Do you work joyfully...or suffer for your art?

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Do you work joyfully...or suffer for your art?

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Redigeret: apr 10, 2008, 10:40 am


I came across this article on cartoonist Charles Schulz who, contrary to what I thought, turned out to be a fairly melancholic individual. This brings up the question--and point of this thread--does creating art have to be a painful experience? For me it is: physically, mentally and spiritually taxing. Like Mr. Capote says (quoted on another thread for Theresa), God gave me a gift AND a whip and I often feel like I'm being flayed alive as I work. I'd like to hear from the rest of you, your experiences with creating, joyful...or otherwise.


(Thanks to rdurick, Message #4, for help creating this link)

Redigeret: okt 20, 2007, 3:11 pm

Cliff, I hope this tread gets a lot of traffic. I think the answer is complicated for me. The fast answer is: both. But takes a lot of explaining. Perhaps some of you can get to the heart of the matter faster than I can. I have never been a great explainer. In my Modern Poetry class on Friday I asked the question of why T. S. Eliot felt near the end of his life that he had paid a high price for being a poet. They likened the process as being painful (like giving birth, they said). I recall how John Berryman nearly had a nervous breakdown after finishing Ann Bradstreet. He just collapsed. Other students mentioned the alienation of the artist from society.

I don't think I would ever feel I had paid a high price for being a writer, like Eliot. Writing has centered me; but a lot of what I have accomplished hasn't been easy and did not come without sacrifice. I've never felt on the verge of collapse after finishing a project, but I've been very driven and afterwards have slept hours and hours. And I think whether I had become a writer or not, I would have been a social misfit, although I enjoy aspects of teaching very much.

At a certain point, I purchased a book called Take Joy by Jane Yolen because I felt I had forgotten that writing can be joyful. When I was a child and teen I loved it so; it was fun. But in my 30s and 40s it became an intense experience and a frustrating one. By my mid 40's and now into my early 50s it's leveling out, I think. I can feel joy at writing again, and also frustration and despair, sometimes.

There's so much more to say, though...

okt 20, 2007, 3:18 pm


I keep HOPING writing will get easier but with each new project I have to keep raising the bar, shooting for another personal best. Forgive the sports analogy but (along with warfare) it kind of sums up my approach to writing. I never relent...and, as a result, writing is rarely fun for me. I'll be 44 this month and I'd like to see some changes in my attitude toward crafting prose but that obsessive-compulsive perfectionist in me just won't loosen the reins.

Redigeret: apr 10, 2008, 6:38 pm


The easiest way to enter a link is to copy and paste it, then put a space before and after it. If you want to put the link under another word, you can use HTML. The syntax is

"less than symbol"a href="""greater than symbol""word you want to use as link""less than symbol"/a"greater than symbol"

New York Times Schulz article

I hope this works.

Have fun,


PS All of the quotation marks go away when you enter a specific instance.


PPS Edited to keep the URL in bounds; it was not likely useful anymore.


okt 20, 2007, 6:26 pm


Thanks a lot for the hint on links--I shall give it a try. AND, more importantly, you expressed it in such a way that even an upright mandrill like myself stands a fair to middling chance of accomplishing the task. My appreciation...

okt 20, 2007, 7:11 pm

Thanks from me, too, rdurick. Slowly, slowly, I am learning to use my computer effectively. And then the technology changes, and I have to learn everything all over again.

I, too, feel both joy and suffering when I work. I suffer more, though, when I'm not writing than when I am. Life might be easier for me if I could be happy working an office job, reporting at a specific hour, chugging through the day's alloted work and leaving it all behind when I go home. It would certainly be more remunerative. But I feel driven to connect with the world at a deeper level. I don't know that I have ever succeeded in doing that through my writing, but I do think I've learned a great deal from the process. Those "aha!" moments when I feel like I've understood something true are wonderfully joyful. The suffering comes when I feel isolated and unable to set things down in such a way that others will "get" the vision I'm trying to communicate.

okt 20, 2007, 9:30 pm

Theodore Roethke said in Straw for the Fire: "There are only two passions in art; there are only love and hate--with endless modifications." This speaks to the act of creating art, too.

okt 20, 2007, 10:32 pm


okt 21, 2007, 11:13 am

When I am creating physical art, making sketches, cutting wood, putting together a palette and then actually assembling the pieces I feel joy, a sort of endorphin high I used to get from exercise. There is frustration, when the big saw splinters a piece I was counting on, the drill's battery is dead and the extra isn't charged and don't even get me started on mixing and matching paints. Writing is another matter. I love it, but it does not come a neatly to hand as the other. I'm glad of the computer, because I can just fly through when the muse is on me and then go back and clean up when she flies away. I always open two documents, one for the main body, the other for stuff that doesn't exactly fit what I wanted to say. I just tuck it away until I'm sure it is unneeded and then delete.

okt 21, 2007, 11:45 am

When I sketch or paint intensely the sense of who I am is so different that my ability to define it as pain or joy is likewise suspended. It seems to be both but how can that be? Then I think, how can you have one without the shadow of the other?

