Friday, July 13, 2012

The Loneliest Art

By Susan

I'm a student of writing— I repeat it like a mantra every time something surprises me. Every time I get kicked in the pants by my own mistakes, or stumbles, or humbling moments. I am a neophyte, a sophomore, a virgin; I am traipsing through a publishing field of wolves dressed like little red riding hood. Call me what you will as I skip through the forest, I'll just keep skipping. In ways, my naivete has been my friend—cradling me blissfully across a chasm I should probably fear. Yet at other times, my ignorance humbles me. I pray for an epiphany that never comes. I stop skipping and look around me, realizing that I am a fool.
It's not the words that kick me in the pants— even though I struggle with the prose like any other writer. It's not what others say, their acceptance or rejection, not necessarily. The biggest thing that gets me is that I am alone. The only product I am selling is me, and I don't always trust myself. Is this any good? Am I okay? I ask myself.  Am I wasting my time? Am I a failure? The wolves look at me and shrug their hunched shoulders as the sky darkens around us. We don't know, they answer. Are you?
Wednesday night, my daughter and I went to a collaborative painting class. Twelve of us sat in a circle, each with a blank canvas.  For two minutes, we made our first marks—bright splashes of paint, wide swaths of color. Then we shifted the canvas to our left and added to the painting resting in front of us. At the end of two hours, we'd passed the paintings around the circle three times, and we each had a mini-Monet in front of us—a community splash of color, movement and dance.
There was no intention. The paintings were wild explosions of blooms, vines, rainbows. As we painted, we talked about things like community, and sharing, and intention. We touched on ideas of how art brings people together, and how working alone isn't the only way to create something.
I thought about my writing, of course, and how lonely I've felt lately, standing in that field, encircled by the wolves. I thought about my writing community: my writing group and critique partners, my agent and her assistant, my mother and sisters, my husband, and my new editor: all the people who are with me in my little journey to write. Even though the words are my own, I wouldn't have gotten this far without the support from my community of writers, friends, and family. I've passed my manuscript around the table to other writers I admire, asking for their feedback, desperate for their approval. Some gave sweeping advice, others just suggested adding a little yellow here or a little blue there. Yet with every tweak from anyone who touched the pages, I made the final call.
I'm toughening up, perhaps. Maybe I'm graduating to a different level of writer—I'm still green, but maybe less so than before. Writing is a lonely business, but it is also a collaboration. A mix of my perspective, focus and creation, brushed by the people who love me and love what I am doing.
After the painting class, I had a flash of epiphany—the one I'd been hoping for. I wrote a two page summary and sent it off to my agent, feeling buoyant, lifted by the idea that I wasn't as alone as I thought. "I've gotten side-tracked over the course of my edits," I wrote. "Here's what this book is about, after all." And although I am still the only one writing this manuscript, the wolves retreat at the scent of my community. They are the ones holding me up.

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