Guest Blogger Amanda McTigue . . .
I’ll confess with some dismay that contrary to the many uplifting articles and memoirs I have read about the serenity of older age, it continues to elude me. Serenity, that is, not the march of years across my face, kneecaps and pelvic floor muscles.
I’m looking forward to any later-in-life serenity that may come my way. Indeed, I practice all kinds of meditations and mantras and daily exercises, etc., to invite it in. But my emotional set point tends to be what it’s always been: low-level (self)doubt.
That’s the place whence I write. If that’s true for you, let me offer some slant wisdom here from some fellow artists. Take Tatiana Maslany. You may have seen her in a futuristic TV show called “Orphan Black” in which she plays (gorgeously!) multiple clones of herself. She’s a hell of a young actor, and here she quotes one of the great dancer/choreographers, Martha Graham:
“It is not your business to determine how good [your work] is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open… There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching, and makes us more alive than the others.”
Snaps to Ms. Graham and Ms. Maslany.
Or here’s a writer I love, Peter Schjeldahl, describing the work of the painter Albert Oehlen. I know next to nothing about the visual arts, but I always look for Mr. Schjeldahl’s columns in The New Yorker because I love the ways in which he helps me see things:
“Oehlen’s process has evinced endless sorts of borderline-desperate improvisation—until a painting isn’t finished, exactly, but somehow beyond further aid. He told me, ‘People don’t realize that when you are working on a painting, every day you are seeing something awful.’”
“Divine dissatisfaction.” “Blessed unrest.” “Beyond further aid.” These are my kinds of people.
Good work, great work, and certainly awful work: it all comes out of whatever souls we’ve been assigned. While I wait for serenity to grace my days, I write. Often the moments before addressing the page are filled with dread, needless dread, yes, but it’s my dread. It doesn’t matter. I write. This is something I’ve taught myself. You can too. When my unrest isn’t “blessed,” my rule is, write it, don’t read it. Not yet. If I think things need fixing, they’ll get fixed later, but in the moment, I write. I slap it down. Just the way I’m doing here about slapping it down.
I’ll cop to a suspicion I carry—really something closer to superstition. I wonder whether my unrest is precisely what makes me productive. You may wonder the same. But let’s let the rest of the world chatter over that one, while we get to the page.
Confident or not, joyous or dread-filled, I’m going to go ahead and climb into the boat I keep tethered right here at my desk. I’m going to untie that hitch and launch. Some days I motor out. Some days I just drift. But out I go, untethered to how I feel about the work. The feelings may come with me, or not. Either way. Out we go. So be it. I’m writing.
Dickinson, Emily. Tell all the truth but tell it slant. Poem #1263.
Loofbourow, Lili. (2015, April 5). Anywoman. The New York Times
Schjeldahl, Peter. (2015, June 22). Painting’s Point Man. The New Yorker
Amanda will be the March 17 Writers Forum Presenter: Writing Emotion: How Do You Catch a Cloud and Pin it Down?
Amanda’s novel, Going to Solace, was cited by public radio KRCB’s literary program “Word by Word” as a Best Read of 2012. She holds the West Side Stories Petaluma championship for live storytelling (2013 and 2014). She also makes regular appearances with the monthly “Get Lit” gathering at Petaluma’s Corkscrew Wine Bar. She’s just returned from Cuba where she was researching her second novel. In 2016-17, she’ll be directing “The Magic Flute” at Sonoma State University.
Amanda; Thanks for touching on the serenity of old age myth. As our blessed bodies go through the inevitable process of softening here, and tightening there (always in the wrong places) it’s important to keep our unique slant on things. I call it my edge, and I hope to have it on the day I keel over at my desk and impale myself on my Waterman fountain pen. I like the image of untethering to drift away from self criticism. Doing that requires trust and a kind of confidence— in yourself and your craft. When you get out there don’t forget to wave to all your friends onshore.
Alas, I will be in Los Angeles on the day of your Forum talk, but I’m sure you will dazzle all in attendance— as per usual.
I LOL’ed at the image of impaling on your Waterman fountain pen. Well said! We can take turns waving from “out there” on the water. Hope LA is energizing and fun. Thanks for checking in here.
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