I'm sorry if this doesn't make sense. Trying to be more spontaneous here without over analysing it...too much Walt Whitman this weekend!

My creative time is probably more joyful than not in that I have a "day" job and the writing, sketching, even research is a delight to me. That doesn't mean I don't end up tearing my hair out and attacking the excersice equipment out of frustration and the inadequacy of my results from time to time.

Perfectionsim is probably more responsible for my pain, than creating is...

With that said, I still get a glimpse of that obsession which would take me by the heart and keep me captive at the expense of every other thing in my life...even now, I want to give into it. The strength of this "need" to create has in the past, left me hollowed out and empty and the process was as harsh and terrible as anything I've ever experienced. In my youth, it terrified me...that's why I have a day job ... I admire writers and artists (like you cliffburns!) who could and have endured it. I couldn't then, maybe soon.

Redigeret: okt 21, 2007, 1:02 pm

I hear you, villandry.

And, everyone in this group, please just call me Cliff.

I think it's important to point out that my "sufferings" and the crap I go through are part involuntary (brain chemistry, upbringing) and part stupidity (never learning to type properly, hitting the keyboard too hard). I have an obsessive personality and that is why my work goes through so many drafts--less to do with aesthetics or talent and more to do with a chemical imbalance in my head. It's NOT about courage or brilliance and I don't find myself a particularly admirable or sympathetic figure. Except, perhaps, to the extent that I have persevered despite countless rejections and frustrations.

I can't do anything EXCEPT write--I'm rather a one-trick pony that way. "Writing is the pain I can't live without" (Robert Penn Warren) but the pain is either self-inflicted or a manifestation of a mild form of mental illness. When I whine about the condition of my hands or "grinding out" prose, I don't deserve sympathy. More like a dose of lithium and a swift kick in the ass with a frozen boot (one of my father's terms)...

okt 21, 2007, 1:05 pm

Bend over, Cliff.

okt 21, 2007, 2:56 pm

I deserve it.

Call me out on it if you catch me whining and mewling about my pitiful existence. I'll keep a boot in the freezer for you...

okt 21, 2007, 6:19 pm

Villandry, in #10, are you talking about the state of "flow"? When I'm in flow, I'm not aware of myself and my personal emotions, but am entirely caught up in the story I'm writing and the process of finding words for it. Like Hildegard's trumpet being blown by that other power. It's only in retrospect that I feel the joy. And it's a huge joy, one of the biggest in my life. When my husband comes into my office while I'm in the midst of a state like that, he can't conceive of why it makes me so unhappy to be interrupted just so he can shoot the bull with me for a few minutes. I feel so crabby and selfish, but I can't bear to be interrupted like that. Especially lately, when I'm having a hard time getting into flow with my Texas book.

okt 21, 2007, 7:59 pm

hi margad ... sure, flow is a way to describe it although sometimes it acts more like a vortex!

I know what you mean about being interrupted. I'm very much the same way. When I get absorbed into something, writing or drawing, the rest of the world ceases to interest me at all. Time, food, sleep, loved ones...nothing else really factors in.

It is odd state for a normally friendly and loving person to warp into. And rather guilt inducing. I was (long ago) called selfish and self absorbed and all kinds of not nice things on account of this "flow"...but I'm getting over it.

okt 21, 2007, 8:38 pm

Oh, Cliff, LOL

okt 21, 2007, 8:48 pm

There's been plenty written on creativity and mental illness. Do a little searching, you'll have no problem finding it. It's one reason I have trouble reading fiction anymore. I wonder if these writers would still be writers if they had been treated.

Second, I'd like to know who came up the idea that misery is somehow more honest and authentic than joy. In the words of Thomas Mallon, I eschew the "the diseased twentieth-century belief that bad experience is more authentic than good, that misery is truth and happiness deception."

You know how to recognize an independent film? Everyone's unhappy. "It's weird, I don't get it. It must be profound."

Anything serious and worthwhile takes effort, skill, and intelligence. There's no shortcut.

okt 21, 2007, 8:59 pm

I also find that the act of creating transcends joy or suffering. When I'm in the middle of creating a poem or a drawing nothing else exists and I am part of the creation. Suffering comes with interruption--a cat knocking over my ink, a child (or husband) asking a question in the middle of my poem--such things pull me out of my imagination as if I were wakened to find a bright light shining in my face. Then I suffer for the time it takes to climb back into myself and continue.
My family has learned to give me space when I'm in a creative fever. Because if mom suffers, everyone suffers...

