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Writing whispers when life is simply too loud …

  I have been a writer all my life. I kept journals and wrote stories as a child. When I lived in New York I attended all kinds of writing workshops and writer’s groups. I wrote poems, stories, lyrics (which I dared sing in clubs) and tried my hand at a historical novel, although I only wrote about 150 pages. I still have it. The writing isn’t bad, but the storyline is silly. I think writing, like wine, gets better with maturity. Life experience and the expression of thought needs time to ferment to develop deeper flavor.

When my children were first born, my writing faded to the quiet corners of my mind. I was swamped with work and I had no choice but to devote all my attention to building a new business to support the family. Our dreams often get buried under the demands of life during those thirty-forty years.

There are two powerful books that address how this comes to be. One is The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer – a short prose about living an authentic and meaningful life. The poem promotes a life of artistic expression and joy but also says:


“It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.”


That pretty much explains how dreams slide when life gets demanding. When I left New York, my children and later my spouse and his dreams, just seemed more important than my own artistic ambition. I always felt my time to pursue the things I loved would come later… My first priority was taking care of the people I loved.  

I still wrote in the quiet moments. Even while running Flex, I wrote a novel (and one half of two other books). I wrote letters – partly to express myself but mostly because I lived a very alienated life, at least emotionally. I was deeply lonely and craved connection – physical and emotional. I filled that emptiness by putting words on paper. Perhaps I needed an audience.  I believe I would have responded to anyone who cared to hear my voice and act interested in what I thought and believed about life. Letter writing evolved into blogging. Safer. Less intimate. But still, a craving for someone to listen. But mostly, blogging helped me wade through my inner life and better understand the connections (or lack thereof) in my world.  It wasn’t about an reaching an audience at all – it was about writing.  Only in retrospect do I see how desperately my art craved a bit of light and space.

There is another very powerful book about art (actually it was written by a writer and the examples within are primarily about writing) called The Artist’s Way. This book has a chapter about how important it is not to quit your day job in some selfish ideal that art requires your full attention. This author explains that a serious artist can not and should not separate him or herself from society to be “an artist”. A powerful artist has to engage in life, get his or her hands dirty and be out there with people and the challenges of life to tap into that human element that gives something of value to share. This truly resonates with me. I moved to the mountains with a romantic notion that I needed nature and solitude and time without having to make a living to apply myself to writing in a serious way. Like Walden Pond. I felt that full focus was the path to seriously attend to my art, so I enrolled in school and earned my MFA, ready to give my writing the shot it deserved. But I found myself less productive and less inspired during that time when I had unlimited time and space to create. I produced better art when engaged in the meaty process of living and there was less time to feed my artistic angst and a beautiful walk in the woods or time messing around my barn couldn’t lure me into procrastination. It is just too easy to push art aside when there was always tomorrow to make a masterpiece. Too much time can easily lull you into wasting the most precious commodity we have.
 
Life and all it’s complexity is a muse. A busy life holds a microscope up to to the details about people, society, your inner world – all the things that exemplify the human condition and make art have more substance.  Being a serious artist does not mean you stop being a mom or a friend, or an attentive lover, or a productive member of society, and art certainly doesn’t require solitude or attention 24/7. You have to have something to say as the purpose for creation, because that is what art is all about. If you only surround yourself with is art and solitude, you only have art and self to talk about rather than deeper reflections of the world at large. Kind of a catch-22. Art Myopia.

If you study the greatest artists of all time, they all had a day job. Heck, Thoreau worked in a pencil factory – his Walden Pond experiment was not indicative of his lifestyle and he did not live free of social expectation despite his theoretical essays about man’s need to do just that to live a soulful existence. His time on Walden Pond was only one small portion of a life that included hard work, compromise and many practical choices too. Struggling to find balance between supporting oneself and handling life responsibilities while continuing to passionately dive into some form of artistic expression  has been the challenge and the reality of just about every great artist in history.

