Lately, as I’ve tried to rehabilitate my creative self from an addiction to rules, schedules and the right way of doing things, I’ve arrived at this particular tenet: Questions are more interesting than answers. As an illustration, let me take you on a guided tour of my brain while unemployed.
For most of my life, I’ve been highly organized, driven, disciplined and determined. Why, you ask, don’t I have a job now? Why haven’t I started my own business? Why don’t I pay people to scoop the litter boxes and sort the family laundry? Why haven’t I won any awards or invented something spectacular like the hair scrunchie from which I make millions from hawking it on QVC? Why am I, by most concrete and measurable standards, not a success?
It does seem highly suspect that I should attain a college degree and work for years, yet the high point of my week was getting free groceries at Whole Foods when all their registers went down (seriously, though, I scored organic produce!). I’m smart. I work hard. Shouldn’t I be running my own philanthropic foundation now because I invented a new mobile app call CrackShot, exhorting people to take advantage of other people’s low riding pants? What have I been doing wrong?
Now before you start sending me memes about success not always being money, but rather hugs and rainbows of cute bunnies, let’s be frank. Or Betty or whoever you want to be. Regardless of whatever faux Eastern philosophy has been slapped onto a t-shirt or coffee mug or the bumper sticker on your Hummer, many of us were raised with rather concrete ideas of what success means.
On a good day, I’m filled with gratitude that I have food, clothing and a place to live. I’m grateful for a family that I like to be around. I’m glad that I have opportunities which I’ve never had before. I can appreciate a good cup of coffee. Gratitude good. I get it.
On a bad day, when my writing is shit and every word seems made up, I resent not having the power to punch someone in the face who irritates me and then being able to lawyer up and get away with it. Power and money and freedom – that’s what the human world recognizes.
I’ve read so many articles about writers and their work, that if one more of them refers to their “craft”, I’m getting put away for punching them in the face. Let’s bring it down a notch, artistes.
I’ve also been annoyed lately when writers have written about being “sponsored” by their spouses. I’m not being sponsored by anyone. I won’t try to justify it by making up some salary stay-at-home moms cite in defense of their worth. If I ever get that defensive, I need to go back to work. But we live under our means so that we have choices and this is, as a family, our current choice.
My ass is back in an outside job as soon as my husband says “my turn now”. El Patron wants to work on his super server and I’m back working in an office for some kid named Ashton who makes me think of that bully in 3rd grade who took my bike. Don’t get on my bad side, Ashton. I’ll put you in a corner.
Where was I? Why aren’t I a success? Perhaps it is that my brain is like a pinball machine, ideas bouncing everywhere. I tried to explain the phrase Renaissance woman to my daughter the other day. I suspect that the expression on her face was very much like the one I had when she said she wanted to be a musician. Don’t get me wrong, I’m psyched about the kid’s ambition, but it looks like finishing that room in the basement was a good plan. She’ll need somewhere to live while she’s viola busking.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that my creative nature has been losing out to safety. It’s safe to keep working at my age. Re-entry is going to be humiliating. It’s safe to follow rules, to honor the social measures of success, to be able to answer the question “what do you do?” I always had an answer. It was uninteresting and predictable. There was no need to engage further.
Now, I don’t have a concrete answer. What do I do? I speculate on paper. I ask a lot of questions. I follow the trail that leads to more questions. I loiter at the library. I watch the grocery clerk as she tries to manufacture perkiness. I have weird inclinations, like wanting to learn French folksong lyrics or how to do the pigeon yoga pose.
Yesterday, I sat back in my reading chair and spent half an hour watching a spider traverse the ceiling. I thought, ninja spider! and I wonder if he hates me because I killed his companion in the kitchen yesterday. Then I thought about a short story I wanted to write about revenge. Then I wrote. That’s what I do.