What I’ve Learned, On Living As An Artist

December 27, 2014 § 5 Comments

I’ve never written a how-to post before – my main mode is usually to bring you philosophies, ideas, and experiences of art, religion, and books. But coming up to the New Year, I’m thinking a lot about how I live my life, and how everyday I strive to achieve my utmost in creative output – whether through gathering information, writing, or making art. Maybe some of what I’ve learned along the way can help you achieve your goals as well – either as a reminder, or a guide. However, everyone is different, and the following is only what I’ve found works for me.

We live in reality – a place where bills need to be paid. The key is to find a job where you’re partially in control of scheduling, with a boss who understands and appreciates what you do. Or better yet, work freelance where you’re generally your own boss. I used to think that working nights would be best for me – but in truth I just slept most of the day and stayed out too late. The problem with working as a server is that you spend the night serving people who are out having fun, so you think you deserve some fun for yourself after. It also takes a few hours post-shift for that amped up energy to fade out.

Something that took me many years to learn – your only addiction should be the act of creating. An addiction to a substance is mind numbing – keeping you from accessing your full potential for awakeness and progress. An addiction to socializing can be useful for getting your work out there, but generally it stems from a need to feel loved, and this can get in the way of productivity. My priorities are family, work, and then friends. It’s not easy to make that call on friends. I allot myself the time to see people outside of work up to three times a week (rather than the every-night-escapades I had in my twenties).

The key to being productive is to establish a routine. In a perfect day, I wake up, and make the same breakfast that I make everyday of the week (this eliminates extra decision-making, and keeps space open for more important issues). I make my French Press coffee, peel a Clementine, dole out vitamins, fry an egg with a sprinkling of garlic powder, butter some toast, and pour a cup of orange juice. Then I sit down to eat, and read something informative – either magazine articles, or art books. I check email, and then write a chapter – either for my book on religion, or for a novel based on Bohemian Paris in the 1920’s. When my energy flags, it’s time to go to the gym. This gets the blood flowing again, and keeps my body functioning properly. Afterwards, I come home, shower, and make one of two lunches – either lentil soup or garlic naan with avocado or hummus. Then I watch 45 minutes of trash television to give my brain a rest. After this, I make a strong cup of coffee with my Italian percolator, and disappear into my studio where I play Joni Mitchell or Jazz. I spend the rest of the afternoon and evening building canvases, prepping them, painting, sculpting, planning, researching artworks. By 7pm, I’m exhausted. But it’s time to make dinner. I cook a delectable portion of protein, with a tasty salad sprinkled with olive oil and vinegar, afterwards, some chocolate for dessert, and then a movie or a documentary with my husband. This is a perfect day.

Unfortunately, when I stick to this schedule, I never get out of my cave except for that brief time at the gym, which is right across the street. Once there, small talk questions feel strange because I can’t even remember what I did yesterday. There’s only enough room in my head for books, ideas, and projects – so my short-term memory is terrible.

Also, in reality, this schedule gets thrown off constantly by art modeling. With all the rushing around, it takes me two days to clear my mind and be productive again. I store a lot of pain from the poses, and that too takes recovery time. So I’ve decided that for the New Year, I’m going to mark in pencil the days that I am available to model, and the days that are for my own work (to avoid over-booking or erratic schedules). Hopefully, this way I’ll be less apt to get into the stressed out, anxiety place. The work you do in your own time matters and needs to be prioritized. This has recently paid off with the sale of my largest painting – allowing me to work as a writer and artist full time for at least the next five months. A much needed change of events after developing a bad case of Sciatica from a difficult pose, which cost me the ability to walk for two days. This too, was a reminder to work harder as an artist, rather than for pocket change as a model. I want to give my utmost, and the utmost I can give is in art and writing.

An important aspect of living creatively is to keep your mind open. Explore not just styles and forms that you like, but also the things that you don’t understand. There is something to learn everywhere, in all facets. If you stay holed up for too long, you lose viable chances for synchronicity (or connections) that produce more ideas for great art. In my downtime, I visit galleries, museums, go to plays, restaurants, and explore antique shops and boutiques. Sometimes I’ll run into an art friend and learn something new as we talk. Sometimes I’ll see artwork by people that I know, which makes me feel happy for them, while also inspiring me to work harder.

