Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The creative hamster wheel

I have a few projects going on right now. OK, so I have a plethora of unfinished projects going on at the moment. And some of them are stalled. This post might just be titled, "The inconsistency of the creative drive in artists and writers." If you have a writer or an artist in your life (especially an introverted one), you might just suspect them of "doing nothing" when often the exact opposite is going on. What follows is the life a creative project for me specifically.

It all starts with an idea. And when it starts with an idea, there is a fully formed, technicolor, architectural rendering of the finished project in mind. For me it is a photo I have to take, a project I want to do for the house or the yard, or perhaps the focal point of something I want to write about. At this point I grab one of the five or six dozen notebooks I have scattered around in handy thinking-spots and start scribbling notes and sketching ideas. My brain works in overdrive. It barrels down the highway like a fully-loaded semi with a speed-freak driver at the wheel. If I don't get the details down fast enough, it is gone in the rear view mirror like a billboard forgotten. And great grey garden slugs, please do not ever move my notebooks. Don't borrow them to scribble down a shopping list. Do not write on the back of my plans like a scratchpad. These are my precious blueprints. Even if they look like meaningless doodles and stick-figures to you, they are a mathematician's equation to my idea-brain. I need it for reference or I am lost.

Then there is the thinking. You see me in the front window of a coffee shop, staring out into the nothing of the sky. Yes, my eyes are blinking, but my brain is still careening down the road on that project. It has measuring tapes and power saws and a color pallete and a full spreadsheet of expenses pinned to the side at this point. I will think a lot. I will consider everything. And if I think there is something that will roadblock me, I will usually shelve the idea until I am sure I can pull it off. There is a very full warehouse of inventions in my mind. A whole museum of unstarted paintings and unshot photos are mulling around in their green-room, waiting for their introduction. And mull they do. I will dream about them. They will bully their way to the front of other projects I am working on. They will demand attention in the middle of my work day. And I do not talk about them. That is the secret.

Ever ask an artist or a poet what they are working on and see them clam up like marble statue in front of your eyes? They aren't hiding the fact that they have nothing on the stove burners, they are running like holy hell from the jinx. Oh, we believe in the jinx. Do we ever. We do not want to let our little pink baby mice out of the cage. We do not hand them over for you to hold even if we love you like mad. They are just too delicate at this stage. We are not keeping secrets from you, we are just not strong enough yet to let them stand on their own. The projects, inanimate as they are, are being grown like offspring. Think of them as bonsai trees. There is this tiny plant we are training and gently watering and looking at daily for new shoots and possible insect infestations. You don't hand over the pruning shears to anyone. Not your spouse, not your best friend, not your parents or your child. One wrong slip with those shears and all is lost. Talking about a nascent project is like handing someone the handles of those garden tools. On the asking end, you may think it totally harmless. On the answering side, one wrong word, one eyebrow quirk, one head tilt, and it could be the death knell for all of your plans. It isn't about trust either. I could trust someone implicitly and still not share the project before it is ready.

So, why the secrecy? Why do we fret about the stages of our projects like they mean more than meals and sleep? Why don't we show off every single technique and edit? The jinx is one element but that is not the whole story. When I have a project in the early stages, it may not look anything like the finished project in my head. To me it looks awkward and rudimentary. It is the crayons and paper paste rather than the fine linen canvas and delicate brushstrokes. In my own head, I think you will look at my work and go, "Well, that is as good as you can do?!" And I think you are thinking that even if you are not. Every single time.

And so we go back to the wheel and run a little more. And the next time you ask, we may or may not share. I never show anyone something that I do not consider "finished" and even then, I will see flaws and adjustments and missed strokes and and exposure issues and places it could have been way better than that. But by the time I am ready to show something off, I am both a little geeked out by it and a little sick of looking at it. If you think it is time for that baby to spend a summer at sleep-away camp, it is probably safe to show off. We still love it like mad, but we know that it can stand up to criticism and that it has a little merit, self-worth, and some muscles to run with. I understand that the baby analogy does not really work here because who does not want to show off an adorable, squishy, squeaky-clean newborn. But you would not leave it alone with someone else yet, would you? Nope. That baby is going everywhere with you or you are not going.