Redigeret: okt 21, 2007, 9:09 pm

I think that a very big barrier to creativity and thought processes (including the process of reading) is TIME. I like the passage that I recently read in The Theory of Clouds by Stephane Audeguy (touchstones not working) which describes this (pg 13):

"After her student days were over everything happened so quickly - mass transit, shopping, housekeeping, a job. The time for thought ended because thinking is hard work and can be done only under the right conditions. You need quiet, free time, a regular schedule, and discipline. You have to train yourself. At least in theory you can think anywhere and while doing anything, such as when your're pushing a shopping cart around a department store. But the background music distracts you, the lights glare........................"

I need to devote time to thinking. It gets too easily crowded up there in my brain.

Maybe this explains why so many successful writers are independently wealthy or older. My mind gets crowded, confused and shuts down in an uncreative mode when I am doing the jobs of life. Anyone else have this problem?

20MrJessDub Første besked:
Redigeret: okt 21, 2007, 10:01 pm

What a fascinating site - I just stumbled upon it this evening - And this is my first post!


Reading your post instantly brings to mind Woolf's "A Room of One's Own". Although it deals with specifically feminine hindrances to writing, it's easy to extrapolate difficulties with writing from it to other hindrances to creativity. I would say that you share this problem with a very notable crowd of people.


This question has become an agonizingly serious issue for me over the past three or four months, although in some respects I'm approaching it from a very different angle. For reasons I'm not entirely sure I can explain, I've taken it to mind that I am an artist, despite the fact that I've done little more than write essays (for class, to betray my age) and the verbal equivalent of doodling in one's notebook. I've not published anything, much less written a novel, yet I feel -intensely- that I ought to be doing so. -Something- has lit an author's fire inside, intense enough to where friends notice my discomfort.

Frustratingly, after feeling this drive for some months now, I have very little to show for my agony. I have several typed pages of my novel and a notebook with various ideas, names, and so forth scribbled (neatly) about, but really, my brainchild hasn't progressed much beyond a sperm and egg. I'm constantly thinking about my novel, but despite entertaining these ideas -

Again, it's agonizing. Entertaining these ideas is just that - entertaining; I enjoy it throughly. Unfortunately, the ideas see themselves out for the evening (as they are eventually bound to do) and I revert to fretting over the fact that nothing remains done.

Redigeret: okt 21, 2007, 10:24 pm


My method has always involved putting the editorial mind on hold and put pen to paper, complete the first draft in a blur of speed and intensity and never mind if it doesn't make sense or meanders all over the place. Beginning a project is always hard for me but once I get going, it develops a momentum and life of its own. A drive which produces nothing leaves only a sense of inadequacy and defeat. Get something down on paper, get it out in a white heat and know that you can revise later, nothing is set in stone. But don't lose the excitement of the original idea or concept that you just can't get out of your head.

Is any of this helpful? I can sense your frustration and that's the best possible advice I can give you. Write, even if it doesn't make sense. Words on paper (W.O.P.) and worry about cohesion later...

Redigeret: okt 21, 2007, 10:35 pm

#19: That is a great quote. I think it describes the quandary I was in when I was in my 30s. Not enough down time. By the time my 40s rolled around, I was shutting myself away in my room, devoting myself to my "writing time." Lord help the husband or children if they disturbed me. Some people must need more down time than others (or "moodling" time as the great Brenda Ueland calls it). I need a lot.

That feeling of wanting to write but being too confused, busy, uh creatively constipated, was awful. Tormenting, yes.

#20: You just have to keep going. It took me six years to finish my novel. I have a stack of papers (still under my desk) that represents all the false starts, rough drafts, and really awful writing that went into forming the final piece. Just keep going.

okt 21, 2007, 11:08 pm

Cliff & TheresaWilliams:

Yes, even though the advice is something "I know", I find myself plagued by two phenomena: an "invisible audience" and artistic deep-freeze. I'm sure other people suffer and benefit from the former, and the latter I feel as if I will always be waking from. No matter what I write, for pleasure or for class, my work is always in "editorial mode"; before they ever reach the paper or the screen, my ideas are already being revised. ("Is this the right word? No, that's not what I think. Did I just type that?" etc)

I suppose I have the author's equivalent of the amateur guitarist's frustration at making noise instead of cleanly playing chords - except that I've been writing (essays, at least) for long enough that I would have hoped to overcome this by now.

okt 21, 2007, 11:16 pm

#23: I think all writers have experienced the censor and the deep-freeze. Remember that Kafka said that art is the axe that breaks the frozen sea within us. That's not just for readers; it's for writers, too. I think anything I say will be something you already know. Each writer has to wrestle with the demons within. You will have your breakthrough if you keep at it. I know it is frustrating; I remember.

I don't know how old you are or how long you've been writing essays. How long? Are you in college now?

I'm a university writing teacher. I don't tell people how to write or what should work for them. I know what works for me. I know if I go into editorial mode too early I destroy the work. But other writers produce and publish and edit early on. Only you can know what works for you, how much disarray you can stand in early drafts.