In the realm of success, there will always be someone who is doing better than you are. It’s hard not to feel envious – but that envy is an important force that can motivate you to go beyond your own perceived limits. I often read a magazine that highlights the “It People” of the Seattle arts scene. Some of them are talented. Many of them are just popular and great at promoting themselves and their ideas. I can’t help think that they will probably be here today, but gone tomorrow. I can never understand why certain people win the awards, while the other more talented people don’t. It makes no sense. Art is subjective. So I say to myself – would I rather be the boy band that gains tremendous popularity and then burns out fast from over-saturation? Or would I like to be the person who continuously works hard to create great work with a long career – like Leonard Cohen for example. The answer is obvious.

Often, when I’m not in my studio, I think that art is crazy. I wonder why I do it, and why I feel the need to do it. Yet while working, I am completely absorbed in a meditation, and unaware of anything else. Nothing outside of it can touch me. Maybe that is the answer. Or it’s the constant surprise of images and shapes that blossom in front of me. It seems like magic.

I don’t have the same questions about writing. Writing is how I process and grow – it’s second nature to me now. My problem with it is, that not nearly as many people read my writing, as I would like. Words also create barriers between people, and often my words inspire people to attack me and hurl hateful comments in my path. For some reason, they think this is appropriate when they haven’t even met me. Similarly, I often assume that they are angry psychopaths who spend all their time in dark basements.

One major thing that I have learned from the experience of having my writing out there is that once the writing is released, it’s no longer mine. On one hand, the writing might have been true of me when I wrote the piece, but as time passes, it no longer is. It only exists now for the reader, and their experience of the piece is separate from myself. Whether they affirm the piece, or hate it – it’s no matter. What happens out there isn’t really important, and you can’t take it personally. It’s good to avoid all reviews and comments as much as possible. While on this blog, however, I enjoy the dialogue that a post can inspire.

Getting lost in the meditation of writing or painting, undergoing writer therapy, having epiphanies, solving problems – as they say, the joy is in the journey. There is no joy after the fact. I do it for the process. Once it’s done, I’m done with it too. We rarely know the extent of the effect that our work has on other people, and once the work is out there, it’s no longer yours. It’s for everyone else and how they interpret it.

In all honesty, I wish that the only people experiencing my work were people I’ve never met before and never will meet. It would be easier that way. People have certain perceptions of me, so if they read my memoir, for example, they’ll suddenly find out that I lived this whole other life that they might find distasteful, strange, or odd. They come to know things I don’t even tell my closest friends. For this reason, even though I’ve written a second memoir, I might not publish it. We’ll see. I’m choosing to be less personal now, which is something that happens with age.

More and more, I find, that people outside of my art subculture have a hard time understanding me. I too, have a hard time understanding them. It’s always been the case, but it seems to be getting more extreme as time passes. Maybe it’s because, again, I’m getting older. The bank teller assumes I work a corporate job, and wonders why I’m out of work so early. No one outside of an art studio gets what I do for a living, and they automatically think perverse thoughts about what it means to be a living nude.

This is another core of being a creative person. Groups are dangerous places where progressive thinking is stunted by peer pressure. In education, you might end up with hundreds of students who all are ingrained to think the same way, draw the same way, with little that is unique or groundbreaking about what they are doing. In religions, progress has been stunted for thousands of years by the commitment to never question faith or explore anything outside of it. In politics, fascism has ruled in the same way. Corporate culture, again, plays on delicate balances of rules and standards.

I am nearing the end of my 35th year, and I’ve been watching creative people fall off the map in order to make ends meet. It happens for several reasons. Number one is that they have kids. People often go to extremes as young parents. They can get insanely religious, or obsessed with being healthy, or driven to make as much money as possible. Number two, the older you get, the more that fears of financial insecurities can loom. We start thinking about health concerns, how quickly time passes, and age.

Even though I only make enough money to get by, there are still things that can be done to lessen my financial worries. I just started an IRA retirement fund, for example. I’m hoping to invest 15 – 20% of my income. I also do my best to live simply. I wear variations on the same theme every single day – black leggings and a shift dress (again, less decision-making). I’ve learned to cut my own hair if I have to. In my single days, I never had a car or a TV – I could still do without both if it came to it. The thing is, I’m happier living this way than I ever was as a kid who had every material possession I wanted. Doing what you love is the most important thing in life. Sacrifices feel like nothing in the face of losing that. People come and go, but your passion stays with you and keeps giving back. In fact, it’s the passion that has always drawn people to me in the first place and vice versa.

