Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolutions and Declarations

I'm thinking about my New Year's Resolutions, and I find that, like most people, I make the same ones every year.  They always involve writing, being more creative, being more self-expressed, doing the things that I really love doing (writing, going to museums, meditating, etc).

This year, I am whittling it all down to one Resolution, which is only a 12-week commitment anyway.  I declare that I will complete The Artist's Way, starting yesterday.  If you don't know The Artist's Way, it's a book/course on "discovering and recovering your creative self," and I've owned this book since my sophomore year in college.  No kidding.  That's like 15 years, I think.  There are exercises, writings, readings, meditations, etc., and at the end of it, you're living a much more created/creative life.  I see the value in it.  I see that there's no way I can do all the exercises over 12 weeks and not lead a more creative life.  And yet I have resisted this book for so long.  I've never gone past page 59, somewhere in the middle of week 3.  I reach a point where things start to happen, I get confronted, and I bottle it all up.  I'm one of those people for whom success is much scarier than sitting on the sidelines, talking about and analyzing why I'm not living the life I want to be living.  Suddenly other things become really unbelievably important, and I close the book, literally, on the course, and go back to talking and analyzing.  

A friend of J's is doing the course.  He mentioned it to me, not knowing what exactly it was, and I just sighed.  "I have the book.  I can't get past page 59," I said.  And so my ever-supportive husband has decided to do the course with me.  At first it was just to support me, and keep me from weaseling my way out of it. But now he sees the value in it for himself, too.  

So here's a story on my creativity.

When I was a kid, I loved to write.  I wrote all the time.  I wrote stories in my Hello Kitty diary.  I wrote books and stapled the pages together.  I love writing instruments.  I love notebooks in which to write things.  I love books.  I love words.  I love the power of stories.  Being an only child, my first best friend was Laura Ingalls.  My second best friend, when I was a little older, was Anne of Green Gables.  Oh, how I longed to be with Anne, and call her Cordelia, and spin stories in the Haunted Wood!  

Nobody ever came out and was really mean to me about a creative career like writing.  But my dad, having lived in refugee camps when he escaped from East Germany (and thus knowing what true hunger was) valued security and always guided me to good stable careers.  Teaching, for example.  To this day, my dad would like nothing more than for me to be a teacher back in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he could watch over me and take care of me.  

I love my Dad.  But in some ways, he just doesn't get me.  I don't know whether there's a blocked artist living inside of him somewhere who was repressed so that he could be "responsible" and provide for his family (I suspect there is) but he drilled into me the idea that creative careers were for young and irresponsible people, who haven't yet graduated to the Big People Table on which is a spread of mortgages, bills, children, car payments and other Duties Requiring Responsibility.

I never wanted some stable corporate job.  I always wanted to go out and experience the world, and write about the things I saw, and share stories, and be around other storytellers, and read and write and read and write, and generally immerse myself in words.  Words words words, trains, words, planes, words words, nature, words and then more words.  All day, every day. 

I never thought I could actually be a writer.  So I majored in history, and did writing projects on the side.  I created a kickass website on Colonial America, for example - over 150 html pages of information on food, clothes, church, music; basically everything you could want to know about Colonial America.  You can still find it on the web archive if you search for and look at the site from around 1999.  Man, it was some kind of wonderful for the early web, and won some awards too.  Go html!  Go geocities!  (Remember Geocities?  What the heck happened to Geocities?)

My senior year in college I had a wonderful semester with a creative writing professor who really nurtured my dream of writing.  He told me I had talent.  He told me I could totally make a living as a writer.  He told me to write write write all the time.  

In December that year, I tagged along on a field trip that my boyfriend's economics club was taking to the NY Stock Exchange.  I had been on an Enya kick for about 2 years, and considered myself pretty hip to the new-age music scene, and spent the entire drive up listening to The Memory of Trees on my discman, and thinking about what I wanted to do when I graduated.  I had received my creative writing portfolio back the day before, with my final grade, and the professor had made some kind of comment to the effect of, "if you don't give it a try, you'll regret it forever."  So I was thinking a lot about how one "became" a writer while listening to "Book of Days".

The bus dropped us off near Central Park, and boyfriend and I were walking through the park when a girl handed us a  flyer for a CD signing at Borders that very afternoon.  The person signing the CD's was Enya - her greatest hits CD, Paint the Sky with Stars.  I knew from having read countless websites about Enya that she rarely did CD signings.  Like, hardly ever.  

I knew it was a sign.  

I grabbed boyfriend and ran to Borders where I waited in line for three hours while he patiently read motorcycle magazines.  When I finally got to go up and meet Enya, I was like Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he meets Santa.  "I want to be a writer, and I think that I could be a writer, and my professor says I should try, but I don't know because I think that I should do something secure so I'm not broke, but I also think that you don't have to be broke to be a writer because there are writers who make a living writing, and I was thinking about it on the drive up here today and I don't come to NY very often, so this is so weird, and this girl was handing out flyers, and I really love your music and I think that I should try to be a writer, and if you say I should, then I definitely will.  What do you say?"  

To which, the lovely ethereal Oracle of Eithne (that's how you spell her name in Celtic, I'm told), replied, "Who should I make the CD out to?"  And gave me a heavenly smile. 

The next semester I took a paralegal certificate course so that I could have something "practical" to do after graduating with my Humanities degree.  I did buy a Writer's Market, but found the whole thing so overwhelming, I didn't know where to start.  If you ever want to get me to stop something, just overwhelm me.  Overwhelm is my thing. 

There was another period when I lived in London when I was officially "freelance" for about a month.  I woke up and meditated.  Then I went to Bar Italia in Soho and drank a hot chocolate, sitting on the silver metal chairs and looking up at Soho Square and the BT Tower, and thinking how grand and bohemian I was.  I would be like Henry Miller!  I couldn't wait!  

Then I would walk up to the internet cafe on Frith Street, I think, plug in my laptop, and get to work.  The internet cafe where I went was also a coffee bar, and they allowed smoking.  I would smoke Silk Cut (because that was the brand that Bridget Jones smoked, and I didn't know any other brands, not being a smoker), and drink cappuccino, and feel very bohemian and liberated.  "Ahh, this is the life," I thought.  And I would wonder, "why can't I live like this all the time?  Where is it written that I have to work in an office?  Where is it written that I can't create beautiful words and stories and somehow make a living from that?"  

But then my UK visa expired, I went home and spent the next year working in a law firm, thus killing the whole Henry Miller mystique.

I started blogging, I do NaNoWriMo, I journal, I am a Vine Voice on Amazon (which means I write good reviews and get free books - yay!); I hover at the sidelines of writing, looking at the people actually doing it and wondering how they figured it out.  

People look at my situation and think I have it made - I work largely from home, I require little supervision from my boss, I am pretty much in charge of my time and what I do with it.  I am fairly compensated.  And I am very lucky.  I really am.  I'm not knocking it.  I'm very grateful for it, in fact.

But losing Baby Teysko has made me rethink everything, and one thing I'm thinking about is that life is too short to not try.  My professor was right - I am kicking myself for not trying sooner.  

So this New Year's I am doing The Artist's Way, and I'm pretty sure that doing it, finishing it, declaring myself the creator of my life, and living out the the things I learn from it will set into motion a whole new life that I can't imagine yet.  

Here goes...

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