I try to push myself through a rough draft completely before I edit. I don't always make it. Sometimes I need to edit because the story is going badly. Generally, I print out the draft and then start all over again. Try to find my form on a fresh page. Trial and error and not being afraid to try new things will go a long way. Also reading A LOT.

okt 21, 2007, 11:39 pm


A university student looking to escape the "real world" by remaining in the system long enough until it decides to reward me with the honor of teaching for a pitiful salary. I look forward to lifelong improverishment, but remain optimistic regardless.

As true as it is, I'm not entirely sure I want to break into my frozen sea if it's anything like what laid inside Kafka.

I do appreciate the advice and encouragement, however; now if I could only shift my focus away from this website to the minimized Word document on my screen...

okt 21, 2007, 11:52 pm

Oh, but aren't you glad Kafka broke through? And we can't know what is in our sea until we break the ice and dive in, which is the point of art, I think. Diving. Like Adrienne Rich said in her poem, "Diving into the Wreck." Editing will NOT break the ice or take you into the depths, although editing might help you to find the correct form that that will take you there.

okt 22, 2007, 1:40 am

Good words of wisdom from Theresa, who knows more about unlocking young minds than I ever will.

I've always been drawn to the surrealist notion of automatic writing, opening up the flood gates and seeing where that takes you. A few paragraphs and it may tail off...and then come surging back. A load of slop and then one sentence, a single sentence or even a phrase that triggers a voice, a character, a scene. I wish I could tell you an easy "how to" method but, really, what it comes down to is finding it within yourself. You either write...or you don't. Writing is a shout of defiance, against the silence, against the indifference, against the voices (even inside you) that insist what you create has no value.

All the self-help books and advice and creative writing courses in the world are meaningless unless you have the courage to look foolish, to fail time and time again. A writer is a clown with a pen doing pratfalls. A single handclap redeems him but jeers never cow or dissuade him...

okt 22, 2007, 3:14 am

I definitely believe in automatic writing. Free writing, whatever one wants to call it. This will bypass the internal censor better than anything I have yet tried.

I also agree that you have to risk foolishness. The writers I love best took such a risk. A lot of what goes on in my early drafts is foolish. But within such foolishness I sometimes bump up against a great idea.

Redigeret: okt 23, 2007, 3:29 pm

Obviously, I'm not the only one who feels resentful about being interrupted when I'm writing (and then guilty about showing it). It's good to know there are people out there who understand! I'm learning not to apologize for needing uninterrupted time - I can either be freely available to people or I can make progress on a writing career. Can't do both.

It's almost impossible for me to not edit as I go, but I have to strive to do as little as possible at the first draft stage. For years, I could hardly get beyond chapter 1 of any project, because every time I sat down to write, I started with the first sentence and started polishing. Now, I've completed 3 novel manuscripts, but all of them are out of balance, to at least some degree, with the chapters becoming progressively rougher toward the end of the novel. It's not that I don't revise the last chapters. But I don't revise them as much or with as fine-toothed a comb as I do the earlier chapters. After a certain point, I get tired of a particular story and set of characters, and it becomes counterproductive to fuss with it any more. I'm learning that I need to force myself to spend less time on the early chapters so I will have enough enthusiasm, or at least stamina, left by the time I complete a first draft to work the whole thing over thoroughly so the quality is reasonably uniform from beginning to end. I tend to write long books, which adds to the difficulty.

okt 23, 2007, 3:43 pm

My last manuscript was 475 pages and I lost heart a couple of times. But I always came back to it--the longest break was about six months. Sometimes I start revising a book in the middle so I'm not worn out going through it from beginning to end. Or I select a random chapter and just grind away on it until I have it shipshape. I also like to really attack the first fifty and last fifty pages (the parts the readers remember most, in my view).

But, whatever method you use, editing is an exhausting process and it certainly requires a lot of stamina and perseverance. The first draft is pure inspiration but the real ART comes from the shaping and refining of the material, getting all that raw footage into order and context. I remember reading an interview with Peter Straub, talking about his collaboration with Stephen King (The Talisman): "Steve hates editing but I love it," Straub gushed.

I think Straub is the only writer I've ever heard say he "loves" editing. I could strangle him for that (but, in the same breath, I'll take his carefully crafted prose over King's work any day)...

okt 23, 2007, 4:45 pm

There is a certain part of the editing process that I do like. Perhaps editing is not the right word: my university training calls editing that nuts and bolts stuff of writing and calls revision the process of adding, deleting, honing, etc. I think it is the revision process that I enjoy, the opportunity to sharpen my vision.

okt 24, 2007, 9:18 am

I like to refer to the second writing of material as refining or revising and leave the editing to the end when someone else can help point out where the material is vague or takes too sharp of a turn for a reader to follow.