The last, most important thing to remember is that being an artist is not a selfish act. I get sick of hearing that to be an artist you have to be a narcissist – said in the most spiteful way. To explore one’s own psyche and reveal it to the world is a courageous activity. What other psyche do we have? The only one we can see into most fully is our own. And in that lies the stories that connect us together and unify our total human experience. The artist makes the viewer or the reader or the listener feel less alone. The artist tells us, you’re not the only one who’s had crazy experiences that are hard to understand. Life is hard, but we have beauty to make sense of it. It’s this creativity that keeps us sane. It keeps us asking questions, and builds our civilization into something better than it was before. The artist is a giver – maybe not of their time (which is so limited in the face of creation), but of their ideas, perceptions, and philosophy. Art is how we grow.

How I Learned To Be Okay With The Bible

August 27, 2014 § 4 Comments

When I first began writing my book on how religion keeps us from being happy, I couldn’t even open my Bible without feeling a deep-seated sense of disgust. Simply removing the blue leather clad book from the shelf made me ill. I couldn’t wait to put it back again. The Bible represented years of pain and depression. It reminded me of all the friends that disowned me when I left; all the love that wasn’t there; tricksters under the guise of miracle-workers; control freaks; condescending misogynist leaders caught with their pants down; shame; hatred for outsiders; and lies that spread fear.

A year later, and the Bible is on my work table all the time. I love digging in to find the specifics of every story I’ve heard so many times that it’s surprising to find each one is completely different than I remembered. Instead of having to read it in order to believe it, I can now read it in total shock that I once believed it, and be amazed by that insanity. I love the Bible more now than I ever did as a Christian. It was a chore to read it in my place of belief because it never felt completely alive. I no longer have to fight that feeling. It is now simply an interesting piece of literature.

What I’ve learned through writing books is that the place where you start has zero resemblance to the place where you end up. The issues I write about still make me angry, but the anger has transferred from my own life, to the lives of others. I see now, that what I’m writing can help people. In talks that I’ve had with those who are struggling, I see that it helps them to understand they are not alone in their misgivings – the conclusions that they come to are their own journey, and I am just there to present a different point of view.

The history of world religions is a fascinating story of thought patterns that spread like a virus. When at its most insistent to spread, dogma pounded down the dissidents, and bloodbaths followed. More people have been killed for the sake of, or at the excuse of, religion than any other motivating force. This result usually first takes place a few hundred years after the religion is first born. The initial phases of a new belief system are a golden age of love and community. When that era is long enough in the past to become mystical, power-hungry individuals turn those teachings into a means of furthering hierarchy. This results in conquest of other people groups, a stamping out of other religions, and the intertwining of church and state. All of these issues have had detrimental effects on societies, wiping out advancements in philosophy and science with the destruction of thousands of books, cultures, and people groups.

The finest moments of history have been in eras of doubt – Greek philosophy and science, the Renaissance, and even the era we now live in. The heretics of yesterday are the heroes of today. Even within religion, those who experienced doubt were able to advance ideologies on a different route, though they were first viewed as Atheists. Buddhism developed out of Hinduism as a rejection of the deity structure. Zen expanded from Buddhism into the enlightened path of the individual. John Wycliffe was an early dissident of the Catholic faith and called for the separation of church and state. His body was exhumed after his death and he was burned at the stake. The early Christians were the Atheists of their day in the rejection of Roman paganism – a religion that furthered the state rather than the individual.

I am on the path of doubt. Which might be viewed as negative to some, but to me, my life is open to philosophy and closed for business to dogma and illusion. My parents were over for dinner last Sunday, and for the first time, my dad actually noticed the bookshelf full of research for the religion book. He said, “C.S. Lewis is swimming in a sea of negativity.” I replied, “I don’t need the books on Christianity because it’s all in my head. It’s the entire education you brought me up in. And I really don’t like C.S. Lewis.”

I continued on, explaining what some of the books meant for me. How Karen Armstrong revealed the entire history of religion, how Sue Monk Kidd woke me up to patriarchy, how Christopher Hitchens made it okay to get really angry, which led to the first steps of my recovery. I didn’t mention that the reason why I don’t like C.S. Lewis is that I found his arguments weak and that it seemed as though he rejected Atheism in favor of peer pressure (Tolkien was instrumental in his conversion). It was also a way to return to his childhood self after the loss of his parents – what Freud would call the juvenile need for God.

It’s true that the entirety of Christian thought will remain inside my mind for life. No one needs to remind me of it, or recap something I might have missed. For the hard facts, I am just like a Christian – I need no other books besides the Bible to explain what the Bible actually says. What is written there is completely different from what Christians say in the books they write.

