12. The Artist’s Way, The Writer’s Life

I am “growing into” the idea and image of a writer’s life. This is slow and not entirely comfortable, but the discomfort and distance are gradually diminishing. When I was doing my artwork as a painter and printmaker, young and in college, and even more so when I took it up again forty years later, everywhere I looked I saw art – compositions of line and shape and color, patterns taking form like visual poems. Everywhere I looked, I saw art offering itself –  wantonly, utterly uninhibited and unashamed, right out in plain sight.

Now that I’ve begun to seriously write, everywhere I look I see stories; they form into pictures and colors and thoughts and rich feelings, constantly manifesting in words rushing along like rivers. But now I am making more than pictures or pieces of visual art; I am building something, or at least that’s what I’m seeking to do, or it is seeking me.

Writing this book, I’m building a dimensional structure that has volume and depth and spaces that can be inhabited or traveled through– places that someone else can journey through, not with me of course; it’s too late for that, but after me.

When I read about Vincent van Gogh’s life, I could feel the deep existential loneliness of it. He was given so little, except genius. Very little skill or aptitude for navigating the physical world, but instead an astonishing soul and inner life that tortured him and demanded to be expressed.

And so he did that – expressed his gifts into his life and his world that so tragically rejected it, and rejected him. He had a few artist friends who respected him, even though they were as puzzled by his nature as everyone else was, and a brother who was probably the only one in his life who ever loved him. All of the others living in his world, in his time, could not understand or accept either his mind or his art. Now the whole world does, and his paintings that were all unsold in his lifetime, now are sold and resold for hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s just as well,” my grandmother would say (who was very wise). He couldn’t have handled the strain, the challenges, and the emotions of success or fame; he could barely handle (and some would say, not) the small solitary life he had in the physical world, because his soul’s life was so immense.

Even though he knew who he was, and what he had to do, he was never comfortable “in his skin” or in his identity as an artist.  And even though I’m not troubled by even the remotest possibilty of genius, I too am not yet comfortable with the identity of “writer” as a life purpose, but I recognize that it has claimed me. I know my soul is in on this, and resistance will ultimately be futile and only waste time. And so, for better or for worse, I surrender.

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