In yogic thought, there is a theory that faith and practice untested is worthless. It is easy to live true to your yoga principals in a monastery or living in a cabin in the woods. But try living with compassion and faith – try being good to others and to live your beliefs when you struggle with the frustrations of living in the bustle of a busy, stressed population. Practice your yoga (and I don’t mean the physical) when it requires strength everyday to not slip and react poorly to the triggers that are busy life’s minefield. Be a good yogi when you are paying bills, forced to get up everyday and go make money in a field you don’t love, and while meeting responsibilities or dealing with jerks in line at the bank. This is how you develop true spiritual muscle based on practical application rather than theoretical talk.
I think art is like that too. Want to prove you are a true artist? See if you can create something of value after doing the dishes and the laundry and paying the electric bill.  

I think about these mentioned favored  books and the concepts within often when I miss the mountains, crave free time and the promise my life held a few years ago. We grow from adversity. And for that, I can sincerely thank my ex. He may have taken a great deal from me, but his folly gave me a great deal at the same time. Thus is the beautiful balance of life when you recognize growth is painful and yet poignantly sweet.  I retired a few years ago with enough money to live a comfortable, financially stress free existence for the rest of my days. I was up for our huge life reinvention because it meant I could have total freedom to care for my family and pursue my writing without worry or hardship. That was my dream come true – not having money to spend extravagantly, but having money to support a simple life of quiet contemplation. The possibilities for contentment and happiness was indescribable…. but only two years into our life reinvention, my spouse not only had spent every cent we had on excessive grandiose projects, but he had driven us a million dollars into debt. So much for bliss and the luxury of pursuing your art in a life of simplicity as we planned.

I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say life fell apart financially, and then we fell apart emotionally, and I pretty much wanted to crawl under the covers and never come out. It wasn’t just the disappointment over losing my life as it was, but I mourned the life I felt entitled to because I had earned time it from years of sacrifice and patience – years of putting the task of making money and taking care of everyone ahead of my own personal dreams. I was also hurt that my dreams had been squandered. They simply were not considered worthy of protecting by a life partner of 20 years who chose to fulfill his own desires first, foremost and at the expense of the entire families security and protection. Accepting the painful reality of how imbalanced and one-sided our love was had to be the worst of it .
 
But as the prose says,  I knew what had to be done…. I made the hard choice to change my life, leave things I loved behind, and push my personal dreams aside (again) to leave the mountains and start over with another business in Flor
ida, the one place I knew my vision could thrive enough to meet the future demands of the family. It was a dark time, but on days when I couldn’t bear my situation or I was deeply sad over my losses, I just remembered The Invitation and I’d say the words to myself like a mantra…. Even if I am filed with grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, I need to do what needs to be done to feed the children.”
I must have read the Invitation to my yoga students a hundred times…  needing reinforcement to get through those times.


My ex chose to handle the financial crisis differently, deciding it was his turn to be happy and pursue his art despite the fact that our distressed circumstances were a result of this very attitude of self indulgence and short term consideration. For a while he worked from home sporadically, then as he became less productive,  he gave that up too. This led to his being financial insolvent and he faced bankruptcy, applied for food stamps and he stopped supporting our children, first financially then emotionally. His justification for the withdraw is that he is an artist. He even wrote the kids a letter explaining that he didn’t believe in society’s definition that being a good father meant a man had to support his kids- that the best way he could be a good father was to live true to his art. He claims they will understand and respect his turning away from social expectation when they are older and they will appreciate how he chose to celebrate his talent and follow his personal calling instead of laboring to attend to others (their) needs. He also made it clear he doesn’t plan to work in a traditional job ever again, and he must mean it, because he was using a hip replacement to attempt to get on disability permanently so he can make art for the rest of his days while living on social services. 

