Red Flag Words for Artists: relax, embrace, journey

“Find yourself a quiet spot, a good chair. Make a space for yourself, for your thoughts. Just relax and begin.”

There is nothing relaxing about writing.  It is fraught with a splendid or even frustrating tension between what you think you are saying and what actually ends up on the paper. I won’t say that there aren’t times when you get to feel supremely zoned as if you are on automatic, but those times come unbidden and disappear once noticed.  They have less to do with “relaxing” and more to do with serendipity.  Enjoy them. But don’t depend on them. Instead, get used to dragging yourself to the nearest surface, clear off the laundry or the monthly bills and do something.

I had a long career as an actress.  There was a here was plenty of “just relax” advice bouncing off the walls.  It never worked for me. Stepping from the dark onto the stage and into the light in front of a theatre filled with complete strangers put me on alert. I was “on call” till the curtain came down. Nothing stirs the senses more than the threat or promise of risk.  It raises the stakes and that makes what you do, worth it.  Art is risky, a disturbance.  Should you manage to achieve the exhaustingly over-rated state of “relaxation” I would suggest you be on guard against its close cousin, “ennui.”

“Writing is a journey that takes you on the road to discovery and enlightenment.”

Suggesting writing as a journey is altogether too pre-planned and packaged for my taste.  I see a pilgrim sort of person, wearing loose fitting garments, carrying a walking stick and a small bundle just about to crest a hill all confident, wide-eyed and eager to see what is over the next rise. (Oh yes, wearing a boxy homemade hat.)  Conversely, a “journey” viewed from completion has an air of smugness about it. Life is not an animated feature.  On its own, day to day, year to year, and generation upon generation what we experience, what we imagine is much more haphazard and demanding of vigorous language.  Words like slogging, trudging, tramping, staggering, tottering are much more suited to the daily experience and struggle of the ordinary artist no matter the discipline.  No one among us can imagine where we will go, what we will be, what we will see and endure.  What we live is random filled with alarming losses and unexpected gains all of which cry out for specificity. Too much writing about writing or any of the arts, romanticizes what is more often just plain hard work that can often bring out the worst in a person.  As for “discovery” and “enlightenment” I would be grateful to have simply stayed “upright” and “curious.”

“Just embrace your fears.”

This suggestion has never appealed to me. It’s far too up close and forgiving, completely lacking in substance and muscle.  “Embrace” fears?   I don’t think so.  Fears are not affectionate, they are designed for confrontation and questioning. Sometimes, they even require us to run away. They matter. Wouldn’t you far rather dive into those bad boys and have to tussle, get some leverage going, burn a little?   Besides there are far too many circumstances and people I am beyond embracing for good reasons.  The lingo that springs up around art and creativity is cliché.  The work of art and craft is anything but, and deserves better.