A year ago, writing the religion book seemed like an insurmountable feat – like climbing Mount Everest. There was so much information to wrap my head around, so many books to read (and still read), and so much excess baggage of writing to get to the good stuff for a final draft. If you look at the entire project all at once, it seems impossible. But broken down into bits of chapters, week by week, it grew. It’s still growing.

There have been times where I was so sick of this topic that I wanted to give up and start writing a novel. Every time I tried, I bounced right back into the current book. I also had to deal with some resistance from a guy in my writer’s group. Overall, however, the group has been invaluable, prodding me in the right directions, asking questions, pointing out the spots that needed filling out.

I’ve been asked many times, “Why are you writing this book?” There are many reasons. I find it important to fight against dishonesty. That dishonesty has harmed millions of people. It’s created shame where there should be none. There is nothing flawed with the way that we naturally are. We are organisms within the scheme of nature, not spiritual entities trapped inside of bodies, battling between good and evil. I’m writing this book because I’m tired of seeing the same things happen to people I love that happened to me fifteen years ago. At some point, a negative cycle must be broken.

At the end of the Bible, in the prophecy of Revelation, God decides to break his negative cycle as well. He realizes that creating the earth was a disaster, and the only thing to do is destroy it and cry, “Do-over!” He bids the angels to torture humanity, then begins the mess by throwing people into a giant wine press, where their blood flows up to the height of horses bridles for 180 miles. He turns the oceans into blood and kills everything that swims, and uses the sun to scorch those who remain. Then he shuts the lights off completely. Satan is a mere pawn in the escapade that gets locked up for a thousand years. When the dragon is released, he spurs the resurrected into a war across the four corners of the earth (the world was still flat), and is then tossed into sulfur and destroyed.

In the end, every character is a pawn – from humans to angels to the devil himself. Victims of a stage play that ends as a tragedy. Rather than a story of love, the Bible ends as a series of abusive relationships. And what does the next world look like? There is no mention of improvements that will be made or how a very flawed God will fix himself to make things right. Will he do away with his insane need for affirmation, his explosive jealousy, and his desire for puppets rather than humans? I would love to read the sequel to this gripping piece of fiction. And no wonder why, as a Fundamentalist Christian, I was scared to death of even living life.

 

 

 

Time For Change

June 1, 2014 § 3 Comments

For about six years now, I have been writing about the books I read here at The Synchronistic Reader, and my blog on a previous site. I’ve enjoyed the experience, and grown a lot from the gift of getting to process books through writing, and interacting with you, the readers.

In the past several months, however, the format has begun to feel stale for me, and I’m realizing that it’s time to make some changes in my life and re-prioritize. The blog takes up a large portion of my time, and I feel that I need to use that time wisely towards finishing my current book project, and shifting towards freelance journalism to promote that book.

I’m also feeling drawn to move past the straight memoir format into other styles of writing. I’ve noticed that through the years, I’ve told some of the same stories more than once. It’s time to stretch my writing chops and share the stories of other people, maybe even some fictional characters eventually.

I will be using this site as a way to keep all of you updated with news, upcoming publications, and random musings. Thank you so much for being a part of The Synchronistic Reader, and I hope that you’ll stick around for the upcoming ride.

In the meantime, enjoy The Book Experience Project over at Knotted Tree Press – a foray into the influences behind writing my memoir, No End Of The Bed

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‘No End Of The Bed’ – Book Release!!!

May 12, 2013 § 4 Comments

I am so happy to announce that my memoir No End Of The Bed is now available on Amazon!

Print Edition

Kindle Edition

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Lauren J. Barnhart’s memoir No End Of The Bed spans her search for truth through differing perceptions of sex, with some surprising parallels made between the fundamentalist church and the sex-positive movement.

Raised within the confines of Fundamentalism, Lauren J. Barnhart is instructed that her body is inherently evil and unclean; that innocence is of the highest value; and that a woman is meant to be a servant to everyone but herself. She struggles to believe all that she is told or else disappoint family, friends, and an all-knowing God.

At age twenty-one, outside of her small conservative college, Lauren expresses her sexuality and is surprised to discover a lack of guilt for her transgressions. Within nature rather than against it, awakened to all five senses, she begins to record the feelings of intense love and empathy that she failed to find within the church. 