He had the same settlement as I – enough money to begin a fresh life unencumbered with baggage from the past. I spent my money paying off every debt, opening a business and planning for the long term. He spent his on another indulgent house remodeling project, then bankrupted his debt, avoiding responsibility and thrusting himself into a state of financial crisis again. He says he no longer believes in making money because he is “new age”. Funny, my entire world is filled with yoga teachers, Reiki healers,  new-age  artists and bohemium types and not a one of them defines “new-age” as acting in a financially irresponsible manner. On the contrary, my new age friends are more conscientious and moral, and socially responsible, not taking advantage of the system, than anyone I know.

His self definition as a  struggling, new age artist feels romantic, I suppose. He is a talented and creative man, and I agree he is an artist and should be creating. But I don’t see him producing anything of greater merit than what he produced in the past when he had more resources and deadlines to meet etc…..  In fact, I believe his art was more diverse and more filled with passion and unique expression before we moved and made a big tado over our celebrated role as artists. Ever since he was 23 I’ve watched him use one health issue after another as an excuse to cop out of doing things he doesn’t want to do –  the invalid trump card is his favored escape. And that doesn’t serve him or his art either – at least not beyond the moment.   

His life choices don’t affect me in such a personal way anymore, and for that I am grateful. But it does continue to make me contemplate art and excuses and the yoga concept of satya, which means truthfulness (being truthful to others, but mostly to yourself and recognizing how you make internal excuses rather than see with clarity what you do and how it affects others.)   

It took a few days for me to wrap my brain around his letter to the kids. My first reaction was anger – his choice to pursue his art robs me of  opportunity to pursue my own since I am wrestling with a double financial burden as result of his not doing his part. (another yoga concept called asteya or non-stealing, which goes beyond that idea that you don’t steal material things. You also don’t steal the more primal rights of others – meaning their energy, resources, or their right to express themselves or live without burdens you create that are yours alone to carry.)   I guess I was also perturbed by the example he set for our children because I so desperately want them to grow up with integrity as responsible adults.  But after a day or two of feeling anger, I just felt sad. His choices are his to make, and I no longer have to suffer the results of his actions beyond the annoyance of a few custody issues he drags out that make simple matters more costly and emotionally difficult than necessary.  I guess I just feel art demands a generosity of spirit and lots of self discipline, and to me his choices reveal a lack of both. Because of that, I feel he will not get what he longs for and that is sad – for him, for our kids, and for art in general – because the world of art needs and deserves talented individuals like him.  
 
People make choices according to what they feel is most important. Art and the freedom to follow one’s heart is important – I agree. For me, taking care of my children is following my heart.  I am not a martyr.  I’m just doing what instinct tells me a parent should do. Anyway, life is all about choices and I strongly believe that my art will be better because of the choices I’m making. I certainly know my life will be. That is what keeps me going.


Now that speech makes me sound theoretically respectable, but the reality is, life isn’t easy and sometimes that pisses me off and I behave badly because of it. Being tired and frustrated and feeling taken advantage of can make toads come out of one’s mouth. I try to get along with my ex, but some days I just can’t help but react to his abuse of my time, effort and willingness to take up his slack because I should be free of that dynamic. Let his next wife handle the burden of being married to someone who wants to be taken care of constantly.   I work 7 days a week currently, and I have no choice but to make personal sacrifices that exhaust me mentally as well as physically as I channel every cent I have into helping my kids rather than take a small vacation to refresh my soul or pay off a pending bill to give myself less stress. The primary focus of my life lately has been keeping my son in college and providing opportunity and security to my daughter and oh how I spin my wheels work-wise to do just that. All work and no play makes Ginny a dull girl.  And when my son tells me Dad sleeps in every day and makes quiet dinners at home every night and watches los of Dr. Who, and my ex follows that with a letter saying he plans to get a job in three years (when my daughter is conveniently 18 and no longer requires support) just sets me off. Hate when that happens. I meditate, come back into balance and swear I won’t let his disfunction bother me. But it does.

