For the other

Fellow art makers, I ask you a question because I want to know if you feel the same.

I struggle to talk precisely about my relationship to my work, to making, to creativity, to all the things that are connected to and impossibly diminished into the imperfect word that is art. Even writing it, thinking it, it seems so much less significant than it feels.

To forgo sleep over art.

To lose oneself over art.

To cry and despair over art.

Doesn’t that sound so silly and small?

Like a child who cries when an imaginary playmate drops their tea. Like a teenager lost in their own emotional maelstrom and unable to see how little their problems are in the grand scheme.

Which is why I ask you: is it just me?

For you, creator/builder/music-maker/dreamer/poet/writer, it isn’t so small, no? For you it isn’t small at all. I want to know if you too feel a strange and entwined feeling.  Not just to a collaborator, or a particular work, or even an entire genre. But to some kind of entity, a large and all encompassing force that is both rooted to the very center of you and simultaneously massive and larger than you can hope to conceive.

It is a relationship that I struggle to put into metaphor.

It is some part romantic, some part friend, some part deity. It is in many ways connected to those with whom the work is created, at times weaving together disparate persons who under any other context would have no reason for connection. But it may also be a force of isolation, leaving one standing alone with their beliefs and their visions and vainly crying out and wishing they could offer the eyes through which they see. And while it can work through people and manifest itself there, it feels at the core that it is just me and it – the thing, the feeling, the intuitive relationship to the work/skill/force.

And lest I get all Bronte on you (but really, given the flowery and Romantic nature of this writing, aren’t we already there?) it is actually the deepest and most sustaining love I have ever known. It is the relationship for whom I have sacrificed the most, the bond for which I have been most willing to grow and change, the one that has redefined and required the most of me.

And while it is deeply personal, it doesn’t feel like it is one that I have with myself. I’m not battling with my own insides. I’m fighting to figure out how to be with and in this outside force. Like swimming in a current unsure if it is taking me somewhere I ought to be going.

The work and I are locked in step – sometimes in battle, sometimes in sync.

And because it is unlike any other relationship I can see and define, it is so hard to know if it is the work or me when I feel the friction between the two. Hard to know if I am wallowing and caught in a destructive undertow or leaving untreated the pangs of pain that come from when one is violating the core of the artistic impulse.

It’s why, my fellows, I’m asking you, do you have these moments of struggle as I do? It seems surely you must.

It seems that you too must have days when you fear it is more than you are capable of. It must be that you too must have times when you feel yourself alone and rage against not having more faculties to fix what is ailing. When everyone around you seems to see the path that eludes you. Days when you do forgo sleep, lose yourself, and cry and despair over the work, the art.

And on those days do you also, my friends, do you fear, for a moment, that the otherness with whom you wrestle isn’t all that you sense it is?

Or do you also wonder, as I do, if it is as large and full as you sense and that you are too small to encompass it?

I believe you do.

I believe it because I cannot see how else we could stay with it, in it, for years and years. If it is not as big as all that how else could we let it take up so much of our lives? How else could it work through us so thoroughly? How else could it light up our emotions so strongly? How else could something as silly as a song or a scene or a sentence mean so much to us?

How else could I be left sitting over coffee in the morning so uncertain about whether I have been enough for those I have striven to be there with?

I may be less than I hope to be. This is possible.

There may be more strength than I can currently see. This is also possible.

Perhaps it is neither.

Perhaps it is a thing that exists on its own course and runs on an energy that I cannot entirely see, a thing I cannot entirely control, a reigned beast for whom the tighter I try and hold it close the harder it will be to feel its push and pull.

Perhaps what I have given to nurture it most is only tangentially related to the particular worry and fear I feel at this moment.

And perhaps I can only get up from my table to disrobe and stand in the shower and do my best to scrub away the deficiencies in myself I feel.

Or perhaps instead let them fall over me, try my best not to fight them so they do not catch and block, take a moment to have them fully before they wash away.

Perhaps I let myself be in the fear of failure, even allow myself that the losses I feel are real, and that maybe, they are necessary part and parcel with that otherness with whom I am entwined.

And perhaps in a week or two when the thing has come and gone I will look back at myself and shake my head at silly tears. Smile sadly for the person caught in waves of doubt and wish I could tell her that she cannot really fail so long as she does not hide, does not shrink, and does not let the fear make bitter that great love, this love of her life.



  1. For the young who want to
    By Marge Piercy

    Talent is what they say
    you have after the novel
    is published and favorably
    reviewed. Beforehand what
    you have is a tedious
    delusion, a hobby like knitting.

    Work is what you have done
    after the play is produced
    and the audience claps.
    Before that friends keep asking
    when you are planning to go
    out and get a job.

    Genius is what they know you
    had after the third volume
    of remarkable poems. Earlier
    they accuse you of withdrawing,
    ask why you don’t have a baby,
    call you a bum.

    The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
    take workshops with fancy names
    when all you can really
    learn is a few techniques,
    typing instructions and some-
    body else’s mannerisms

    is that every artist lacks
    a license to hang on the wall
    like your optician, your vet
    proving you may be a clumsy sadist
    whose fillings fall into the stew
    but you’re certified a dentist.

    The real writer is one
    who really writes. Talent
    is an invention like phlogiston
    after the fact of fire.
    Work is its own cure. You have to
    like it better than being loved.

  2. It is probably the most intense relationship I’ve ever had… and I’ve left two different people because my relationship to art and the work I do was more important than the relationships to those people. Maybe that’s normal, maybe its not, but all I know is that’s how I feel about it.

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