I have always envied those who knew exactly what they want from life. And take the steps to get there. Who see the trajectory clearly, with regard to marriage, family, travel, career, what to have for dinner, whatever.
I’ve always wanted to write. I think.
I have a pretty good memory, but I know that there is much about memory that blurs over time. Remembering how something actually happened can be difficult at times, unless there are touchstones that can expand that memory into truth. Conversations with my grandmother while we were standing in her front yard, smelling the yellow roses that grew there are perfectly clear to me because I have more than one piece of information to draw from. I remember the too hot to touch in summer black gloss of the thin railing going up the stairs, the spindly stems of the rosebush that seemed to have grown there forever, the chipped red paint of the cement stairs.
I remember the way June felt, the lackadaisical nature of it, how it felt separate from the school year because it was too close to summer to be included. I remember the bittersweet flavour of the heat in August, because September followed fast on it’s heels.
I remember how the weave of the library carpet felt, how I’d idly pick at the tiny loops while curled up on the floor surrounded by the books I would be taking home this week, how satisfying it was to stack them according to size, to pile them in the order I planned to read them in. How I would pore through the table of contents in the short story collections and determine what was the shortest story to the longest because that was sequence I preferred to read them in.
These are sensations, smells, pockets of time captured and recalled when triggered by both external and internal stimuli.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer seemed to change daily. Along with my name some days. I was constantly shifting, considering and reconsidering my options. I’ve tried on many hats, will try on plenty more I’m sure. But the writing, the stories, they stayed. Though I never really did anything with them because somewhere along the way I’d been told (not by my mum, she would never discourage me, which is amazing and I’m grateful to her for it) that writing wasn’t a practical endeavour. It could make a good hobby, but a career as a writer? Impractical, unfeasible, a waste of time. My grade 8, 9 and 10 english teachers (that’s only 2 different people) both suggested it might work out for me, but I was quite cynical at that point and didn’t put much stock in anything adults said. At least, not the ones I knew. It took me years to even admit that there might be talent here. I guess I’m just a late bloomer.
Whenever I read Patti Smith, it makes me want to write. And not just, ‘geez she’s a good writer, I should practice more so I can get as good as her.’ No, I mean, I’ll be reading her and suddenly put the book down, pick up my pen and get lost in the sudden flow of my own thoughts. It’s absolutely glorious. Any time I’ve ever written a fairy godmother/guardian/sage aunt who doesn’t say much but spits truth with more grace than a ballerina on top of her game, it’s her I’m thinking of. I owe much of my artistic development of late to her.
There is a passage in Just Kids, a book she wrote about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, where she recounts the moment both she and he (well before they’d ever met) decide they they are artists. And that is how it is.
I’ve never really had that level of clarity before. But I’m starting to get it. I tend to get lost in what the thing should/could be. As though, if I choose one medium, one genre, one format, then I’m trapped there. I’ve only recently started answering that perennial question, “What do you do?” with the response “I’m a writer”. That’s not my “job” necessarily, it’s not how I earn my living, which I know is what most people are asking. But it’s the most accurate response. What do I do? I write. Incessantly. Constantly. Even when there is no pen in my hand, no laptop within reach, I am writing.
When I found two hair pins outside a locked storage room at the end of the hall, my mind automatically started concocting a bluebeard type scenario, trying to imagine who’d been using those bobby pins to pick the lock and see if there were dead bodies behind that door, and what had happened when they’d been discovered doing so, the only evidence being the pins they’d left behind as a clue.
Perhaps everyone does that every moment of the day. I don’t know, I can only speak for me.
The hardest part about coming to this place, accepting myself as artist, as writer, as exploration expressionist, metaphorical meanderer, dark place poet, shadowdreamer, wordsmith sensualist, is that there is no end to it. I’ve so long dwelt within the when I have.. then I can.. narrative that stepping away from it is daunting at best, terrifying at second best and so many adjectives to describe the ever incrementally scary horror show that is doing the thing that makes you happiest because you’ve finally accepted that you deserve such things.
If one goes to school to learn a skill, there is a syllabus, which is a far less interesting thing than I think that word should describe. There is a set course to follow, by the end of which you will be certified to call yourself a such and such. But anyone who has ever done a thing knows that there is rarely a moment when one can say, yes! I am a skilled professional who has learned everything there is to learn here and I am done. I have arrived at the place where the thing I set out to do has been completed.
If I know that’s true, why should I find the tenuousness of art so much more disconcerting than any other passion? I have so many friends who aren’t afraid to admit they are artists, musicians, writers, poets, painters. I honestly don’t know why it’s so difficult for me. Accountability? If I admit to it, do I then have a responsibility to imbue the world with creations that improve the quality of existence? That sounds like a silly notion, and yet another argument my brain has crafted for not doing the thing.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to let my brain continue on it’s quest to find ways to keep me from accepting what is, and while it’s all crazy busy and occupied with that, I’ll just quietly sit over here and write some stories or something.
Because it’s just what I do.