Some days I’m so overwhelmed with the financial burden that I just want to quit, find some well established guy to take care of me, and give up the struggle for independence and my personal ideals all together. (Sorry David… just a honest admittance of the occasional weak thought. This is in no way a comment on your present situation, nor is there any threat that I would ever make choices influenced by my upon wanting life to be easier…)  The temporary thought passes and I respond by sitting my butt down at the computer to do some marketing to crank up my earning potential. I’m working on a business plan today as I consider expanding my business. Whatever it takes to feed the children, ya know.

At the end of the day when the work is done, I often sit on my porch with glass of wine and contemplate how different my life could have been had I been able to pursue my dreams unencumbered by all this responsibility. And in these quiet moments I have to remind myself that I can make art anywhere – it is simply a matter of priorities and commitment. And I remind myself that this time of hardship is really a gift, because I am in the thick of life, testing my resolve and commitment everyday…. learning and growing, whether I like it or not. If the struggles of life fuels art, I have a tank overflowing with fuel. And there is a lovely bi-product of being challenged. You get to see what you are made of. And my kids see it too.


I am very, very proud of how much I’ve accomplished in two years – going from total life annulation to a new life that holds promise for success on so many levels. I’m excited with the direction my business is going – it may end up bigger and more diverse than my last business – or so it appears at the rate things are going. I feel passionate about my work. I love what I do and I serve others in a meaningful way. I am learning new things, growing in directions I never would have gone had life been easier. My world is filled with beautiful, heartfelt people now and I feel connected on deeper levels to my students, my daughter, my partner and my staff. I’ve been introduced to new concepts, Eastern thought and practice constantly challenges my Western mind.  I’m proud of the fact that I’m taking care of my kids too, and showing them what it is to be responsible, strong and resourceful. When I focus on how my kids are doing and realize that every month I’m in a position to do more for them, I can sleep at night  – trust me, for two years I spent every night  awake with feelings of despair and worry over them. From the moment my children took their first breath I wanted to be an accountable parent. I’m doing that. In the end, this is what makes me feel good about my world, even if some days I want to just run away from the endless struggles. 


Anyway, how does all this relate to the subject of writing  and art?
In the midst of the crisis of life recovery, I again had to put my writing aside. Seemed more painful this time because I came so close to having my coveted art infused life and I went through all the work of earning an MFA in support of that dream. But every once in awhile, that yearning to apply myself to “the dream” rears its head anyway.  On those days, I spend a few hours writing, or I’ll send out letters to agents looking for representation for the book I wrote two years ago, My Million Dollar Donkey just to remind myself that life can and should be about more than constant work and taking care of everyone else.  

A year ago, I went to a writing convention and had an appointment with an agent. She talked to me for over an hour – the appointment was only supposed to be 15 minutes, but she was extremely interested in my story so we talked a long after others had closed up shop. She asked me to cut the book from 120K words to 90K words explaining that the shorter length was best for a memoir from a first time author for marketing and publication reasons. I was in the process of that huge rewrite project when I got a call that my daughter was in the hospital. She had emotional problems that were manifesting in serious self-harming issues I won’t go into here. I stopped bloggin because I never wanted to rant about the drama of my divorce or my fight to gain custody of my daughter, so I wont’ start now.  I’ll just say that at the time, I worried all the time about her – and when she got sick and all kinds of information tumbled forth that had been withheld from me, it became clear that all the concerns and fears that had tortured me for two years proved true. I was devastated. Angry. Filled with regret and despair that I didn’t fight harder or smarter or do whatever it took to protect her from a situation I instinctually knew was wrong for her.  

With only a day’s notice, she came to live with me. I was relieved to finally have the opportunity to care for her, but now, every resource I had – my time, money, emotional fortitude, etc.. had to be applied to helping her recover. She is damn more important to me than any book I might write or want to sell, so I took care of her rather than finish the rewrite or keep in contact with that agent, (and for the record, there is not a day goes by that I am sorry I had to do that.). After about 6 months, she seemed less fragile and I started rewriting and cutting the book when I had a free morning or late at night when she was sleeping. Eventually, the revised version was finished, but I never did send it to the agent. If you wait a year after a meeting, that opportunistic moment has passed. 