So think about that next time you are talking to your creative friends. Just because you do not see the progress, and just because they are not bragging about the latest thing they have going, it does not mean that they aren't loaded down with a full baby-carrier full of artistic promise. They might be wheeling around a little invisible forest of seedlings in an imaginary red wagon. That is the statue face they are giving you. They wonder if you can see the wagon. They wonder if you can see the paper-thin skin of the poems and the tender green shoots of the seedling. And they are full of shock that they might be showing. That is a standard artist reflex. Nothing personal. Just let us run on the wheel a little longer. When we slow down, we will show you what we have been doing. It just isn't done quite yet.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rapid season movement

Overnight I dreamed about eating fruit from elderberry branches in the snow. It was evening and I was strangely content inside the dream though there was a thunderstorm happening in the awake-world at the time. The colors darkest purple, leaf green, and bark brown made me happy as a triumvirate and the red-winged blackbirds were flitting cheerily around me and singing while they ate berries of their own choosing.

I still feel emotionally wrung-out. It may be a very long time until I feel like a whole human again and I still second-guess my emotions at every single turn. There is sleeping and waking in endless cycles and crying in between, still stopping the memories at the garden gate. I am not ready yet to let them in. There's always tomorrow.

Monday, June 24, 2013

That new-paint smell

When I woke up this morning, it was to the smell of burning wood. A big box of matches or a campfire. But in the middle of the city? Then the acrid smell of singed asphalt shingles started wafting in through the open window. And I was awake, running from door to door inside the house trying to see how close the fire was to my own home. About thirty seconds later, I heard the first distant fire truck speeding down the straight-line road from the local fire house. At 75 degrees at seven o'clock in the morning, you really have to respect the Detroit Fire Department, rolling out in full rubberized gear and helmets to battle summer house fires (and, even worse, summer arson). The roar of the engines pumping water and it was all over in ten minutes. A bad a/c unit? A shorted-out fan? I worry about these things. They pester at the back of my mind like the whine of a gnat. I pull the wires of my own window fans and check them and I put my hand to the motor housing of my ceiling fan to check if it is running hot. Nada. All good.

Then I am making coffee and looking at the acrylic paint I am covered in to the elbows. It was a painting weekend. Well, a painting and collage weekend. I woke up yesterday morning covered to the elbows in gel medium, peeling off my skin like the Elmer's School Glue we used to cover our fingers with in elementary school when we challenged each other to peel a whole fingerprint free. But today it is grey. Neutral grey and Payne's grey, smeared like smoke across the pale skin of the backs of my hands. And rather than being annoyed at the mess, I was rather relieved that I was doing something again that I had not done seriously in years. The itch of the dried paint was familiar like a favorite song.

But how I got here was not so pleasant. The person who I thought to be my biggest fan, my chosen partner for the remainder of my life, fell into a chasm of doubt. I fell in as well, though it felt as if I had been pushed with burning hand prints still on the meat of my shoulder blades. Blindsided. I had no idea there were ever any doubts in his mind because there certainly were none in mine. And after over a month of not sleeping for the nightmares and of not being able to get comfortable alone, I read a horoscope. And that horoscope said, "Remember who you were in your childhood. Get back to your core you." And rather than being the raw half of a torn couple, I decided that I should try to just be me again.

So here I sit with a cup of coffee growing cold and two arms full of flaking paint and a favorite song running through my mind. The smoke is still rolling into the air from the next block over but smelling it means I am alive. I am still alive.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Drought

In the dream it is dark and there is snow on the ground. People are foraging on the pitted asphalt of a grocery store parking lot for broken gourds and pumpkins that have been tossed out the front door. They talk of soup, of breads, of the meals that will keep them going until the spring. But I walk by them and into the store. It is cold and quiet and composed of concrete and steel, not a very inviting place. Clerks who are stocking the shelves do not make eye contact with the customers, just keep stacking the prepackaged meals and shrink-wrapped snacks in bins and on racks. I have a cart and I am waiting for my love to appear on a break. When he does, we start looking for foods but cannot find any staple ingredients. The only thing the store sells is ready-to-eat food like Army rations. I think that I can go outside and gather some of the gourds like the foragers but when I get outside, there is no food left on the ground. I try to get to the parking lot and I get lost on cul-de-sac roads and traffic circles. I am in a hurry because he has to get back to work. It is my fault he will be late. I feel guilty. I feel inadequate that I cannot provide food. And then, he is gone from the store and I am standing alone in front of an overfilled cart of food with no appetite, starving for nutrients and knowing everything I am going to buy is expensive and empty. It is a vast feeling of despair.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Remembering to forget

The last time he spoke to me he told me that sometimes when we were together he felt like he was alone. Here I was thinking that I was being calm and collected, cool and silent, everything that he needed. Quiet. I am quiet. When I am alone I am quiet. When I am with people I am quiet. I am absorbing every single detail that is happening around me to catalogue and remember so that I can paint the good times in my head, write it down, draw it out. I do not need much. I did not know you needed more. And even worse, sometimes when I am alone, I still feel like we are together.