Monday, September 15, 2014

On Creating

Twenty or so years ago I took my first official writing class, a night class at the local high school taught by an esteemed artist and published poet, Don Parkey. He wrote beautiful poetry, and his art was stunning -- it was what he called dream art, and he'd literally wake in the middle of the night and begin to draw with pen and ink what he dreamed. The imagery was intricate, delicate, stunning and otherworldly. This clip below is the only one I've found of his work, but the artwork he shared with us in class was much more fine and dreamlike with lots of Asian influences (think flowing kimonos and flagrant peacocks in black and white, 3-D imagery, busy landscapes). Anyway, he was a different sort of person than what I'd been exposed to before, eccentric one might say, but oh, so very, very talented.



The first assignment we were given in class was to write a paper on why we wanted to write, what was our purpose being in the class, what did we hope to discover. I wrote, "I want to know if I can cut the mustard." Just that. He returned my assignment with a note attached that read, "It doesn't matter. And of course you can."  He later explained in class what it meant to be an 'artist', or creative, in my case, since my fingers were, and still are, in many different creative pies at once, as someone who simply did. They wrote. They painted. They drew. They threw clay. They cooked. They made something new out of different things (ideas, pigments, energy, dreams, etc.) that they could share with others because it was a compulsion, a calling, a niggling itch that wouldn't stop, despite whether or not it was deemed 'good' by the artist or by their critics.

The first story I ever wrote in that class was what some might deem a graphic novel. I hadn't put the artwork to the story when I turned it in for a grade, because, well, I can't draw, but it was all there, in my head, like a movie reel from the 1930's, black and white and stuttering away on the projector, and it was just stunning. Mr. Parkey made me read the story aloud in class. I'm not an aloud reader. I mumble, shuffle, turn shades of red, sweat, tend toward monotones, and this story was long. Thirty pages of single spaced type, 500 words per page, imperfect paragraphing (for which I was not adversely graded) about gangster spiders. Yes. Gangster spiders circa 1932. Big Daddy Long Legs had been found murdered by his lovely black widow wife, Evangeline. And so the story goes.

This was written on a word processing machine. Remember those? Not a typewriter, not a computer, but a machine that could crank out perfect page after perfect page once the return button was hit, and just as quickly as I could type, which back then was about 95 words a minute. I wrote that story in a weekend because I was inspired. The story just came to me and I too would wake up in the middle of the night, ideas bursting to get out, to finish the piece. It was epic. I did it with a houseful of kids, too, all wanting this or that or crying or needing a diaper change. I did it with an angry husband who demanded to know what had happened to the TV remote with the same level of emotional upset as was applied to real issues, like a huge medical bill, or a broken down car that there was no money to repair. I wrote in the midst of a madhouse.

The story was a big hit in class. The other students wanted to know when I would be writing more 'episodes', offering advice on how the story should go, asking me where I got my ideas. You'd think I'd be basking in the glow of their approval, but I wasn't. I was terrified. I was afraid because they now expected something of me. Now they, and more importantly, I, knew what I was capable of. I'd felt the agony and the sacrifice of living as a creative (writer), the shutting off, the shutting out, the long days and sleepless nights of having one foot in the world of domestic goddessness, and the other foot in the world of artistry. And I've been doing that ever since, though not to that degree. So what I'm saying is, if I can do it, with all the turmoil and bullshit that I live with on a day-to-day basis, so can anyone. And I think sometimes we are at our best when we are being tested by the Universe. When the car isn't running and the kids have gone wild and the husband is having a mental breakdown over burnt toast and the dog's torn its stitches and the cat needs neutering and the door's been torn off its hinge and the -- you get what I'm sayin'? If you've got the itch, scratch it.

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