It may be just me, but what I enjoy most about writing is that there seems to be a point at which, regardless of how much I thought the idea through or outlined the story, things emerge and I am changed by these things. (good grief that's vague!) Do any of you know what I'm referring to?

It's this revelation of sorts that hooks me. It can happen in the revision or rewriting stage just as easily as the original spewing out of words stage...can be caused even by a modest factoid during research...I just love it.

Redigeret: okt 24, 2007, 11:48 am

I think this "revelation" aspect of writing is very important. It's great when a story surprises its author. The characters assume control and the project begins to take on a life of its own. I love as I watch something I hadn't seen coming unfolding before my eyes. It's humbling and awe-inspiring and more than a little spooky.

And I figure if I didn't anticipate an action or plot twist, then surely the Reader is going to be gobsmacked by it.

I don't often work to an outline--I may sketch out some ideas and character notes beforehand but, for the most part, my first draft is the template I work from. The plot and characters manifest themselves gradually. Then at some point the tumblers start falling into place and it's magic time...

Redigeret: okt 24, 2007, 11:57 am

I got here late, so this will seem out of place, but I would like to add one thing to making links. If you add target=_blank between the url and the "greater than" it will cause the link to open in a new window or tab, leaving the window or tab with the original post intact. For example:


When I was young and fantasized about being a writer, I found writing to be very cathartic, pleasurable in a way. I guess that's why I was never very good and gave it up.

okt 24, 2007, 12:08 pm

Denne meddelelse er blevet slettet af dens forfatter.

okt 24, 2007, 2:25 pm

#34: I also find aspects of writing to be cathartic. I bet you know what I mean after having read S. of H. Don't you.

okt 25, 2007, 12:51 am

#32 - Yes, I am always changed, in one way or another, by a big writing project. This is perhaps the most wonderful thing about writing. You can grow as a person through your characters' experiences without having to literally go through them yourself.

feb 12, 2008, 12:35 pm

Love this thread and group! Chiming in on the interruption conundrum - I have teenagers, moody creatures who mystify me, and their interruptions are often trivial, often ridiculous sibling crap, and I get furious sometimes, because when the perfect thought flits through, I need to catch it I need the cone of silence to descend - I need to go down my rabbit hole alone and alone is not the natural birthright of a mother who adores her rapidly vanishing babies. The times I am alone, distraction free, guilt free, ready to rock and roll, the muse of clarity plays hide and seek. When I find it, when motive intersects opportunity I purge like a bulemic. And then...

I tweak and revise for years. I even write about my ocd tweaking and twiddling with my stories, which are not stories at all, but essays downloaded from my memory banks. I can't begin to write fiction. I collect stories, all true ones, and twist them and turn them and peek all around for the real truth, the true colors and shades of meaning and then try to paint the pictures in words. My failure to meet my standards is excruciating. It's almost as bad as my feeble attempts to paint watercolors, and I'm really bad at them....

Soldier on we must, or go crazy. Isn't it a chicken egg quandry? Write to keep the crazy at bay or write because the crazy has landed? Will I end up crazier if I do write or if I don't write about the niggling thoughts? Things that make me go hmmmmmmm.

I wonder too about the age thing. Is it a late 40's, midlife, narrows experience that makes this all the more urgent and painful? I was too busy in my 20's living, working and playing and having a ball to write my grand unification theory of life, and now I have the inclination but perhaps not the skills or worse yet question the point....What the heck do I know that you all don't already comprehend?

But then, yes, the art is the axe that breaks the frozen sea....

and this quote lifted from Anne Lamott...After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ''Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.''

Write, draw, same difference....

Lastly, the ER book The Story of Forgetting, had a tremendous impact on me, because the bones of the story I could have written, but I'll never construct something as good as the 24 year old who penned it. I took heart in his notes where he admits to writing thousands of pages which he threw out before his character's voices took shape. He wove in a story he wrote in college, all those 3 or four years prior, and made it almost work with the rest of his amazing story. So the moral is I guess you have to write a lot of crap sometimes before you can mine a gem, and be careful what you throw out, you just may want to use it someday....

feb 13, 2008, 9:34 pm

the art is the axe that breaks the frozen sea - What a wonderful, wonderful line, readaholic!

I definitely think writing is a hold-the-crazy-at-bay function, not an end-up-crazier one! So often, I don't understand myself until I write down my thoughts, and then I begin to. Sometimes we are drawn to write on a particular topic in order (perhaps without realizing it) to persuade ourselves to make positive changes in our lives.

feb 14, 2008, 1:18 am

A book is an ax to break the frozen sea within us-Franz Kafka

I used this quote at the beginning my MFA thesis. I, too, have always loved it. It speaks to the passion of reading and writing--not just the passion but also the need to experience both. Without books (particularly fiction) I believe I would turn into a frozen sea. Horrible to contemplate.

