Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding My Way

Not all arts are created equal. Some, like cooking or acting, are essentially social activities—think Mama Celeste spreading her arms and exclaiming “Abbondanza!” to the crowd at her dining table. Others, like composing music or painting, are intensely personal. Ninety-five percent of the creative process takes place inside the head of the artist, where no one else can see or help, or even unravel the mysterious mechanics of it.

I am a writer. My talent is one of those inward, solitary pursuits. I’m uniquely suited for it: I am fine by myself, even crave time alone with my own thoughts. I don’t like to be bossed; nor do I particularly care for being the boss. I work best on my own time, at my own speed, without distraction or interruption. I’m a deep and obsessive thinker. So, as it turned out, my brand of creative muse did not transfer well to an outward, social art. I don’t know why I thought it would.

I honestly thought that I could be successful with my own restaurant. I believed that, being of a creative bent, I could succeed at any endeavor that called for creativity. In the end, I proved myself utterly wrong. Not just because I was unsuited for sociable art. There was also the matter of passion. I knew and freely admitted that food was not my passion. I should have known I was setting myself up to fail.

Because we right-brained types are passionate. We are not low-key…we don’t fade into the background and make do with whatever pabulum life presents to us. That passion affects everything we do; even when we are not making use of our True Gifts. Because of that, I couldn’t be satisfied with running a restaurant that was just “okay.” Pretty decent, in fact, under the circumstances. But it was not great. It wasn’t even good (to my standards); and that, ultimately, drove me crazy. And I could not, by force of my own will, turn it into what I needed it to be to make me happy. I didn’t have the magic. I didn’t eat, sleep and breathe it, couldn’t go to that transcendent place where we artists are most complete. The result: Five years spent misdirecting my passion and spinning my wheels.

Awhile back, during my first year of restaurant ownership, I wrote something to the effect that I had chosen the restaurant as the outlet for my public creativity because I was too protective of my real passion. I truly believed there was no way I could ever put my real work out there, to be judged by the general population. I felt I could never disrespect it enough to tweak it or homogenize it in order to sell it. I would end up destitute, if the rejection didn’t kill me first.

But my effort to make a living by pouring all my creative life-force into something that was not my true gift failed miserably, and I’m left sitting at the end of a long detour that took me nowhere. Perhaps not nowhere, exactly, but certainly not to a place of joy and fulfillment. The place one finds oneself considering she should, by all rights, BE by the time she has reached her sixth decade of life. Or at least have been close enough to hear the music from the party.

In some ways, my attitude toward my talent has been formed by the society in which I live. Life is all about making money, isn’t it? What good is artistic fervor? Is it likely to put food on the table? When I was young, back in the days when it was time for me to decide what I would Do With My Life, there was no question that a Liberal Arts degree and a dime might buy a cup of coffee. Tacitly discouraging the college option, my parents pressed us girls to learn those great staple skills relegated to women in the 20th-century workplace: typing and shorthand. Get a “good” office job. “It’s a foot in the door,” my dad always said. As if a female foot in that door would have got anything but trampled by the crowds of men pushing through it.

Not that any of that mattered to me. My typing was miserable; shorthand was laughable to someone whose penmanship was erratic to the point of illegibility. (It seemed my mind was always going faster than my hand could follow…) But I got a job, because that’s what you did back then. Mine happened to be in a local high school hang-out pizza parlor. I enjoyed a modicum of success there. I did well. I made friends. I made money. And I clung to that industry for the next thirty-eight years. It was safe. It gave me an identity. It bought what I needed. It gave me a “pass” to keep me from going off in pursuit of what I really loved.

I have finally, I think, reached the expiration of that pass. I’m fifty-six years old, and I’m sitting on my suitcase with my head on my fist, wondering how now to get back to the right road, or at least a righter road, without wasting too much more of the time I have left. Which could be forty years, for all I know.

What I do know is that there has been a sea change in the way I view my talent, my intimate relationship with the written word. Yes, there are still a billion and six writers out there, a billion and five of whom are probably more successful than I could ever dream of being. And yes, the pressure to profit from one’s talent is still there—if anything, to a greater extent than ever existed when I was young. Everything is “extreme” now, isn’t it? It’s not just a matter of making a living doing what you love. You have to strike it rich; if you don’t make it straight to Oprah’s Book Club, you cannot possibly call yourself a writer.

Maybe I’m lucky; because at this point in my life, I’m perfectly willing and able to call “bullshit” on that line of thinking. I AM a writer. And my understanding of that fact, after half-a-lifetime of keeping it in my back pocket or waving at it from afar, is that I write because it is what I do. It is who I am. It is the part of the Great Spirit of the Universe that has been entrusted to me.

And you don’t treat that lightly. You approach it with awe and reverence, with joy and anticipation, with faith that the Spirit that is of you and in you will be sated simply through the act of recognizing, honoring and using that gift. It’s really not important that the general public understand or accept the words. My job—my joy and fulfillment—is to write them.


  1. Sometimes I read what you write then I sit here...hands hovering over the keys, overwhelmed. How do I respond to something so insightful, eloquent, and full of passion as this? There is no comment...I want to have an in depth discussion! You made numerous points that deserve so much more than a "comment".

    Which proves your WERE born to write. Write for whatever audience you choose Lisa. Write for yourself, write for us or write for the world but WRITE! Not only do you have something to say, you have the talent to say it brilliantly.

  2. Lisa, not only are you a writer, but one of the best I read, and that includes all the published books, magazine articles, and poems that I read. Exercising that talent is its own reward. I've been encouraged by others that my talent could be used for more than it has and should reach more people. Is it true for me? I don't know. I still struggle too much and wonder if it's worth the cost of constantly having to sell. I believe that many, many people would benefit from your writing, so write on, keep up this blog and if you want to find other avenues that bring you joy, do that. But write on and rest secure in your generous talent.