“The women in my small group at the writer’s workshop were writing about trauma and stuff. I tried to tell them that there was a lot of that.” This comment from a man I met at the beach who is a fellow writer. The difference being, he writes fiction. I don’t. His inference was that there was already enough writing about trauma. I say write that shit because there is so much trauma to be written about and the writing and the telling will heal the writer and some of the readers. The message I want to convey in my stories about the things I have survived is that of survival. And you can’t hear enough about that. This is a tough world. And survival is part of living in it.
We met because he was talking about an annual writer’s workshop here in the Florida panhandle that happens every year. One that just wrapped up and that I was thinking of attending next year. Several things I heard him say provoked me. To be fair, I think he was coming from a place of wanting people to succeed, and by that I mean sell books, but I heard some rules around that and I am not sure that I want to plug into a formula to sell. I want to write what I am meant to and then let the results or any monetary success happen. Or not. “I tried to tell them in our sharing group that their writing was a little manic.” What does that even mean? Do I really want to go to a workshop to be told what someone who writes about sea monsters thinks of my work? Aren’t my opinion and that of the source of my words the ones that really matter? What is my motive in going to a workshop anyway? Don’t I already have a style of my own? Or am I looking for a magic formula to sell, sell, sell. And maybe get my ego stroked to the tune of $1000 to me.
I am a creative person. And a bit of a rebel in that. What I mean is, when I paint, I resist “rules”, like complementary colors, proportions, blending colors. I like to paint what is in me, which, so far, is two-dimensional whimsical, bold, and colorful, whether on furniture or on canvas. It sometimes happens that my instincts for what colors and patterns to combine fit some of these formulas. But it is not because I set out to do it. It is because I am true to my own creative expression. Most of the time. I just want to leave my mark of happy colors or inspiring words in the hope of brightening up the places in the world that need it. Like maybe your home. Or your heart.
The same is true of my writing. And I have been moved to write a book because when I share with others the good side of the things I have survived, they thank me for sharing. Say I give them hope. That I say what they want to in a way they can not find the words to express.
When I shared this with my fellow writer standing in the parking lot with the Gulf of Mexico playing back up as its angry waves crashed upon the shore, he was a bit dismissive, as if to say, “It’s already been done. And too much at that.” He also noted that these were women he addressed. Not sure if that was significant to him, but I wonder if he would have noted if they were men.
He challenged me to go home and write a story for an hour. Then put a bunch of stories together in a book. I entertained that for a minute thinking I probably should because, after all, the suggestion is being made and if it is true that there are no coincidences, it must be true for me. If I use that logic though, then the gallery owner who looked at my paintings and said that I should go online and practice to get good at mermaid bodies and faces so I could sell would have been the right thing to do. If I wanted a career cranking out paintings for Kirkland’s or Home Goods, I would do that. But I don’t.
The good news is that I have my own relationship with my work. And allowing others in needs to be done selectively when I am holding tight to my own convictions. Maybe I won’t sell any more art furniture or canvases. Maybe I won’t have a bestseller. Maybe there won’t be a book at all. I have only been able to write eighty-some pages so far because the subject matter is tough.
Here is the real truth about the block I have entertained up to now. Telling my story could potentially be cathartic, so that would mean parting with some of my baggage of grief and loss. Even though shlepping these bags gets old, it is what I know. It is in my muscle memory to remember that I grew up in a home bereft of nurture and rich with neglect, suffered from alcoholism and anorexia, marital abuse and mental illness, lost a baby, a house, two breasts, and two husbands, and more, I think I fear what I will do with my hands when I really let them go. But all of this is possible if I stay true to myself and what my instincts move me to write. Paint. Create.
There is also the possibility that I do sell a book. That there is abundance beyond belief in so doing. Just typing these words is a challenge because I am owning the very real possibility that my life may one day no longer be small and as I write, my hands want to grab that baggage instead, like a security blanket, but I refuse.
There is a movie called Finding Joe on Youtube about the influence of mythologist Joseph Campbell on our culture. In it, are testimonies of Deepak Chopra, Mick Fleetwood, inspirational author/teacher Allan Cohen, professional skateboarder/entrepreneur Tony Hawke and others about finding your bliss and living it. The message here is one of how we are all tigers and that there is an abundance of food for sheep that we are offered, but very little food for tigers. I intend to feed my tiger and encourage you to do the same. Whatever you do that you love, that lights you up, that makes you feel young again, that brings you joy, DO MORE OF THAT. Bake the cake from scratch. Try the new recipe. Take the pictures. Plan the trip. Write the poem. Play the instrument. Make the move. Life is all about practice. The only thing stopping you from practicing yours is you.
And now I am going to take my own advice and get back to my book. This time, I will put my trepidations and hesitations in my suitcases under the bed so that I can get on with letting go. I suspect it will be awkward at first, but I am confident I will find something to do with my hands.