Tuesday, September 04, 2007

the competition

This is a sample of what came out of my garden this summer. Yesterday’s harvest.
Since this is a writing blog, as opposed to a food or gardening blog, here’s where I make the metaphoric leap to creative bounty. Lush, ripe, overflowing muse. I look at that bowl of tomatoes, peppers and crookneck squash and should think: the fertility of imagination. The infinite possibilities of translating abundance to the page.

You know where I’m going, right?

Some of my writer friends (Chuck Palahniuk, for instance), channel inspiration through physical activity. These writers have an idea, then go outside and build a patio in order to flow the idea through their bodies. To concretize it, crystallize it, imbue it with authority.

Me, not so much.

When I go outside to weed the garden, let’s say, or paint the side of the garage, any fragments of inspiration poof into the ether as monkey-mind settles in like an unshakable fog. Quotidian tasks queue up, and before I know it, I’m in line at Home Depot buying two-stroke gas for my weed whacker, my characters all on holiday somewhere beyond the ozone and out of reach.

The problem with me, I’ve decided, is that I haven’t figured out how to integrate the pragmatic, quotidian aspects of living with my life as an artist. Those perfect tomatoes and everything it took to grow them compete with writing rather than help to generate more of it.

Usually what happens to writers like me is they end up turning their conflict into prose. Like I’m doing now. Erma Bombeck type stuff. Essays on domesticity and the trials and tribulations of parenting. And I’ve done that, of course. And it’s mildly satisfying. My Sweat in the City column was full of that stuff.

But I want to crack the code on FICTION. I want to write a novel that I don’t hate. I want to write a novel that I can’t stop reading. Is that so out of line?

I have this great supportive boyfriend who, truth be told, is responsible for the tomatoes in that bowl. He’d be thrilled if I’d just turn over the garden and the garage painting and all of it to him, and tip-toe up to my ivory tower and write.

So I have no excuse, really. Other than those seductive tomatoes. And the cookies I want to make for Carson right now because it’s his last day of summer vacation. And thinking about kissing my boyfriend. And the bike ride I want to take. And the blind pug who needs to be guided down the porch steps in order to take his morning crap. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the hangover I’m battling due to the bottle of wine I drank last night with my friend Rachel in her backyard as we burned the discarded lathe and plaster of her remodel-in-progress. I don’t want to give any of it up. Except maybe the day job that I should be engaging in right now.

So I’m not engaging in pragmatic discourse here. It’s more of an existential dilemma I find myself in. The psyche wants what it wants. Today, it wants a tomato sandwich.


  1. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Hi Suzie, Do happy people write novels? Why is it that so many great painters spent years in bed, ill, with nothing to do but art. All the best music was composed under the influence of a brocken heart, right. OK I'm kidding....kind of. The other option is to become manic. or hypomanic, which is a wonderful high. I once experienced a three year untreated hypomanic episode. I lost 20 pounds, hardly slept, was giddily happy, tragically sad, co-wrote a book and wrote seveal stories which I'm sure are all terrible. The whole episode came to an end when the calming hormones of my pregnancy with Alex setteled me down.
    So do you think that falling in love or having kids disables the part of the mind that creates art?

  2. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question. In fact, I want to go back to grad school so I can develop a thesis around it!

    What it boils down to, for me, is that there are peaks and valleys in the life of an artist, and often the most energized, brave and frightening creative work is begun when one gives up what we have come to refer to as "balance."

    During my MFA pretty much all of my writing had to do with my ambivalence about my marriage. Alas, what I learned through writing all of this was diagnostic, not prescriptive.

    It's the same with first draft vs revision, I think. First drafts show you the way to your deepest self, the stuff you often don't want to face, whereas revisions and editing are all about leveraging the left brain--the rational, less-emotional, objective part of the self. The self that rushes in to care for the baby or bake the boyfriend a cake.


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