It wasn't until my 40s, after all/most of the children were out of the house, that I was able to write anything of real significance to me. Yes, I felt the urgency because of my age, but also I think something in me changed. A prism formed in me, allowing me to focus my experiences, observations, and my imagination in a way that fell together into workable stories. I came to myself; I found my true self. An ongoing process, but it really began here: in my 40s.

Wish you well on your journey, readaholic.

feb 14, 2008, 9:21 am

I read a comment from Canadian author Guy Vanderhaeghe who said that writers don't reach their stride until their forties and I'm really, really hoping that's true...

feb 14, 2008, 10:05 am

Thanks Theresa,
And to you on yours..
Interesting you use the prism analogy, it's the visual in my head when a thought pops fully formed - the Pink Floyd album cover! I love the idea of scattered white light focused into a crystalline rainbow of clarity!

Cliff, have you seen Kokoshka's painting The Mandrill? Yours reminded me of his, though yours is not disturbing or dark!

feb 14, 2008, 6:57 pm

Cliff, I think it must be true what Vanderhaeghe says. The human brain may change the way it processes information or something. That's what it felt like to me. It was a kind of clarity, such as the Buddhist's describe in relation to Tao. I'm not Buddhist or particularly religions, but I'm interested in religions. The "detchment" of Tao is what I was missing. I used to think of "detachment" as a terrible thing, but it can be a wonderful thing for writers. It gives us objectivity and control and a weird kind of wisdom.

readaholic, Ah, I know what you mean about the Pink Floyd cover! How true!

feb 14, 2008, 10:21 pm

Readaholic: I haven't see the Kokoshka artwork. The monkey face is an in-joke with my wife. We were talking about spirit animals and I was mulling over mine and Sherron piped up: "you're like one of those baboons, flashing your purple ass at the world in contempt." And so there it is. The mandrill is so striking I couldn't resist it. Not quite a baboon but...

feb 15, 2008, 2:20 am

Rafiki from The Lion King is a mandrill, I think. That makes you a writer-shaman, Cliff. :-)

feb 15, 2008, 4:57 pm

And you're a writer-shawoman, Theresa.

Shaking our bags of bones, creating magic out of thin air...

feb 16, 2008, 2:24 am

Yes, I think so. :-)

And, actually, I am very interested in the shaman tradition and how art is connected to that. I've subscribed to Parabola Magazine for years, and it has had a few great articles on it.

I think my interest mostly springs from my curiosity about how the brain works in relation to the "divine." They say there is a "God part of the brain." I've wondered whether my stories come from this place. I often feel such a sense of wholeness when I write. In the Shaman tradition, there is such an emphasis on wholeness, on uniting lost parts of the self or making damaged parts well.

feb 16, 2008, 11:14 am

I think we are simpatico on this...

Redigeret: apr 4, 2008, 11:43 am

O.K. Two months later (I just noticed the February dates and fear no one is reading this now--but I didn't find it till late, late last night).

I'm new to this. But here is my fragment: I teach high school full-time and college three-quarter time, and still try to create art (, play guitar for a band, and write for public speaking, and of course, class lectures.

I have just printed off this entire thread, because I got tired of selecting--there were so many great personal ideas flourishing. This thread has a real pulse.

I know all-too-well the agony of not finding adequate space or time to create, and sometimes I wonder if it is cowardly that I work so many jobs, because the pay is guaranteed, and it's easier for me to grouse that I don't have quality time to create.

But the reality is this: I suffer agonizingly when I am not creating. It doesn't matter if my schedule is too demanding, or if I'm just "blocked" as an artist--if I'm not creating, I am profoundly unhappy. But when I'm in that "zone"--and it really doesn't matter whether it's a watercolor, a poem, a public address, or a class lecture--I feel an exhilaration that causes me to neglect sleep, food, exercise and the like. When I feel visited by some muse, I just want that relationship to extend forever. I truly, truly pity anyone who does not experience the bliss of creating something from out of the void--for anyone who does not know what it is like to see an image emerge on the white plane, a line of words to arrange on the page, or bars of musical notes to fill the air with a sweetness that defies words--I'm sorry for anyone that does not know, or respect that dynamic.

I'm proud to meet all of you. I hope there will be a way that we can converse. You seem to be a real lifeline--I do have trouble meeting in the flesh other artistic spirits who like to discuss the creative process. And as a teacher of the Humanities--I love all creators--musicians, writers, visual artists, actors--I love creative humanity.