In the search for something more, she is drawn towards a group of polyamorists, who celebrate the body and the freedom to express themselves with many. Through their zest for life, she abundantly taps into her artistic nature. But at the same time, she experiences the same misuse of power that was left behind in the pews. Realizing that the need to find a leader is a fallacy, Lauren learns to value her own true voice, and finds the strength to forge a different path.

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I began this book when I initially broke with the church twelve years ago. The experiences I had along the way were strange and extraordinary, and it took the entirety of that time since, for the story to fully unfold. In fact, the last chapter took place exactly one year ago.

In my early twenties, I became obsessed with the need to capture everything I was experiencing. I kept detailed journals, wrote poems, songs, and began writing short stories that grew to connect as chapters.

It took ten years, and one year of prodding from my husband, before I could face the fact that I was writing a memoir. I’m still shocked that I’m not hiding behind the false label of fiction. There are truths in the book that I wouldn’t even tell my close friends. But a book is different than a conversation. And without total and complete honesty, the story loses its effect.

Others who feature in my story might not remember the details the same way that I do. Each and every one of us has a different set of memories. But we all shared the same arc from repression to crazy expression.

I am very immersed in the present right now (more than I have ever been). I could not let go of the past until I finished this book. It helped me to process my life. I came to understand everyone else’s motives. I forgave them and went through a long phase of constantly thinking through the male mind. At least that is to say, the male minds that are in the book!

In the end, I found that there were more similarities between the Fundamentalist church and the Sex-Positive movement, than dissimilarities. Erica Jong once wrote, “All pornographers are puritans.” Residing in one extreme, the complete opposite extreme lies within it, just under the surface of repression.

Growing up, I was told that the body I live in is rife with taboo. I wanted to understand why. I put myself in highly uncomfortable situations just to test my own limits. I discovered that taboo only exists in your mind. Fear is based on the unfamiliar. Rules and religion began with the human desire for control and patriarchy, and control keeps the masses in the dark.

Through the long, arduous publication process, passages, words, phrases, and pages jumped out at me: flashes of years past. No End Of The Bed shows me how far I’ve come. I feel invulnerable to judgment. The young, confused girl in the book is not the woman that I am today.

But I also miss certain aspects of that very youthful place. I was so open to people that it bordered on unhealthy, though I learned so much from them. I was also scared shitless of all the new people that spoke a different language than the religious language I grew up with. Lately I am reminded, that if you’re not scared shitless, you’re not really living. Being on the stage seems to provide that over and over for me. I like to be constantly challenged so that I can keep growing.

Right now, I have two other books in the works, and I will be publishing other authors as well through Knotted Tree Press including literary fiction, memoir, essays, and poetry. You can find out more at Knotted Tree Press.

In the memoir, I found responsibility for my self. I let go of the need for a leader, and discovered my own truth. In taking charge of the publishing of that memoir, I found responsibility for my work. I’ve loved every detail of editing, formatting, designing the cover artwork, and marketing. The funny thing is, it took exactly nine months to complete the publishing process. Now, it’s just so good to be back to writing again.

The Life of the City

February 13, 2013 § 12 Comments

A man in my writer’s group often makes the comment that the rough draft of my second memoir could use more plot.  Writing a memoir is a long process of layering, of recalling memories that are revived through old journal entries.  By the end of the process, there is always a plot, but never it seems, before the final draft.

It made me think of all my favorite books.  They don’t follow a traditional narrative arc, but they do capture life itself – ‘Post Office’ by Charles Bukowski, or any book by Henry Miller, for example.

In real life, plot does not take the same shape as in a novel.  It only exists as something to be noticed from many years past.  It’s a narrative device to hold the reader’s interest, a method of pacing and cliffhangers.  In life, we are not aware of the plot until we have reached an entirely different evolution of self.

My second book is difficult to build since it captures the time I spent living in Hoboken, NJ/New York City.  There were always a million things happening at once, much more than what should be captured on the page.  In a three year span I was a poet, a belly dancer, a singer/songwriter on the mandolin, a percussionist in a bossa nova band, a hostess at a popular restaurant, a literary agent, an artist’s assistant for someone famous, a pool player, a coffee drinker, a groupie, and a mad downer of whisky.  I was out every night, and working every day.  Many universes collided, which is part of the fun, and exactly what made it so fascinating to live through.

In New York, the parallel life shifted between being very poor, while often being among the extremely rich.  Within my tribe there was a great deal of tension within the “us verses them”.  We despised the rich.  Abused them if they came within our dive bar territory.  And yet, we often depended on the rich to get by.  To play those games, you had to pretend to be someone you weren’t.  There was a massive growing process that took place within that struggle, and a process of letting go.

