Frustrated with My Progress: An Artists Cry

For the love of…

Words Still Count with Me by Herbert Mitgang added forty-four new books to my lifetime TBR list. Two-thirds of an entire year of reading at the rate I’m going at.

…sigh… I’m never going to be able to die. I can’t. There are just too many books to read.

Let’s talk about this book and some of the feelings it brought up. Yes, FEELINGS!

Like I said in my first post about the book, I found it in a thrift type store, while rummaging through stacks of randomly thrown together old books in a back room. It found me, and I rescued it.

It’s nearly thirty years old and I’m pretty sure everyone interviewed is dead now, along with the author. These authors were getting up there in years when these pages were being written, so that’s to be expected. When I skimmed through the list of authors, I found a few that I had read and many that I had never heard of. What would these authors tell me?

Each interview was only a few pages long, and they were not the typical, “How do you come up with your ideas?” kind of interviews. There were no “What’s your process?” questions and answers. It was more like the Mitgang’s thoughts and memories about author’s he had come to know over his lifetime.

I loved it. Some of the author’s stories made me want to read their work. Some made me want to ignore them. There were a few poets that I won’t be reading, not because they’re bad, but because I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, unless it’s written to music.

When I closed the book, I thought to myself, “Why do I even bother tapping out words on a screen?” and “I have no right to even entertain the idea of being a writer of anything.” I’m questioning my choices right now.

These people are real authors. Not like today, where we can all share whatever comes to mind instantly and constantly. In the age of “anyone can publish,” everyone does. But should we? Lately it feels like there is so much noise in the world that no one can hear themselves think.

What would I write if I couldn’t jump online and read blog after blog about other books, articles, news, and people? Where would my imagination take me if I weren’t posting on Instagram every day, and then scrolling through every free minute, looking for all the funnies?

The common theme these people had was a consistent writing time and space, time to be alone and without interruptions from the outside world. That’s when they made their art, alone.

I’m rethinking my social media and blogging use, once again. But then I wonder if times have just changed that much, maybe this is the way the world works now. The world these people lived and worked in; does it exist?

The other thing that got under my skin was the lives these people lived. Wars and economic depression. Family strife and intrigue. Travel and adventure. All of that seeped into their art. What have I done? I’ve grown up in Southern California, married, had some kids, raised them, and now I watch animals in the desert, hike, read, watch tv shows. Life is good. I’m happy. It doesn’t make great reading.

Let’s not even get into the fact that I only spent one year at university, as a theater design major. And another six months at a trade school for electronics. That’s one of the things I’d go back in time to do over, for sure. This time I’d go to a more financially reasonable school, on purpose, and pursue a more academic major, maybe English, History, or Science. I’ve considered taking classes now, but online isn’t appealing to me. It’s the same as reading a book and writing about it, which I can do for free.

Yeah, it made me grumpy about things, but it inspired me as well. Let me show you.

“About his dual life as a teacher and novelist, (Thomas) Flanagan said: ‘I bumped into a poet friend of mine and told him that it was funny but for the first twenty-five years that I was teaching, I didn’t write any fiction. And he said that during that time I was probably thinking about the story, working it out, writing the novel without knowing it.’”

That could be me, as well.

The truth is that I don’t focus on writing one thing, and I should. I have stories that come out when I give them time and space to do so. And there is nothing stopping me these days, but distraction. There are so many good books to read, shows to watch, and quilts to make.

Take right now for instance, the laundry is done in the dryer, and I need to get the shirts hung up. I told my husband I’d make him some cookies while he’s out there working so hard on our son’s truck. I think, “Well… I could start the cookies and write here while they bake.” But I know I can’t. Each time I have to stop and get up from my computer, the whole thought train derails. I can get it back on track, but it takes so much time. I need a set time to focus, not allow myself to get up for one hour each day.

Hmm… maybe I’m on to something.

I went and got the laundry out and made the cookies, and now I’m back.

Here are two from Aharon Appelfeld.

“The Holocaust is a central event in many people’s lives, but it also has become a metaphor for our century. There cannot be an end to speaking and writing about it.”

This was 1986 and he was born in 1932, the same year as my grandfather. Appelfeld was born in what is now Ukraine and is a Holocaust survivor. My grandfather was born in the Midwest, USA. Their lives were very different. They probably had very different points of view of the same world events. And if my grandfather were a writing man, he’d have written very different stories.

What are the central events of my time? What are authors my age writing about? Something to think about.

“I am not a politically oriented writer. I have my say in fiction, and I think I say a lot. I find that fiction is more permanent than other forms of writing. Literature is endangered when it becomes only a trumpet.”

And only the best fiction survives the onslaught of time. Well, it used to. In the digital age, anything can be published in print or digital, and I’m not sure how that will affect the filter of time. In the past, books that we find moving today, regardless of their age, speak to the common humanity in all of us. Now we have so much more to filter out of our reading lists.

The novels I have read that were written in the last ten or twenty years, seem unfiltered at best. The authors seem to be “trumpeting” their political and social values and judgements, separating themselves and others out into distinct and independent identities, pitting “these are good” against “those are bad.” It feels preachy. Will it stick? Will humanity read these books one hundred years from now and wonder what was wrong with us? Or will most of them become lost, with only the best more resonating being passed on to the next generation? Only time will tell.

Here I am, tapping away at my keyboard, looking back on my last several years of reading and writing, and living, wondering about the efficacy of my choices. Should I give up writing? I don’t think so. Should I look into changing my work patterns; time of day, limiting distractions, publishing schedule? Yes. And I have already begun. I’m even thinking… maybe I could spend some time focused on short fiction.

Reading this book upset my delicate feelings, really through me for a loop. Writing this post and reading some other things (which I’ll bring up in a future post), has altered my thinking. I write because I love it, and if I love it and want to share it, maybe I should start learning some new ways to focus on that art.

Wait a minute… I have an art! I’m an artist! Time to learn some new tricks!

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