Thank you for letting me in.

apr 5, 2008, 6:51 pm

#49: So glad you weighed in. What do you teach at the college level? You are doing a LOT of teaching! You are very passionate: are you a Joseph Cambell-ite?

apr 5, 2008, 8:56 pm

Thank you, Theresa, for asking. At the college I teach Humanities, Old Testament, New Testament, and Logic. High School is Humanities, Art History, and Philosophy. I have a profound respect for Joseph Campbell, having read the biography Fire in the Mind. I watched his PBS series, Power of Myth with Bill Moyers 2-3 times, and led a seminar over it for a fourth viewing. But I hate to say, I haven't read Campbell now for about ten years. I've since moved on to Nietzsche, Tillich, Emerson, Thoreau, and then in this last 2 years soaked myself in artists' biographies.

This discussion group you started is incredible. I hope to continue drawing wealth from the scores of creative spirits who are putting in their ideas. I've only been reading these for about 2 1/2 days now, and I'm incredibly busy with my personal schedule (have to speak tomorrow, so I'm still cranking out a manuscript tonight). But I will continue to come back to all of you.

apr 6, 2008, 8:19 pm

DMTripp #49 - Yes, yes, yes!!! It's awful not to be creating.

For me, there's a difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. The nonfiction work is creative enough to keep me pacified. I seem to be better at it than I am at the fiction, or at least, the nonfiction seems to be less difficult to sell. But it's the fiction that puts me in the "zone."

Redigeret: apr 8, 2008, 12:14 pm

I agree, I hate and dread those fallow periods where the pen seems to weigh about forty pounds and my head is as dull as a bowl of plain oatmeal.

No wonder Sherlock Holmes took cocaine between cases...

apr 8, 2008, 11:19 pm

Actually, I was thinking of the times when other obligations press and I can't seem to find the time to bury myself in a good writing project. But, for whatever reason, I hate them!

apr 9, 2008, 1:26 am

Obligations and duties. No wonder successful folk hire managers and reps to deal with such mundanities...

apr 9, 2008, 10:33 am

Boy, you've creative spirits have certainly struck a nerve! I've been divorced from my painting for 5 days now, and currently have a stack of 20 writing portfolios to grade before I can even think of picking up a brush. I do love teaching (but HATE grading), but it's hard to ascertain where my LIFE actually is--when I'm creating, I feel that I am at the heart of it all. But I don't want to sound like a whiner--I don't hate my teaching jobs--just resent when they stack up with such responsibility that I cannot create. Thus suffering and joy comingled. Back to grading . . .

Redigeret: apr 9, 2008, 12:28 pm

I might be able to pull a short story out of the joylessness of grading papers but I'm not sure what sort of painting that would inspire.

I was terrified that having children would seriously cut into my writing time, worried that this would lead to my resenting them. Instead, I found that fatherhood focussed my energies, changed my brain chemistry and made me a better writer. I had to organize myself more effectively so that when the opportunity to write came, I'd be ready. Snipped out much of the procrastination that used to dog me. I tell more tales from kids' points of view and have deeper reservoirs of emotion and experience to draw from since the lads arrived.

So when you do eventually free up that time, DMTripp, don't waste a second, just dive in. Being away from our art makes us treasure it that much more. In its absence if we DON'T ache for it, there's something wrong with us...

apr 9, 2008, 5:12 pm

Great advice, Cliff. Like DMTripp, I also love the teaching but have resented the grading. When you teach so many classes the grading becomes monumental. Many times I just wanted to put my head in my hands and weep from frustration. In fact, I first started my blog back in 2004 as a way to try to reconcile teaching and writing. It's been hard. Things are quite a bit better for me now because I have a 4 class per semester load and I teach strictly literature and creative writing. I feel for you DM. The days in front of the classroom can be glorious though, can't they?

apr 9, 2008, 11:06 pm

Hey, folks, "geneg" points out my darn URL code in my initial post is too long and is screwing up the thread. Can someone suggest a way to patch in a shorter version of the URL address for the link? Lemme know. Gene's right, it's bloody annoying and entirely my fault.

Redigeret: apr 10, 2008, 6:41 pm

See my message 4 above. But it won't do any good; there'll still be the same thing in my message identically long.

New York Times Article

You have to take out the spaces:

Then I'll prolly have to do something.


PS I did the something.

Redigeret: apr 10, 2008, 8:45 am

Cliff, if you follow rdurick's scheme above you will get something like this (depending on your verbiage): Cliff's URL. Nice and short. If you add the >target=_blank immediately after the url and before the

Redigeret: apr 10, 2008, 11:34 am

Thanks for the good word, Cliff. No doubt, teaching has greatly improved me as an artist, and I do indeed draw much inspiration from that arena of ideas that most call the classroom. (But I don't get inspiration from grading.) Much of my "art" is poured into the lectures and dialogues, and then they in turn feed new ideas to me for setting up new compositions. Funny--there are many, many moments when the ideas come tumbling in, and I want to say to the students--"Now, get lost for a couple of weeks. I've got something important to do." When life is good, I do paint in the evenings and on weekends (and sometimes I noodle at a watercolor on my drafting table when students are working on assignments at their desk). And I have to admit--if I didn't have jobs to go to all the time, I could very well be spending a lot of time sitting on my butt, pretending to be composting my next painting, like Hopper did. Maybe I actually get more art completed because of the pressure of not having long spaces of quality time. I do wonder how free-lance artists and writers keep "the drive" going, when they don't have to answer the bell for shift work 40 or so hours a week.

