“Do what we can, summer will have its flies.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
A small collection of total nonsense . . .
↑This is a real thing, folks . . .
Late addition . . .
I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.
I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.
In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.
But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:
Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.
Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.
These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.
To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.
Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.
I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.
I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.
So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.
But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.
Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.
Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.
Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.
Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible, a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.
Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.
It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.
On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:
More later. Peace.
How many times have you looked at someone you do not know and made assumptions about that person based on the way that he or she looks? How often do you see a woman in ill-fitting clothes or with a bad hairstyle and think to yourself that she should take better care of herself? Have you ever been in line at the grocery store and noticed that the person in front of you is wearing out-of-date clothes and shoes and is a little overweight? Did you make assumptions about this person, or perhaps, increase the space between yourself and the other person?
If I am going to ask you these questions, then it is only fitting that I answer them. Yes, I have made assumptions about people based upon their physical appearance. Yes, I have thought to myself, “why doesn’t she do something with her hair?” or “she would be more attractive if she lost some weight.”
But then I will catch myself and think, “who am I to judge?” I could stand to lose some extra pounds myself. I’ve run out of the house in sweatpants and an old t-shirt, my hair in a pony tail. I’ve gone into stores feeling very self-conscious because I know that I don’t look particularly great, but I needed a gallon of milk.
Harsh though it may be, scientific studies have proven that physical appearance makes a difference in the amount of money you earn, how you are treated by physicians, how educators react to you, and even whether or not you make partner.
According to a CNN article by Kate Lorenz, “Do Pretty People Earn More?” the facts show that attractive students get more attention and higher evaluations from their teachers, good-looking patients get more personalized care from their doctors, and handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts.”*
So what does this mean to individuals in society who do not resemble Daniel Craig or Angelina Jolie? Dr. Gordon Patzer has made it his life’s work to study attractiveness and its role in human behavior. According to Patzer,
“Human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people . . . Good-looking men and women are generally judged to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts . . . People go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.”
This societal preference for attractiveness is called the halo effect, due to the association with the perfection of angels. The halo effect occurs when an individual is influenced by a person’s strengths, weaknesses, physical appearance, behavior, or any other single factor.
Whether or not it is fair, research shows that attractive people also have more occupational success and more dating experience than their unattractive counterparts. Attractive people tend to be more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular—probably because they have received better treatment from their teachers, their peers, and their bosses.
But let us pause for a moment. How many persons of note in history actually do not fall into the beautiful people category? Albert Einstein certainly wasn’t an attractive man, with his bushy eyebrows and unruly hair. Bill Gates, one of the wealthiest and most generous men in the world is what most people would describe as ordinary. Peter Jackson, a genius in the film world, resembled a hobbit when he made Lord of the Rings; but even he felt compelled to lose weight.
Is physical beauty truly necessary to be successful, to be considered extraordinary? I don’t believe so. Think about it. What about intelligence? Does anyone ever say, “Oh, her brain is so beautiful”? No. But shouldn’t they if they are really going to look at a woman or a man and judge her/him?
Why am I pondering this point? I was reading an article about a Scottish woman who appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent,” the UK’s version of “America’s Got Talent.” The judges for this program are the ever-snarky Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan (who also judges on the U.S. version), and Amanda Holden, an English actress who is mostly recognized for her television appearances.
A brief lesson for those of you who do not follow the show: Contestants apply from all over the country to be finalists on the show. In the initial rounds, the three judges watch the one-minute performances and then vote yes or no on whether or not the individual is talented enough to go to the next round. Once the contestants are reduced to 24, then there is a round for the semi-finals. In the finals, the viewing audience votes on who should stay and who should go. The winner is decided by audience votes.
Now picture this: an older woman (by older I mean not in her 20’s, not old for god’s sake) with bushy eyebrows and a very unfashionable dress and hairstyle walks out onto the stage. It only takes seconds before Simon Cowell begins his attack dog shtick, the raised eyebrows, the rolled eyes, the crossed arms. All of it. A pan of the audience shows that almost to a person no one is liking this woman: sneers, crossed arms, negative body language abounds.
Already, the judges and the audience have formed an opinion on this contestant based solely on her physical appearance, and that opinion is not positive.
How fair is this? Not at all fair. Has the woman had a chance to perform yet? No. Does the audience even know what she plans to do for her talent before they cross their arms? No.
The woman declares to the judges and the audience that she wants to sing, that she has always wanted to sing. You can hear the snickers from the audience. After all, how can this unfashionable, frumpy woman sing, let alone sing well enough to be on the show?
What happens next is positively enchanting. Susan Boyle opens her mouth, and pure beauty emanates from it. The audience jumps to its feet. Simon Cowell raises his eyebrows, and this time, it’s not in a malicious way. Piers Morgan is stupefied.
Boyle sings “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables, an incredibly difficult song to sing because of the range. As I watched the video of her performance, I got chills, and I began to tear up.
I wanted to reach through the screen and hug Susan Boyle for her performance, and I wanted to slap Simon Cowell for his disbelief that a woman who looked like Boyle could have such an angelic voice.
But it wasn’t just Cowell, was it? It was everyone. When the opening refrain of the song played, Morgan appeared to be totally uninterested, Holden had her hands over her head as if she were trying to stifle a yawn. No one was truly interested in the woman on the stage.
However, as compared to males, we females can be absolutely merciless in our criticisms of the women who are in our office, the women our friends date, the women who do our hair, or our nails. But we can be especially venomous when it comes to total strangers. Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about: only saintly women or women who are completely self-confident do not beat down other women. And how many of those do you know?
This is the very problem with assumptions. We make assumptions about people all of the time, every day, based on their looks, on what they are wearing, on how their hair looks, how scuffed their shoes are, what kind of purse they are carrying, how old their suit is, even what kind of car they are driving. And admittedly, women are worse when it comes to judging other women.
In my own experience, I have found that many beautiful women lack in self-confidence, while those who are not considered beautiful, abound in self-confidence. It’s as if they know that the world doesn’t believe in them, but they don’t care. They believe in themselves. How wonderful that is to believe in yourself, truly believe in your talent, or your goodness, or your abilities. And how pitiable it is when women abuse themselves by repeated plastic surgery in attempts to be more beautiful, look more youthful, more perfect, not stopping until they resemble caricatures of themselves.
Now what I did not mention is that when Sarah Boyle came out on stage, she was obviously prepared for Cowell’s sour disposition, but it didn’t seem to affect her at all. She answered all of his questions with a smile on her face. It was as if she were challenging him: “I know that you are assuming that I have no talent, but you just wait. You’ll see.”
Boyle stood her ground, even doing a bit of a jig in her sheer delight at just being invited to the party. And when she finished, she knew that she had won the battle. She walked off the stage with her shoulders back, a broad smile on her face, and joy in her eyes.
All three judges were effusive in their praise. But the best part is this: With her talent, her incredible voice, Susan Boyle has a real shot at winning “Britain’s Got Talent.” Wouldn’t that be something? And about time, too.
But just a closing thought: Why were we so surprised that Susan Boyle could sing? That is probably the heart of the matter, and a question that we should be asking ourselves even as this incredibly talented, sincere, selfless woman stands before the world and graces us with a voice from the gods.
And on that note, I present Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed A Dream”
Embedding has been disabled. To see the video of Susan Boyle’s performance, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY
More later. Peace.