This week I read Ernest Hemingway’s mostly memoir ‘A Moveable Feast’.  It’s the first book by Hemingway that I have ever enjoyed, and I’m surprised that I gave him another chance.  I never lose faith in him, though I don’t like any of his novels (minimalism, no adjectives, run-on sentences, bare expanses, macho posturing).

Of ‘A Moveable Feast’ Hemingway writes, “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction.  But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”

Is there a plot in this book?  Of course not.  It’s a love letter to Paris and his time spent with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the love he shared with his first wife Hadley, and their baby, Bumby (including Bumby’s babysitter, a cat named F. Puss).

Hemingway makes Fitzgerald sound like a tiresome alcoholic with a cuckold for a wife; Zelda, a wife jealous of her husband’s talent who makes him drink to distract him from his craft; Stein, an egomaniac with no patience for women other than Alice.  To get through it all, Hemingway drinks plenty of whiskies with soda and lemon juice (a delicious drink).  And then, just when you feel he’s really had enough, supreme, in all of this, is the joy of being a writer in a city like Paris.

“The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck were all you needed (Hemingway, 91).”

By the end of the book, you feel the sadness that Hemingway experienced at the loss of this world he inhabited, and his young family.  The rich were drawn to his success and left him feeling empty.  Other women drew him away from Hadley and filled him with regret.  But in the end, there was always Paris.

“We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached.  Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.  But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy (Hemingway, 211).”

In ‘A Moveable Feast’ the place becomes the plot.  No matter how many people pass through, or how quickly they appear and then disappear.  This is the life of the city: a constant rotation of people and experiences that you should never expect to last.  But it’s beautiful while you are at the center, watching the menagerie orbit around you.

Fear Of Being Exposed

January 31, 2013 § 121 Comments

I am in the final stages before releasing my memoir, and for a few weeks there, I dealt with a paralyzing fear.  All I could think about are the attacks people will make on my character (though I’ve been attacked by readers before, on numerous occasions).   Or the ways in which certain people in the book will feel misrepresented or insulted (though I did my best to tell my story as it actually happened).

I listened to my dad telling stories about my sister and I over family dinner, and realized how unique each of our stories and perceptions really are.  He had no recollection of what we were really going through at different stages of our lives.  A bitter drink turned sweet with distance.  In fact, everyone from my youth has little idea of the double life I lived, now captured in my book.

“The risk is fearsome: in making your real work you hand the audience the power to deny the understanding you seek; you hand them the power to say, “you’re not like us; you’re weird; you’re crazy (Bayles, Orland, 39).”

In all truth, I prefer people that I don’t know at all to read my work, rather than people who know me.  It’s okay for a stranger to not like it, or not get it, but when it’s your friend, it means that they don’t really get you at all.

In the midst of my publishing fear phase, a friend leant me the book “Art & Fear – Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”.  As soon as I began reading it, my fear subsided.  I was able to fully focus again on the process of making art, rather than fearing the result of my art.  And I remembered how amazing it is to be where I am at, and see that the creation of this book all happened through mad stubborn persistence, diligence, pain, tears, upheaval, countless rewrites, and that fleeting feeling of triumph.

“Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit (Bayles, Orland, 9).”

In the beginning, I imagined I would write a novel.  My boyfriend at the time so fascinated me that I had to capture him with words.  I thought it would just be a story of him, but it grew and grew into a whole community.  How I got there, what I was searching for, and how it all ended up.  In the end, it was not really about him or them at all.  It was about me.

I thought it would be finished in 1-2 years.  It would be published by a major with a huge book advance, become a best seller, and I would receive a movie deal within the year (how wonderful it is to be naïve and clueless).  As I slugged away at horrible jobs that paid practically nothing, this image of the victorious author got me through the worst.

Then there was the issue, that in my twenties I partied so hard and lived so much to the fullest (which makes for much of my subject matter), that it was hard to find time and a morning without a hangover to write.  But no matter.  I still lugged my computer to the coffee shop when I could, on my one day off from work a week.  Eventually, even in the early morning hours.

“To the artist, art is a verb (Bayles, Orland, 90).”

Bit by bit the pieces grew organically, and came to fit together.  The book started as a third person novel, then a novel in the 1st person, then with voices of two other characters thrown in.  Finally, three years ago, I was able to find the courage to admit that it is a memoir.  But I would not have had the guts to say what I did, if it hadn’t started out as fiction.  I also wouldn’t have come to know the other characters so well without that extra exploration.  Did I mention that I began writing this book in 2002?

