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Monday, July 8, 2013

On genius, daemons and amusing muses (reprint from my Facebook oped)

When I was a kid and people talked about my "gifts"  as if I were a monkey savant. Rarely was there praise for what I did, because it was a gift after all, and not something I'd actually worked for and no one wanted it "going to my head". Agnes could sing, could draw, do all manner of things in a surprising manner (so much so that if I was too "good" at it they took it away because it was "unnatural"). The adults deliberately praised other's abilities and rarely heard about my own, again that "swelled head." 

There were tons of missed opportunities, and nurturing any talents I had was lackdaisickle at best. I worked hard, and if I wanted my "gifts" to grow, I was the one that invested in the money, time and effort. On this side of the fence, precious little was given to me, because the other side of the fence had stacked the deck, so it seemed.

To say I was a pissed off kid and young adult would be an understatement.

There were many other dark and dire sitiuations in my life that made my art a necessary tool to survival. But you wouldn't know that by my art. My truths and realities and thoughts and feelings were far too large or far too underground for me to instill into anything my hands created. 

I detested the dank and dirty, the moldy and decaying of life, I wanted only to reflect the glowing and the affirming. I wanted--- want to only uplift, move on, move forward, do well, seek approval, BE LOVED.

As I grew up upon moving out, I wrestled with the idea of my art(s) being other than myself or being so totally me, that was how I defined myself. (Motherhood and my art, that's me, I dunno if I'll ever be able to see myself differently). I was able to acknowledge that often times it DOES feel like something other than me. 

A case in point for a project I hope to bring to fruition this year. Duke Day for Annie.

A life-time in the making. A friendship, lots of conversations, admiration, I sat with Ann when she sang at Deli One often times, and later, my young daughters and I would visit her at the Barron's Center. Talking about another project (Sara LeClere, my midgrade novel, yep still in progress) I was chatting on a message board with friends about the sources for the characters and was talking about Ann and her family and how they'd informed my character Teedie and her family. A few pointed out that there most definitely a book in Ann's story. The more I thought about it, the more I realized they were right.

I interviewed her, took notes, drew some drawings. Motherhood, the loss of my mother and bunches of other things interfered. 

Besides, what qualified me to tell her story? I mean yeah, I loved and intimately knew Old Orchard Beach. I knew, loved and understood Annie.  I wasn't black though (yet we shared white and Native American roots), I hadn't lived during the Depression (but  I could SEE it, FEEL it, from lots of conversations with my grandmother and others of her generation). And I wasn't a REAL writer. 

Was I?

I went to work as a seasonal in hopes of being hired permanently (nope) at L.L. Beans. I ran into someone who knew Ann too, had worked at Deli One. Decided to bring in the working dummy to show him (he'd been an English Major way back when). I brought it in and showed him and he said "Yes it is sad, she died."I'd lost touch with her and had no idea. She'd died two days prior and her obituary was in the paper that day. I could feel myself get progressively sick from that moment on. By the time I got home I was massively ill. Within a day I was delirious with fever. I dunno if it was guilt or what. I remember though just being totally preoccupied with the fact that Ann had died and I hadn't known about it. And the lack of momentum of this project. Realize also I very rarely get a fever, but if I do, I should seek medical care (nope, didn't). Sometime, somewhere in the middle of the delirium a crystal thought, feeling, SOMETHING came to me. It was my story to tell, and Hillel echoed in my ears "If not me, then WHO?"  

Then the first line came to me "Sun's up, Out of bed!"

The fever broke shortly after that and I've been working on it since. I dream or zone a lot of my work and ideas. So I DO work hard, but I also think this is a gift.

I've always been fearful people would find me a fraud. I don't know if that came from the fact that people treat me like a savant (I guess my outer demeanor and appearance is a weird reconcile to what they think of my work). Or whatever this thing that has been with me my whole life would decide to abandon me and I'm alone. I lost my singing voice (though I sing out of spite sometimes still). I see all kinds of things and usually differently, so it's been a strange wobbly line, this life of mine and I didn't know if I wanted to forget about it, or just embrace the difficult, the challenge, the fear or what I am-- different. Hence all this posts about embracing the fear. Yup, I decided.

Some have liked me BECAUSE of my gifts. My husband's first thoughts when I told him I sang and drew was "SURE, ya do!"  He said he was pleasantly surprised because I actually did what I said I did. Of course there's been no money in it, and in this economy, that's a hard sell for a hard working man. The addendum to this post has been the marriage hasn't survived, and the double dog dare is to not let anger run my life. I've not been as successful at that one as I'd like to be.

But a friend just shared a clip from TED (I'll share it here too), and it was a little more of the transformation I hope to achieve at this point in my life. I'd been RESENTFUL of my muse, genius, daemon. I'd not honored that part of my soul, that aperture if it's not a part of me, then what let's that in, AT ALL. I've been so fearful and driven to try to find a way out of our dire financial straits I've just chased my bushy tail around in ever tightening circles. I've allowed other people to belittle me to the point where, even now, I struggle with not feeling a failure and worthless, when that isn't even MINE. I've always known I'm not, but have surrounded myself with poison fruit so I've never strayed far from the tether upon my neck, the making of pretty things.

Except my life has been far too rich for that. There are times I've been in the mire. Stood in the manure. Mucked through the decay. You can't have beauty without ALL of the experience. I've been derisive of "pretty" because it has little meaning. But beauty is something we can all see, accept, acknowledge and it actually has meaning to us. 

Listening to Elisabeth Gilbert speak opened up something. Perhaps I am able to do the things I do not only because I'm remarkable, but because I see the remarkable in ALL that I see. And perhaps that is my purpose. Perhaps the genie that has fled, whether it's of me or out of me, will come and stand next to my heart if I start telling my truth and let the feelings shine. And perhaps if that works, that is my purpose. I've met so many who cloud their glow as I have done. It's sad when one loves thugs and browbeaters, because if they have the upperhand you WILL be beaten down if you stay. But if thugs and browbeaters learn to love themselves, then perhaps they can become the shining heros they were meant to be. For now, I've turned down the path of the road less taken, and my muse accompanies me, more and more often.