I figure I’ll offend most people some of the time, and some people most of the time. While my abrasiveness is usually unintentional, and while I tend to apologize and strive to make it right once said affront is brought to my attention, living in rural southwest Virginia as an agnostic provides plenty of occasions for me to bite my tongue. Hard.
It took a literal bonk on the head for my mindset about God to shift oh-so-slightly. Note: shifting has not endowed me with patience for those who insist the world was created only a few thousand years ago. C’mon. Carbon dating is carbon dating. Idiocy under the guise of religion is idiocy.
I am, like many writers, a split personality. Not in the DSM-IV sense of the term, but in my preferences. I am an introvert in an extrovert’s world. I care about community — personal and public — and can be articulate and helpful in both, but it exhausts me. I served on my town’s Planning Commission for a while. I was professionally concerned with recommending “yay” or “nay” to the Town Council for zoning-related requests but far more interested by how the applicants stood or slouched or leaned at the podium; their clothing; how often they murmured “uhm.” In short, I suffer from the double life Cathering Drinker Bowen describes: “Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”
Plus I have what my husband calls my “Let’s bake a cake from scratch!” gene: I believe there is always time for just one more little something I want to do, which means I prove the accuracy of my “Queen of Late” bumpersticker at least once a day.
So I spent a fair portion of my twenties in an angst-driven cycle: I’m not doing enough for my familyneighborsfriendstowncountry, but I am exhausted by my familyneighborsfriendstowncountry. I have to get away. And why can’t I ever find one damn hour in which to sit down and write, anyway?
Then I had a couple of baby boys and went a little bonkers.
My fabulous sons drove me up the walls when they were little. I’m not a woman who finds babies, even her own, sufficiently satisfying as a full-time job – but I also loathed giving them to others for caretaking. Hoisted on my own petard.
I tried part time work: disaster.
I quit work entirely. (And yes, I am fully aware of my privilege. But hey, my husband earns a living as an engineer. Those of you who know engineers understand they are not, shall we say, laid-back, joyful personalities. Some might say marriage to such guys is a full time job in and of itself. There. I’m sure I’ve insulted my husband, at least, with those words. Sorry.)
I saw therapists. Journal, one said. Antidepressants, another one said. Journaling confirmed my sadness rather than quenching it. Antidepressants fattened and exhausted me. I tossed the journals in favor of an attempt at a novel, using Robert Rey’s book The Weekend Novelist for the scaffolding necessary to work in my mire of domesticity.
That novel landed me an agent. She retired before selling it. But working on a story, a big long story with lots of characters, satisfied me in a way journals and drugs didn’t touch.
Life’s evolving daily requirements flummoxed me: I’d thought nothing would be more time-consuming than nursing, diapers, and reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” three thousand times, but in fact my kids are requiring more of my time as they grow. I floundered on the shoals of my expectations of what I should be able to do as a stay-at-home mom (cook meals from my own organic vegetables; adopt all stray cats and dogs; participate in community meetings for social justice projects; be a Suzuki practice parent; organize the carpool; provide nutritious! snacks for the soccer team; serve on the Planning Commission). Surprisingly, no amount of structure helped me juggle all these things.
I was cursing my lack of organizational abilities, helping to organize a shared community library when an audio cassette fell, literally, on my head. Very funny. I’m helping out and this is my thanks. No rest for the weary and all that.
I put it back.
Ten minutes later it fell off the shelf again. It landed on my head. Again.
It was a recording of Julia Cameron, speaking about creativity, based on her book, The Artist’s Way. I’m not an artist but what the hell. I listened to it while I schlepped the duplicate books to the thrift store. I sat in the car and finished listening. I drove to the bookstore and bought the book.
I was ready to return it when I read the introduction, where Cameron talks about God. But the lecture had intrigued me and I pressed on. Ah. She acknowledges that for many people the God concept isn’t comfortable (see note re: idiots who believe the earth is only a few thousand years old). She re-casts it in terms of good orderly direction, or flow – she’s talking about creative energy. We are creative energy and if we don’t create, not only are we less-than, the world is less-than, too.
That our collective urge to create is fundamental to our humanity, not an afterthought, has been brilliantly articulated by Karl Paulnak. This is the conclusion to his widely circulated welcome address to incoming freshmen musicians at the Boston Conservatory:
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.
So here’s to creating ways to share our internal, invisible lives: fat novels and slender haikus; stories by a campfire and around the supper table; oil paintings and digital photographs; fused glass earrings and hand-thrown, cobalt-glazed pottery mugs.
It’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and it’s worth doing intentionally.
Let’s give ourselves enough time to practice making a cake from scratch. Let’s invite the neighbors over for a slice whether or not it’s perfect. Let’s teach our children to pay attention to what they love.