Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Creative Work and the Time Left

My quilter friend recently sorted through her fabric stash.  She asked me if I wanted to take her fabric rejects with me to the upcoming Create in Me creativity retreat that I go to every year.  I said sure.   I expected a box of fabric that I'd pass on to the woman who has the lap quilting ministry in her church.

Instead my quilter friend gave me 7 garbage bags full of cloth. I sorted through it, just to be sure that there wasn’t anything that I wanted before I sent it on. And I felt full of sadness. I was with her when she bought a lot of this cloth. I remember the various discussions and dreams we’ve had when it comes to fabric arts and quilting.

It felt like a kind of death.

I asked her about her decision to get rid of the fabric. She said, “I’m just not going to have time to make the crazy quilts I thought I’d make. So why hang on to all these scraps?”

On the one hand, I admire her willingness to shuck old projects and move on. On the other, I think of my grandmother, who lived much longer than she expected to live; I think of the length of her days and how she needed these kind of projects.

I miss the days of my early 30’s, when I felt anxious about what I hadn’t accomplished, but I could remind myself that I had plenty of time. Now, I am keenly aware of the possibility that I may only have enough time for a few big projects.

I’m not as sad about all the quilts I may never make. I’ve made some big quilts, and I’ve made countless baby quilts, and it’s all been enough.

I miss the fabric art that I used to do, the collages of fabric scraps, yarns, various textured things, beads—all sandwiched between larger layers of clothand quilted into one piece.

I think about the writing projects that I want to complete—and not just complete, but get out into the world. I used to assume that I’d have 10-15 full-length books of poetry. Now I’m wondering which poems I’d put in a manuscript if I thought it would be the only full-length book I’d ever put out into the world.

I’m working on my memoir project, which during the past 2 weeks of travel and sickness has felt a bit bogged down. I’ve got ideas for other non-fiction projects, but nothing else feels as important.

And where does the blogging fit in?

I remember when I first started writing essays, about 8 years before I started blogging, when I was exploring the world of creative non-fiction. My goal was to write one essay a week. Now I write that much once a day—often double that much, 2 essays, one for this blog and one for my theology blog.

Blogging has led to fulfilling that goal. But has it impeded other goals?

I’m not sending out as many submissions as I once did. It’s been a decade since I wrote a novel. I used to write a novel a year, although they all remain unpublished. I have periodically written short stories at the pace of 1 a week.

What’s changed? I’m working a full-time job that takes more time than teaching used to take. I’ve got other projects. I’m blogging.

What if blogging is the work, though? What if my blog is what I’ll be remembered for?

I have this idea on the brain, after reading this post by Beth, and this response post by Lorianne, who talks about Thoreau and his writing projects: “Did Thoreau know when he started his journal that it would eventually fill some seven thousand pages and be published as a work in its own right? Or did Thoreau keep a journal simply because keeping a journal felt right as he was doing it?”

Maybe our blogs will be seen by future generations as the important work, the creative expressions that help people know what it was like to live and create in our time.  Maybe it is our blogs, more than our poems, our fiction, our journalism, that will shed light on what it meant to be human in the 21st century.

Maybe blogging will come to be seen as an art form in its own right. Beth’s post eloquently explores the aesthetics of blogging and the way that the blog form does what it does in a way that no other creative form can do.

What’s important is to keep doing the creative work, in whatever form we want to follow. For those of us who need a pep talk, Jeannine has written a wonderful post about what we can learn about the writing life from The Hunger Games: “In The Hunger Games, Katniss wasn't the strongest, the smartest, or the best fighter. She won the game by being likable enough, by being strong enough, by being persistent and wily enough, by being a genuine friend to some of the people in the game...and some luck as well. The same is true in poetry. You do not have to be the best. Most people in the "game" of poetry - including the thousands of MFA students paying thousands of dollars to study it - will stop writing within five years. That is the reality. If you keep writing, and you keep reading, and you keep getting better and sending your poems out and your book out, and you are a good friend to people, and you have enough resources to keep yourself going long enough, you will probably make it to 'real poet' status (whatever that means.)”

Jeannine encourages us to wear the flaming dress:  "Be so good at what you do they can't ignore you. Write the most excellent poems, reviews, fiction that you possibly can. Get your name out there when you get the chance. Don't shrink from the limelight. Wear the flaming dress."

Lorianne remembers an encounter with a fellow blogger: “Seon Joon asked me, point blank, whether I was working on a book, remembering (I’m sure) that I’d mentioned one, vaguely, the last time we’d talked. My response to her was yes, I’m working on a book…but no, I don’t know whether that work is leading somewhere, or whether the product of that work will ever be finished, much less published. But in the meantime, I know I’m enjoying the process of working on a book, keeping a blog, and basically being creative in one way or another every single day.”

And Beth sums up nicely the shift that so many of us have noticed: “For as much as I sometimes have wished to be otherwise, I am not first and foremost a novelist or a painter, a writer of non-fiction books or a photographer or printmaker. I'm a reader, and observer, and an integrator, whose chosen form is the informal essay, illustrated with my own photographs or artwork, and whose perfect medium of expression is the blog. Being a blogger became an intrinsic part of my identity: like someone who works in watercolors or oils, I see the world and my daily life through an intimacy with this medium. It used to feel a bit weird, like constant translating; now it's so normal I don't even think about it, even though I've become a lot more choosy about what to base my posts upon. The change from pure writing to a greater focus on art has simply mirrored what's going on in my own life, too.”

1 comment:

inab said...

I love your quilts - we are going to a quilt show today - wish you were here...