Thanks for your added remarks, Theresa. Yes, the classroom/lecture hall is glorious. Set yourself on fire, and they'll come for miles to watch you burn. I do love watching students catch the fever. And they probably will never know fully how many times I catch the fever from their input and response. In the midst of all my whining, I do need to admit that I teach electives. I don't have recalcitrant students forced on me because of a required course that they happen to despise. They sign up for me if I have them in my room. And that indeed lends itself to a creative environment.

apr 10, 2008, 12:49 pm

The main thing is to work, regardless of the circumstances. And, yes, ideas percolating is definitely an integral part of that process. My wife is an educator and I'm always astonished at how much energy the vocation requires--often she comes home quite exhausted. So I have great sympathy and respect for you for accomplishing what you can, when you can.

Hang in there.

apr 10, 2008, 3:15 pm

Well, Cliff, you tried. That's all you can do.

apr 10, 2008, 4:07 pm

Gene: I don't know if I hate technology or technology hates me...

apr 10, 2008, 6:42 pm

I trimmed the URL's and pseudo HTML in my messages. Does the thread fit your screens now?


apr 10, 2008, 6:43 pm

Great work guys! A lesson for all of us.

apr 10, 2008, 9:31 pm

Well done, I'm glad SOMEBODY around here knows what they're doing with this code stuff. I'm lost at sea, like the ancient mariner...

apr 10, 2008, 10:55 pm

It is not I. I just tried to shut down italics in another thread and couldn't do it.


apr 21, 2008, 1:32 am

two quotes by louise bourgeois:

"Art is a sacrifice of life itself. The artist sacrifices life to art not because he wants to but because he can not do anything else."

"The skeins of wools are a friendly refuge, like a web or a cocoon. The caterpillar gets the silk from his mouth, builds his cocoon and when it is completed he dies. The cocoon has exhausted the animal. I am the cocoon. I have no ego. I am my work."

apr 27, 2008, 1:38 am

Bravo. I like the notion of the involuntary creation of art. Some days I'd rather be doing ANYTHING else. Ditch diggers don't know how good they have it...

apr 27, 2008, 12:47 pm

I've always been moved by that notion of sacrifice--every work of art takes away another piece of the creator's life. When a heavyweight fighter is asked how many fights are left in him, I always wonder how many works remain within me. The Edward Hopper exhibit at Art Institute of Chicago knocked the wind out of me. I viewed it repeatedly over a 3-day visit. The man spent so much time in gestation between pictures (averaged two paintings a year in his final couple of decades). I guess I've fallen into that myself. The past month has seen nothing on paper. But now I have four watercolors in progress, two of them very near completion. I could say that Hopper sparked me, but maybe it was the 30-day gestation period that made these come together rather quickly over a 3-day spurt. I don't know. Even when I'm not literally painting, I'm "thinking out my next picture," as Hopper was fond of saying. I just hope I have many, many years left to push these out. I feel that I am only beginning to understand this medium. At any rate, there is much joy (and suffering toil) in this creative process.

apr 27, 2008, 2:59 pm

#72: I also need a long gestation period before creating a written piece.

apr 27, 2008, 3:01 pm

Cliff, maybe that ditch digger is really an artist! He (or she) digs ditches, a mundane activity, in order to bring an idea to the surface! Lots of artists say they come up with their best ideas while doing a mundance activity, washing dishes, polishing silver, etc.

apr 27, 2008, 11:47 pm

I haven't done the ditch digging, but I was a welder at night when I worked my way through grad school. And I certainly wrote a lot of papers under the hood during all those night hours of solitude and steel. It was a good "composting" time that probably paid off better than writing on note cards late in the library. However, I concur with your point--all the other welders were thinking only of supper and TV while they were working (or so they said). There didn't seem to be anyone on that night shift with whom to discuss ideas and the things that really matter.

apr 28, 2008, 2:50 am

I know, but don't you just wonder about what the men really were thinking about under those hoods? I always wonder about stuff like that. Some people just don't know how to express their thoughts and dreams, but they still have them. The word for it is inchoate--not yet made complete, certain, or specific : not perfected.

apr 28, 2008, 9:35 am

On the subject of what they were thinking about under their hoods, here's a comic:

Strange Brew, 17 May 2005.

apr 28, 2008, 5:20 pm

#77: I LOVE IT!!!!

apr 28, 2008, 7:57 pm

>77 ambushedbyasnail:

hehehe, i'm forwarding this one.