Years ago I was talking to a writer friend about her craft. She wrote professionally and reflected that in her profession, you often have to “kill your darlings.” This refers to the sad reality (at least for the one doing the writing) that very often, your most dear and (at least to you) poignant words can end up on the floor of the editor. Sometimes you are your own editor, sometimes there’s someone paid to edit your work for you. When you do the cutting, there’s a momentary sense of loss that’s followed by the assurance of knowing that shorter is very often better. When someone else brings down the axe, it’s kind of like someone killing your dog.
I don’t say, of course, that it’s like someone killing their child. Nothing is like losing a child. I made the mistake once of comparing losing my dog to someone else losing their child and my sister-in-law about blew a gasket. However, when you or an editor decides something you wrote and thought enough of to include in the original piece has to go, there is a part of you that weeps. Just a little. Like at the end of a Disney movie.
And that is the magic inherent in creating something. A friend of mine recently lost her mother and in a recent blog post, she asserted the absolute necessity of art in expressing human emotion. In her case, the grief she was suffering in losing her mom absolutely had to come out and writing and playing her clarinet was how she did it. If she didn’t, the grief would well up inside her and eventually, she would blow her own gasket. This is just me talking, but I think in a vast number of people, suppression of human emotion, any emotion, can lead to a far worse end: dissolution. If you don’t write, sculpt, paint, photograph or vocalize through music what is occupying, consuming or indeed overcoming your mind and heart, one of the worst fates that can await a person will come to fruition. The pain becomes dull. The joy becomes a pleasant smile. The elation becomes “oh, wasn’t that nice.” We cease to really feel the breadth of the human experience in the way that we are hard-wired for. When we create, the resulting song or meal or blog post is obviously the desired goal. But being mindful of why you are doing it and what it’s doing for you is the whole bloody point. Whether the song or meal or blog post is good is a very distant second to ensuring that it is real.
And oh so often, a more sinister fate awaits the artist. By the way, I use the word “artist” liberally because it should be used liberally. Writers write. Painters paint. Photographers take photos. Anyone who spouts off that unless your article is published in Maxim, your photo appears in Rolling Stone or your sculpture is not on exhibit at the Guggenheim, you are not a writer/photographer/sculptor is one of two things: 1) A jerk 2) jealous that they don’t have the courage themselves to engage in the simple act of creation. And we are not born with this lack of courage. In my case, I have a family and, let’s face it, the inclination, to try out many forms of creative expression. I write. I have since I was a kid and I think I’m pretty good. I can play piano a little and would get a lot better if I had the time to devote to that path. I took a sculpture class in college and my work in that class could most generously be described as horrific. I take photos with a digital camera and my phone that would prompt professional photographers to pat me on the head and give me an Oreo. At my age, I know what I’m good at and I cultivate those passions and almost exclusively those passions.
An article I read recently at The HuffPost page on Facebook posited that those who write with a degree of regularity often enjoy better sleep, less stress, are less prone to depression and sometimes develop x-ray vision and occassional super-human strength. Okay, I made that last part up, but I think the same principle holds for all art forms. It extends to cooking, quilting and all manner of other endeavors where the artist takes a handful of raw materials (a pen and paper, a clarinet, a digital camera or a table full of ingredients) and uses them to create something that is often times so beautiful that it makes your heart ache just to think about it. And even if it isn’t all that beautiful and in fact sucks watermelons, just the act of doing it, of writing the poem, of writing or playing the song, or even something as seemingly silly as building a sand castle or dancing in the kitchen yields the sense of creating something wholly your own. Nobody else built that sand castle and added that maiden’s tower. You did that. Nobody else two-stepped with the dog to Barbara Sreisand. You did. And that’s why the dog is smiling.
And not to belabor the point, but I’ll close with this. Don’t ever listen to anybody else but the muse in your soul when it’s begging to be exalted. I’ve said it many, many times and here’s one more because dammit it needs repeating over and over again. As Stevie Wonder said, when they try to burst your bubble, its cuz they have none of their own. In the case of art, even if the muse is singing at a whisper, lean in and listen and let it become a choir’s song.