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Livin' on (borrowed) creative time
After several weeks of traveling, I sat in my chair and wondered where to begin? Could I write, send, revise anything to feel as if I accomplished something during my time away?
While on the road or in the air, two phrases from Matt Bell’s Refuse to Be Done, a book on writing and revision, stuck with me. Lived time, when one allows some distance between themselves and their work, and art time, a period of generating new. The thing is, when you’re driving from city to city, scrambling from plane to plane, running from kid to kid, there’s not much living you’re doing, nor creating either.
Mid-March, I drove to Cleveland for a long weekend to visit my sisters and to see Anne Lamott. I heard her speak once before in Cincinnati. Now, she appeared during the week of St. Patty’s Day in Cleveland, which conveniently hosted one of the largest St Patty’s Day parades in the country. More than nine percent of the city’s population lay claim to Irish roots, and this Italian and her sister could too. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird remains one of my favorite books, read during the period in which I began to pursue the writing life. A quote from the book, Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived...messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here resonated within me at that hour, knowing the bustle I had ahead of me.
The past few weeks have felt like a mess. Not me, really, maybe my hair. Not my house, because I learned from my mother to leave it clean for anyone who breaks in. Not even my laundry.
Perhaps it’s the push-pull of springtime, overnight freezes yanking us backward, bulbous tulips begging us forward, but I’ve felt messy inside, and inside my art life, which might be two in the same.
I thought of Van Gogh’s turbulence in his paintings as I juggled deadlines for applications, submissions, and freelance work (and taxes) while trying to figure out which strange bed made my back ache. I did ensure my body, if not my head, arrived home by a Monday, aka, my writing day. There would exist one day when I didn’t mess things up.
By the end of March, I was on a plane in Oregon. A trip to Oregon usually stills my heart. This roundtrip was filled with the lives of my son, his fiancé, and a new puppy. With chores and hikes. I was now on Pacific time, but also on lived time, when I could not generate anything more than an outline structure for one of my books. When the plane landed in Cincinnati, I whisked myself to the desk for Italian lessons. My husband and I did the laundry and went to bed. Due to the melody of Italian floating around in my head, I didn’t know where I was when woke the next morning.
Fast forward to April. My body and rhythms once more were out of sync with a visit to New Orleans and our daughter, Cheryl, her husband, and their two dogs. I played catch up to Central time. Lugging my laptop around was more training for the boot camp than for the art corps. The best I could do was capture a live oak tree as its moss danced the wind (above).
Sunday evening after a return home, a dam burst. I felt washed away by cresting waves. I was more tired from not creating than from jet lag or change in time zones. As Mary Oliver states, We have to have an appointment, to have that work out on the page, because the creative part of us gets tired of waiting, or just gets tired. And It’s helped, doing that — to have that meeting with that part of oneself, because there are, of course, other parts of life.
An odd thing happened when I finally sat at my home desk. As I accounted for projects and papers, I had more credits than debits. Applications had been completed. A submission sent, a freelance gig halfway revised. Life had bubbled up around me, yet so had the creativity and discipline required to ensure it happened.
One floor below, a James Taylor record played Walking Man on our new/old Crosley stereo. I don’t know who the record belonged to—my first husband or his good friend who left his collection at our house in 1995 and we since moved it five times and I don’t have the heart to give it back to him. Or was it Mark’s? It wasn’t mine, nor my older sister’s. We did rock back then. And James? I loved him, but he wasn’t our kind of rock. I don’t want to be Walking Man walking on by, sort of emotionally frozen, going from here to there, with no time to stop and speak.
Lived time, per its recommendation, has given my mind room to roam elsewhere while my novel and other works breathed on their own, even if I was left breathless from all the running. Art time, that period of creating new, of generating new ideas or writing to move toward a fresh new perspective, happens when I’m mostly alone, which I finally am.
That thrum in my ears is my heart and my words. I can hear myself think. That’s when art time happens for me. Accepting that my kids and my desires are becoming more far flung, and my work can take place most anywhere, my challenge going forward will be to incorporate art time into lived time.
To borrow a little from each.