Anyway,  my daughter is doing exceptionally well. She is happy and balanced and full of spirit. Filled with a healthy curiosity about life, she is a bundle of energy, smiles and ambition, and I no longer have to worry about her moods or what she might do because of them. At last I don’t have to make her the highest priority every hour of every day. We are just a normal mom and daughter now, with warmth, laughter, fights and sighs a part of everyday. As life balances out,  I’ve begun to sense the pull to attend to my writing again. So, one day, a month or so ago, I sent a few letters out to new agents.  I wanted to reactivate that small smidgen of hope for my dreams to come alive again.  And low and behold, a month later, I got a response from a very well respected agent – the president of an agency in New York, who I never even solicited. She came across my proposal and sample chapters because a colleague passed them on to her thinking my book was right up her alley. She told me she very much enjoyed what she read so far- and wanted to see more. I quickly looked her up wondering if she was legit, discovering she is extremely accomplished  and respected and she  favors books about personal growth, women’s journeys, organic living, and life philosophy. Um… no wonder a colleague passed my work on to her – her  description of the material she is looking to represent defines my book.
 
I sent her the full manuscript with my marketing platform. This is the first time a professional agent has asked for the manuscript when it was really ready. The book has been reworked, shortened, tightened up, and also diligently line edited by David, who has carefully gone over every sentence of my book 5 times…. he is my biggest supporter and remarkably talented as an editor. His support and encouragement will be a huge factor in my success if I ever have any, because he doesn’t just give lip service to supporting my dreams. Rather, he shows he truly wants me to achieve my heart’s desire, proving it by not only  reading my work, but doing so objectively to give me important feedback – a supportive partner is the most valuable critique partner a writer can  have. 
 
Anyway, I now anxiously await a response. Funny, when you feel hope is lost, something small can happen and you instantly perk up. You even wonder if all the turns and obstacles life throws your way wasn’t a test of your fortitude and determination to stick to your guns. Dues paid in some kind of artistic karma test. The long, hard road will certainly make success sweeter when it comes. She may or may not want to represent me. No matter what happens, I feel my artist spirit finally reigniting after that long sabbatical.

Deep down, I have faith that my time for writing is coming. If my book does not get picked up by this agent, then another will find it. Whoever publishes it will not be disappointed. I can sell this book. People ask me for it all the time – writing students, yoga students, and others. My choice to return to the world of the living to open a business and be a public figure again, my choice to work on this book rather than another, etc.. etc… is all a part of a bigger picture. Everything happening to me feels connected….. and it all feels a part of a bigger journey yet to come.
 
The other day I ran the statistics. This blog gets an average of 390 readers a day. Not bad considering I’ve only recently returned to posting entries. Now that I’ve begun writing again, I feel ready to start a new book about my yoga journey, a memoir about the next chapter of life and the lessons learned as I explore Eastern philosophy and new age concepts coming to the table as a semi-skeptic. There is a great deal of humor, poignancy and adventure in my yoga, reiki, meditation, auyerveda adventure. I should be capturing the details as I go – for me, my kids, others, prosperity. If life has taught me one thing, it is that I am a teacher. I teach many subjects to many audiences in many ways. Teaching is my dharma….. and writing is teaching in a significant way.
 
Somehow I think everything in my life fits together like the quiet before the storm. The good news is, the storm isn’t heavy winds to worry about or brace for. When my writing finally gets it’s turn at bat, it will be more like singing in the rain, dancing and enjoying the refreshing downpour after a really long draught.
I will do what needs to be done to feed the children…. meanwhile, I will use my weariness and bruised bones to create art that feeds something within…..  and processing those exp
eriences will produce art that will someday feed others as well…. It’s all a part of a bigger whole.

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

3 responses »

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