“The artists life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast (Bayle, Orland, 17).”

It still amazes me that I have not given up.  But on the other hand, it doesn’t amaze me at all, because I had no other choice.  I couldn’t release it from my brain until it was all written down.  And when it was finally done, it lifted like magic, and I was free of it.

I am at an age now, where the idealism begins to fade away.  I’ve watched plenty of friends give up their craft for stability.  Life is hard.  Most artists don’t survive as artists once they leave the supportive community of school.  After that, it’s just you and your art, and good luck getting people to care about what you do.  Your friends are not necessarily your fans.

Facing the fact that my book will be available to the public, I wonder how my life will change.  I will do everything I can to see that it’s successful, but there is the fear that it won’t sell.  I won’t know until I take that risk.  And whatever happens, it will still be a foundation that I can build from.

Years ago, a friend of mine read several chapters.  Paul was a young techie nerd, who was bored with life, and struggling to find social skills.  He kept talking to me about one of the main characters: a binging, partying, player who puts on a debonair act.  He became obsessed with this guy.  It didn’t take long before he was turning into him.

Suddenly, Paul was out every single night, getting wasted, and hounding women wherever he went.  In a bizarre turn of events, he married an older woman within three months of meeting her.  But he continued to go out every night, and slurred to me that he wasn’t sure how he’d gotten sucked into the institution.

At one point, he had been my best friend.  But soon, it was too embarrassing to go anywhere with him.  He was rude to bartenders who were my friends.  He was loud and obnoxious, trying to see how many curse words he could fit into one sentence.  He went from being madly intelligent and witty, to talking in circles without making any sense.  It was like watching Truman Capote’s downfall.

Was it the book?  Or was it because he also had feelings for me?  Or maybe, I was not responsible at all, and he was just on that course looking for an avenue to go down.  I don’t know.  But it was a disturbing realization that the book might be a little dangerous for the slightly unstable.

“Artmaking grants access to worlds that may be dangerous, sacred, forbidden, seductive, or all of the above.  It grants access to worlds you may otherwise never fully engage (Bayle, Orland, 108).”

I hope that my memoir shows that the world is never exactly as we are told it is, and it is up to each of us to find out for ourselves.  Every person has the right to be an adventurer, an explorer of life.  To Think for themselves.

Of course, it is dangerous to really live.  To take chances, and be open to people who are different from ourselves.  But it’s the only way to find out who we really are.  If we live in fear, we’ll remain in a bubble where nothing really happens, and nothing can really grow.

“Insist that the world must always remain x, and x is indeed exactly what you’ll get (Bayles, Orland, 111-112).”

I am excited, that soon, with the book release, my life will open up to new possibilities.  It will be out there, speaking for me, doing the work that I put into it for a decade of my life.  I will keep you all updated when it is released.

Do any of you have book release experiences to share?  Was it uplifting?  Did it feel like a let down?  Did it open your life up to new things?  Please share.

 

 

 

 

Culture Over Color

August 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is so rich with lyrical prose that I had to read the first page three times before moving on to the next.  She flips back and forth effortlessly between a deep southern African American dialect into literary narration.  I found myself speaking out loud in the tone of her dialogue, just to listen to the way it rolls in and hangs there, like humidity in the calm before a storm.

The plot follows a woman named Janie as she struggles to find herself through imagination, love, and experience.  When the book was first released in 1937, it was attacked for not fitting within the African American protest tradition of the 1930’s.  The lives of Hurston’s characters are rich and varied; not the diminished, victimized culture portrayed in other works of Black fiction at the time.  The main focus is on a woman’s right to life, while race is merely the framework of her culture.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. puts it in the Afterword, “… the social realism of the thirties, and the cultural nationalism of the Black Arts movement – was the idea that racism had reduced black people to mere ciphers, to beings who only react to omnipresent racial oppression, whose culture is “deprived” where different, and whose psyches are in the main “pathological.”  … Socialists, separatists, and civil rights advocates alike have been devoured by this beast (199).”

This is an idea that shouldn’t, but still does, persist in some ways today.  When I was a poet in New York City, I grew tired of listening to the African American poets perform angry diatribes against racist white people.  At every single reading, it always happened.  Rather than action, it was reaction.  I deal with my own kinds of anger, and I understand how difficult it is to exorcise that as an artist.  A part of the process in expressing anger is to move forward, but it’s easy to get stuck.  By playing the role of the victim, you avoid personal responsibility.  You cannot always blame someone else for your lot in life.  You must take action, no matter the obstacles.

