Sunday, July 22, 2012

Confessions of a Tortured Artist--from three years ago.


"Life, friends, is boring," John Berryman wrote in his famous poem, Dream Song #14. In his next breath, he warns: “We must not say so.”

Berryman's mother apparently told him, as he reports, “Ever to confess you’re bored means you have no Inner Resources.” It never fails to amuse me that Berryman’s next line is the self-deprecating and obviously just plain wrong, “I conclude now I have no Inner Resources because I am heavy bored.”

I love this poem because I know exactly what Berryman means. (Or meant.) I get incredibly bored sometimes and find myself just puttering or wasting time reading the same old online news sites, and yet, I definitely have plenty to do. I have, actually, an all-too-active inner life plus a ridiculously full schedule (raising two children, teaching) that takes care of the outside. Why, then, the ennui?

I have determined the source of my feelings of boredom/depression (and one could certainly argue, I think, that they are one and the same, and that Berryman is actually writing about feeling empty, despite what he has, and what he knows).

I think that the emptiness, and sometimes hopelessness, stems from the constant nagging sense I have that, despite all my efforts, despite a spate of talent and good intentions, I am simply not living up to my potential. Somewhere along the way, I fear that I fell behind. I wonder if I will ever catch up. I wonder if I will live to realize any big success at all.

What my Potential is, I am not quite sure. I just know that it has something to do with artistic expression. It has to do with producing a body of work that, somehow, lives on.

*Note: three years after writing this, I have one book that's just released (The Beautiful Anthology). and another set to release (Too Cool for School). I have still have two novels on thumbdrives: the "surefire award-winners" as my agent said, but then never tried to sell because "no one is buying anything." I was despondent about two years ago, thinking about my novel Pretty Freaky languishing on her Kindle while I waited months and months for the Big Decision about whether or not the agency would try to sell. But now I realize that I can't depend on anyone else to set me up. I have to take control. I am not at the mercy of commercial publishing's lack of taste, or the vagaries of the market. Hell, I worked in commercial publishing! I know how this thing works. I am the master of my fate--no one else is.

I have plenty of work I’ve produced, that’s for sure. The question is: will anyone see it? Will I influence anyone positively? Will my existence make a difference in the world?  (*Guess what? Done and done. Yay for me. It will only get better from here.)

I don’t want to be the person who spends her vacation time cleaning closets or organizing seasonal clothes. I know many people who report that’s what they did for three days, and then they were "bored and had nothing to do.” I could find a million things to do. I would be so happy to have extra time to think. And yet, I know even that would not be enough and that it would get old quickly. I would still have the persistent, lingering fear, feel the painful, haunting twinge that tells me I am, perennially, lacking.

Consciously, I know it is a blessing to have both the urge to make a difference and the ability to create lasting art. But it is also a burden. It weighs on me. It pressures me. It makes me feel at once both superior and inferior. In the end, I am stuck with mediocre, and to me, that’s not good enough.

I want to exceed expectations, including my own. I want something good to come out of what was difficult. As Berryman did, I hope to take the dull and transform it into something meaningful and lasting, something that speaks to other people fifty years from now.

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