself an artist before I can allow myself to talk about the film as though it says anything about me.

Be a sublime fool; the world needs your madness

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

— Ray Bradbury