Zora Neale Hurston’s voice is extremely relevant for today.  Rather than fighting for or against race, she celebrates culture, which is something different entirely.  She shows us, that regardless of outside factors, we all search for the same thing – for life, for soul, for the full human experience and the freedom to have it.  She brought more humanity to the Black experience than any of her contemporaries.

Janie is on a search for love from the time she blossoms underneath the pear tree.  “She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.  So this was marriage (Hurston, 11)!”

Janie’s grandmother wants her to sit and do nothing – the ultimate achievement for a 2nd generation woman past the time of slavery.  Her grandmother arranges a marriage to an older man who is stingy and has plenty of land, but Janie doesn’t love him.  She escapes with Joe who is on his way to the first all-black town to build a life and community.  But in his efforts to be a successful businessman and mayor of the town, he fails to recognize Janie as a human being and sees her only as the object of his possession.  He desires the ownership he was denied before, from all things and people.  Janie is not allowed a voice, and Joe’s accomplishments (in his mind) serve to make her a great woman.

“…  Ah told you in de very first begginnin’ dat Ah aimed tuh be uh big voice.  You oughta be glad, ‘cause dat makes uh big woman outa you (Hurston, 46)”

At his death, she finally transitions, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. puts it, from “object to subject.”  She is rich with an empty life.  Leaving it all behind means nothing to her if she can have what the pear tree knows every spring.  A young gadabout named Tea Cake sweeps her off her feet.  He loves her, and lets her be exactly who she is.  They go fishing all night, shoot guns, and take off to work “on the muck” all summer long in Florida.  She goes from wearing fancy dresses to overalls, and everyday feels brand new and alive.

But nature is a brute force, and a massive hurricane destroys their new life together.  In the end, it doesn’t matter as much that Janie loses Tea Cake, as much that she experienced what everyone is looking for – love.  She is fulfilled by experience, complete and refined in her own self.  Now, just sitting there doesn’t seem so terrible, when her mind is full of beauty.

“Dey gointuh make ‘miration ‘cause mah love didn’t work lak they love, if dey ever had any.  Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch.  Love is lak de sea.  It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore (Hurston, 191).”

Anyone who dares the world for love can relate to the character of Janie.  I spoke to a poet the other day.  He told me that when he was younger, he didn’t finish his PhD. because he went through a divorce.  But in the process, he fell in love and became a poet.  When I told my husband this, he said to me, “Heartbreak is better for writing poetry than love.”

I replied, “But first you need love to experience heartbreak.”

It’s true that I wrote my best poetry when I was broken.  All of my best poems were inspired by men who could only see me as an object, not a human.  Likewise, I could only see them as my teachers and not my equals.  I was in the chrysalis phase that, Janie as well, took so many years to fly out from.

What I thought was love was only fantasy.  And when you live inside of fantasy, reality is not allowed to exist.  Nighttime is the only time for this sort of love, in the daytime there are too many reminders – that I was an object left behind on the bed for more important things, a side-note, a thing whose roots to the earth must be ignored since mothers and fathers and even friends remind a man that a woman is a subject and not just an object.

Zora Neale Hurston was a prolific writer until she fell into obscurity in the early fifties.  Her work could not be simplified, her ideals could not be categorized, and this made her ambiguous.  She was accused of molesting a 10 year-old boy, though she was in Honduras at the time of the crime.  Still, the charges damaged her career.

She worked as a maid in Florida, and failed at a string of jobs.  Ten years later she died in a welfare home.  She was virtually forgotten until the writer, Alice Walker, wrote an article for Ms. magazine in the early seventies, on how she went in search of Hurston’s unmarked grave to give her the recognition she deserved.  Since then, Hurston’s work has gained popularity and been recognized for its importance.

But her obscure death and eventual poverty are upsetting to me.  I relate to the string of miserable jobs that never work out.  Her financial struggles and the fight against what she wrote in an essay entitled “What White Publishers Won’t Print” demoralized her, and diminished her output.  Hurston did not feel like a human being without pen and paper – the curse and the gift of being a writer.  If you are truly a writer, there is nothing else for you, but to write.  In the end, she did her best to give us the keys to understand ourselves.  I am grateful to Alice Walker, for bringing Hurston’s work back from the dead.

 

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