Tag Archives: struggle

Creativity and Struggle

Le tour eifel, 2012 Photo by Tami Cowden

Recently I listened to Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You. Like most of her poetry, it is about bittersweet relationships, heartache, love, struggle, and a bit of redemption. That’s true of a lot of creative works. In popular music, an amazing number of tunes are breakup songs. Take Breakfast at Tiffany’s for example. “And I said, well that’s one thing we’ve got.” Or Green Day’s famous Good Riddance (Time of Your Life,) which is not, as many high school faculty seem to think, a sincere wish that you enjoyed yourself, but a bitter and snide farewell to someone the singer thinks has wronged them big time. I’ve written one good poem in my life. It was shortly after I broke off a relationship. I remember being surprised that being the dumper was no more pleasant than being the dumpee. It’s tough times, and no mistake. But, outside of that, I’ve just lived a fairly quiet life of great fortune and privilege.

I had cousins at Jamestown, and a direct ancestor who arrived in 1729. The next year he married a girl from Garden City. One of their many sons is also my direct ancestor. He fought with a Connecticut regiment during the American Revolution. Odd, because they were from Philadelphia. Yes, I have direct ancestors who were genuine Philadelphia WASPS. And, of course, I’m a white male with blue eyes born smack in the middle of the twentieth century in Ohio, of all places. White privilege was invented for people like me. One breakup does not a creative career make. I can’t sing the blues; outside of my eyes there’s nothing blue going on here. I can’t write heartfelt song lyrics about loss and deprivation, because, well, haven’t really had any. In college, some friends and I were into the Alice books. Bill was the Carpenter, Ed another character. I was the Mock Turtle. “He hasn’t really any problems, you know.” So true.

Now, your basic African American, there’s somebody with problems. Besides being on the inverse side of privilege, consider their ancestry. Slaves! The lucky bastards! No wonder they invented the blues! No wonder they continue to shine in creative ventures of all kinds. Lucky, lucky, lucky!

But, dammitall, I like to write stories. I’m not sure I’ll ever tug many heartstrings, but I try to entertain. And sometimes, entertainment is all you need, you know?

Happy 5th of July!

It’s a Marathon

Yesterday was a holiday, so I took the day off. Also yesterday I published the following on Facebook:

It amazes me that we, as a nation, have gotten away with the incredible nerve shown 242 years ago, and continue to do so! I think that those poor, overheated souls in Philly would be absolutely amazed to see what the place has become!

I meant that to be optimistic. After all, we are a nation where weight loss is a major industry. Think about that: if your biggest problem is that you’re too fat, you’re doing okay, you know? I also saw a post of a list of various milestones of progress for the United States, which said in each case that conservatives had opposed it, but that liberals had won. This, I believe, is probably true. Over the long haul, politics is cyclical, with waves of conservativism and liberalism alternating, and, amazingly, reasonably predictable patterns of zeitgeist. This means that those patterns can be predicted with a fair amount of certainty, even if the exact timing varies from cycle to cycle. One cycle, by the way, runs roughly eighty years. Roughly. Put all that together, and count decades, and it won’t be long, it seems, before there is quite the overwhelming wave of progressivism in America. Because that’s what’s due up next.

One of the comments that post received was of a sad emoji. I don’t see anything sad in that post, and in fact I am quite upbeat about the next ten years. In the end. It is going to be difficult. People may die. But, in the end, the liberals will win again, because that’s how the cycle goes. Every. Single. Time.

So, what does all of this political rambling have to do with writing? Are you pessimistic about your work? Do you imagine yourself dying completely unpublished, forgotten by the entire literary world? Alone? Sad? Deprived of companionship other than a few insects who live on the crumbs of gruel you spill during your daily meagre meal? You know you do. But, so did Hemmingway. So did Twain. So did Shakespeare. So did Bob Freaking Dylan, to name a recent Nobel laureate. But the truth is, if you persevere, and continue to learn from your mistakes, you will not die in that way at all (probably — I have to hedge my bet just a little here.) There is, not liberalism, not progressivism, nothing political at all, but a successful career publishing your books(!) at the other end of what is, for certain, a struggle. That is what all of this political rambling has to do with writing!

There’s an old philosophical division (really) about whether it is “as above, so below,” or “as below, so above.” It provides quite the schism between Eastern and Western traditions of religious belief. Politically, it results in top-down or bottom-up power distribution. (Don’t strain this metaphor too far, or you’ll hurt something.) In writing, this amounts to whether your writing will reflect the current zeitgeist, or contribute to developing the next one. It actually makes no difference to sales, unless it does. In the end, it’s up to you which you choose to believe. But, as I like to say about many things, you can laugh at it or you can cry about it, and laughing feels a lot better!

I guess you know now which side I’m on, huh?

Carry on!