A friend and fellow writer and former student says to me in an email this morning, “I’m thinking that perhaps I am a writer of sorts.”

Don’t let him fool you. He’s a writer.

It’s easy for me to say from where I sit, outside of his head and about 75 km away.  However, I’ve listened to and read his stories and I’ve seen his peers respond to them with genuine enjoyment. He’s focused and comitted.  I do wholly understand his rather hesitating, roundabout way of sort of saying that particular thing. If that beating around the bush kind of saying something were to occur in one of his stories, I’d have been all over it with my 3B pencil.  But I get *that* one.

See, it’s a decision, really.  And my tongue-in-cheek friend has heard me say it numerous times while sporting my teacher hat: “Call yourself a writer.  Because when you do, things happen, the world changes. You start to see in a different way – with a writer’s eyes.”

Me – I made that decision sitting on a bus in downtown Detroit on my way to work one morning in another decade. I was looking out the window at that decrepit and beautiful city and its people and its myriad stories when I said it to myself, “I’m a writer.”

For some people, like me, it takes a long time to get to that point of self-validation. For others it was always there – it never had to be stated or authenticated in any way. Me, I had to validate. All my life I had been artistically disposed, and it was much encouraged as I was growing up. When I got to my later years in high school though, the encouragement began to be withdrawn, culminating in about 30 seconds, when I was told that really important people in my life thought I wasn’t good enough to be able to make a living at being an artist. Without going into the [obvious] psychological gold mine swirling around that statement, I will say I’ve nailed it down as the prime source of a subsequent life-long creative block. It’s a battle I fight to this day.

I’m not going to use this spot to blame and point and say “if only” because it’s my life and my process and on that bus ride in Detroit that day I claimed it back. Anyway, there are generations of situations and realities surrounding that moment which begat the internal thwarting of my creative process. But I will say that now I can acknowledge and understand that being artistic or creative is something that doesn’t have to produce a masterpiece every time (or any time) to be valid and worthwhile. And it doesn’t matter how many people say yes, you ARE good at it, but it sure feels great and is exceedingly motivating when someone does.

What matters is that you make your art a way of being.  Because then it becomes a way of seeing, and then it becomes a way of living with authenticity.  And with that you find living to be richer with more colour and meaning.  And you wonder why you had to dilly-dally around with the whole “validating” exercise in the first place.

Enjoy one of Jeff’s stories here.  Another one is scheduled to be run in the same spot in a few weeks.

Last Sunday Cathy and I had really great “sister date.”  We met up downtown at the Harbourfront Centre where Nick Hornby was reading from his latest novel Juliet, Naked and was interviewed by the Globe and Mail’s Carl Wilson.  We both enjoyed the reading, thinking the newest novel will feature more of his really insightful characterizations with their idiosyncrasies and questionable judgement/actions/maturity that is so smack on to many of us that we relate to them over and over again.  Hornby lets us take the mickey out of ourselves. 

In talking about this, he told Wilson that he more often does it with male characters because he came of age in the feminist era, during which time there was a lot of new respecting and appreciating women so exposing their quirks and silly behaviour just doesn’t feel right.  Which made me chuckle, thinking he sounded like one of his characters. 

Cathy and I were both surprised to hear him say that he never feels any sense of accomplishment when he looks at his books lined up on his shelf (not to mention those movie treatments of several of them).   He said he looks back in his mind to himself at work, and all he can think about are the long hours lost to sitting at that computer playing solitaire.  (I wondered how many of us that laughed at his statement were having a chuckle at ourselves.)

At first I felt a little crushed – if Nick Hornby doesn’t experience a sense of achievement in his creative accomplishments, will little ol’ me ever feel it?  I mean, what are we working for?  I don’t particularly aspire to best-selling novels or anything like that, but I do feel a great sense of satisfaction in building and sustaining this blog and getting the odd story out there now and then.  But why keep going if there is never a sense of having accomplished something meaningful at the end of it all? 

But then I got to thinking, what if Nick Hornby looked at his bookshelf and said “There, I’ve done it.  I’ve achieved everything now.”  What would be the impetus then for him to write another story?  If he felt he’d achieved all he had to, then why attempt to ascend to the next level?  In that respect, I think his looking at his bookshelf and thinking only of those hours lost to solitaire games might just be a healthy thing after all.  If we lose our direction, that goal at the end of it all and the reason for moving from the place where we’re at, then why move at all? 

Anyway, the thought of Nick Hornby, famous author, sitting at his desk moving virtual cards around, maybe feeling stuck or tired or lazy or uninspired endeared him to us in much the same way as his characters do.

After the event, us sisters went and had lunch and a couple of beers on a sunny pub patio and talked about that.  And lots of other stuff, as sisters do.

time to make

30 December 2008

I love to make dolls.  Actually it’s more a compulsion than a “like.”  I am compelled to look at them.  I’m fascinated with the role they’ve long played in cultures everywhere, and the therapeutic benefits they can offer to the maker.  When I go to art galleries, I get hung up on ancient displays of figures, dolls and masks.  When I am participating in expressive arts activities, almost everything I produce is some sort of doll or puppet.  I love to make soft dolls for children as much as I love to make abstract dolls from collected materials. 

When I was a young girl and I loved to draw, I made portraits more than anything else.  Collages turn into dolls or masks.  I find faces in old pieces of driftwood, in the snow collected at the bus stop, in the morning reflection on the wall.  I’m not exactly sure where this compulsion comes from, but I think it has something to do with the idea of the ‘outside’ as a window on the ‘inside.’  Goodness knows I’m famous for wearing a mask over the ‘inside’ my entire life. 

I haven’t made a doll in more than a year, and recently decided to remedy this blip.  In my notebook I have been writing down ideas.  At home I’ve begun to collage dolls to generate ideas.  I have spent some time getting inspired by browsing the blogs and websites of doll and puppet artists.  And with each small step comes further inspiration and motivation, sometimes it seems out of nowhere.  Somewhere else on this website I wrote, “If you seek inspiration you’ll find it.”  I’ve most certainly learned that lesson again. 

I’m in a news shop and a Puppetry magazine I had never heard of pops out at me.  Carly finds a rag doll I had made a few years ago, thinking it looks like the little niece of her friend.  On receiving it, the [thrilled] friend agrees.   I’m looking for a new journal for my own niece for Christmas and the next shelf just happens to hold several new books on art dolls. 

And it all continues to snowball.  Each new idea spins off three more from that.  I see pictures of a gorgeous studio and all I can think of is myself there making dolls. 

Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron likes to talk about synchronicity:  if you take the smallest step in the direction of a dream, things start to happen to help you along the way.  Or maybe it’s just a heightened awareness.  Whatever – at this point, it all sort of feels like I’m doing what I should be doing, even if I have no idea where it will go.  In the meantime I think I’ll keep on daydreaming about that beautiful studio.