“Art is a Guarantee of Sanity” (Louise Bourgeois, sculptress, 1911-2010)
Two weeks ago this Thursday, I felt completely sorry for myself and for my writing. This self-depreciating, pitiful behavior surfaced after I began ruminating over my 2011 creative writing submissions. Of the several major submissions I had sent to magazines and editors (which, in truth, was not that many because, like many writers, I find this process to be excruciating), I had heard nothing. Even the submission for which I felt the most hopeful had been received with three months of silence.
I’m normally positive about publication for myself and for others, but this day was the exception. All of my neuro-linguistic programming and Law of Attraction self-talk had evaporated. Instead, I was wallowing in the reality that my publishing dream may very well not come to fruition.
In my frenzy of pity, I neglected to see what I had accomplished creatively in 2011. I began a freelance writing business, published short articles in two periodicals, blogged more seriously, started a book-length manuscript, submitted a book proposal, taught four Writing as a Spiritual Practice workshops, and accepted an adjunct faculty position teaching English to college freshman. Among these 2011 writing achievements, my mind was still focused on what hadn’t happened last year: substantial magazine and book proposal acceptances. This is indicative of my type A, overachieving perfectionist personality that wants to achieve goals and master skills yesterday.
Aside from the drama, there was pure irony: this entire self-doubting process was captured as my fingers furiously typed on my Morning Pages document. And it wasn’t long before I realized what was happening. I was processing my writing defeat by writing. And it wasn’t long before I had another realization: I will always be a writer. No matter who wants to or doesn’t want to read my work, I will always write.
More universal irony awaited me. Later that afternoon, while giving my English students a class break, I checked my email and found a generous note from an interested acquisitions editor regarding my interfaith marriage book proposal. My proposal had made it through the first gauntlet of gaining the editor’s interest and was being pushed forward in the continued review process. Nothing definite, no contracts, nothing like that–simply a nod that the piece may be something worth exploring further.
This week, I shared Sarah Kay’s TED talk with my English students as a part of my Introduction to Poetry unit. Sarah is an inspirational 23-year-old spoken word poet who can convince my students in a much cooler fashion than I can that poetry (and writing in general) is a useful tool for them to work out their experiences, how they view the world, and how they view themselves. My encouragement for my students–who think their English days are over and are reluctantly fulfilling an academic requirement–is that writing is a tool they can use to process life–both professionally and personally.
I need to learn to take my own advice and set aside the fear and perfectionism associated with publishing. Like my students, I need to embrace the writing process for all its revelation and growth and not be so concerned with the outcome. For its by writing that we discover who we are and how we wrestle with ourselves and this world. After all, “Art is a guarantee of sanity.” —Louise Bourgeois, sculptress (25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010)
Enjoy one of my other favorite quote on writers, writing, and reading:
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” –from Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, author