Thursday, May 1, 2008

Showing Up for the Muse


I've been thinking a lot lately about Tilly. If you don't know Tilly or her art work, you should, especially if you live in the Hudson Valley. Check out her blog, Showing Up for the Muse at tillystudio.blogspot.com. Tilly taught art at Kildonan for a long time and then retired from teaching to pursue her own art full time. I love Tilly's art, but at the moment, it is her dedication that I find inspirational. In the spirit of Albert Einstein, who said that genius is 98% perspiration and 2% inspiration, she decided to challenge herself to complete a painting each day, regardless of what is going on in her life. The philosophy is that you can't sit around waiting for inspiration. At minimum, you have to be present in order to make it happen: you have to show up for the Muse. That philosophy has recently begun to have enormous effects on my life.

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I wrote tiny poems and stereotypical stories with relish. I continued in high school; I read voraciously, kept notebooks and journals of quotations I enjoyed, and continued to write poetry. In college, I took a poetry writing course on a lark and loved it; it forced me to share my work with others, open myself to constructive criticism, and value the processes of editing and rewriting. Before I graduated, I even submitted a few poems to my school's literary journals and was thrilled to see my name, and my poetry, in print. Even though I studied psychology, when people asked what I wanted "to do," I always replied "what I REALLY want to do is write."

And the rest, as they say, is history. I graduated, came to work at Kildonan, wrote about 3 poems and gave it all up. Periodically during those 21 years, I wondered why I quit writing. Occasionally, I started a journal or read a book about writing, and then I drifted back to my everyday life. I continued to catch myself saying "..., but what I really want to do is write." I was good at generating excuses: I don't have time; what do I have to write about; who cares what I have to say. But I didn't write anything.

Then, I discovered The Yarn Harlot. I loved reading about Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's experiences with knitting and her stories about her family, and I found the photographs irresistible. I checked in daily to see what was going on in her life, and I began reading her books. Soon, I had whole roster of blogs to keep up with (too many actually). Some were about knitting, but many focused on parents' experiences raising children. I rediscovered Tilly's blog. Even though I didn't venture to comment on any of those blogs, I felt a sense of community there; I found people who were experiencing what I was: potty training, insufficient time for knitting, lack of free time, difficulty juggling motherhood and work. And I began to think "I could do this." Without knowing if I would actually stick with it, I began this blog on February 28; this is my 35th entry (counting these words of brilliance, "Hah! It's a blog.") I still don't know if I will stick with this, or if anything will come of it in terms of turning me into a "writer," but 35 efforts is pretty substantial for me. I understand you have to engage in a new activity at least 15 times to make it a habit, so I'm optimistic.

I may never become a writer in a professional sense, but I adopted Tilly's philosophy. If I don't show up, I'll remain firmly on my course of not becoming a writer. If I show up, I have a fighting chance. It sounds simple, but it is life changing.
As I mentioned in a previous post, writing releases a part of my personality that is otherwise held captive in my introversion. That change is perhaps the most important. I've also discovered that the more I write, the more I want to write. I am beginning to crave time to write; on the days that I don't write, I feel like I am missing a piece of myself. Maybe this summer, I'll take the Tilly challenge and attempt to write every day for a month. I have become pathologically attached to my laptop. I sneaked it to Vermont with me when Jamie and I went away; I think at first he thought I wanted to surf the web for two days. The truth was that I needed it in case I wanted to do some writing. A few weeks back, the IT guy at school (he's SOOO much more than 'the IT guy at school' - forgive me Stephen) took my laptop overnight to install a new operating system. The next day, I confessed that I felt naked without it. I began a list of things I want to write about; it's in my pocket as we speak. I am even going to procure a tiny notebook so I can write down (tediously, by hand) ideas that occur to me throughout the day. And also very important (and paradoxical for this introvert), the more I write, the more I want to share what I have to say. I don't know if any of this makes me a writer, and it's certainly not padding my savings account, although it does, without a doubt, make me a person who writes.

I'm having a blast! Thanks for sharing my 35th post with me. I hope that you will all keep showing up to read as long as I keep showing up to write; maybe, just maybe, I'll write the next, great American young adult novel that will convert all dyslexic reluctant readers to readers...you just never know.

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