Tag Archives: writing

The Triumph of Failure

6 Nov

I’ve been told that once you get your first official rejection from a publication or publisher, you can then call yourself a writer without embarrassment.  So here I am, world!  Unabashed, undaunted, unsuccessful.  One more among the starving throngs of quixotic dreamers and creators.  I am a writer!

It came today, an e-mail form-rejection for a mediocre story that I only spent a few days on.  And yet, I feel oddly invigorated by this failure.  I have completed my first full life-cycle of a story.  I dreamt it up, I wrote it, I edited it, I edited it again, I submitted it, and the judgment was handed down.  Never mind that it wasn’t in my favor; there is a satisfaction just in crossing the finish line. Truth is, I’ve written much better pieces since that submission.  Reading the story now, I have trouble remembering why I thought it was publishable at all.  This is not mere self-deprecation.  The story has some good writing and some nice moments, but the effect is weak, the action slow.  It is too self-conscious, and doesn’t really go anywhere important.  The journal’s rejection of this story, rather than saddening me, simply reinforces my own judgment of it.  It makes me realize my own improvement over only a few months, and brings me closer to having the “literary eye” of those more experienced.

Now I’m stoked for my next submission(s), which I am hoping to have ready for the end of the year.  I’ve had some positive feedback already, which is more than I had on the rejected story.  I am also taking a stab at NaNoWriMo this year, though I’ve had a slow start.  But there is nothing better for writing than writing, and hopefully I can gain momentum from today’s sobering reality-check rejection.  I want to have a piece published, however small, before my next birthday.  Much as the world of blogging and self-publication seems ever-growing, I am still a believer in external quality control.  Objective validation.  I want my work to succeed not just in my own eyes, and those of my friends, relatives and teachers, but also in the roiling, unpredictable seas of critical and public exposure.  I want my words to matter to a world larger than my own.  And with each try, and each stumble, I know I’m getting closer.

Literary Momentum in the Post-Postmodern Age

12 Jun

Is there any art as fickle, evasive or misunderstood as poetry?  Tell someone you’re a poet some time, just for fun, and watch the stages of their expression – the eyes narrow almost imperceptibly before they catch themselves, maybe the chin juts out for a moment, before they give what they hope to be a supportive grunt and a sympathetic head nod.  “That’s great! The world needs poetry, right?”

Right.  Except you wouldn’t know it from the state of the field.  The arts are well-known to be a temperamental pursuit at best, the realm of dreamers, derelicts and the dead.  Success means having your work seen, perhaps even admired, by anyone not already a friend or relative.  This has become infinitely easier with technology (blogging, e-book publishing), although self-publishing routes can (but don’t always) devolve into ego-stroking self-delusion, a hollow victory.  And economic viability?  “Don’t quit your day job” they say, and that’s the unfortunate truth.  Unless you are blessed by an unusually lucky star, know all the right folks, and (possibly the lesser factor) have something new to say that people want to hear, your artistic career is going to necessarily be supported by a palette of menial jobs.  The starving artist? That’s no joke.

The most common path for modern American writers is educational – they plod their way through English and creative writing programs, learn the right moves, and have doors already open for them when the time comes to make a name.  Browse through the average college-run literary journal, and the majority of the writers you see are graduates of some sort of program, and many of them are teachers themselves – completing the insular circle of literary life.  Without going too far from my point, let me say that this state of American literature, created and perpetuated through the ivory tower, has a major downside.  Don’t get me wrong – I love literary magazines.  The universities that put them out do a tremendous service to our culture.  However, as with any art that becomes an institution, a stylistic homogeneity begins to take shape.  Trends appear, and as usual, the victim is any divergent style or sensibility.  Editors admire the work which resonates with the educational channels they took themselves.  Writers mimic (consciously or -un) the style which they have learned and which they see in the journals, because they want to be in there too.  And we’re left with a dull trajectory that does little more than fulfill its own expectations.  New and challenging voices are boxed out in the name of self-perpetuating mediocrity.

This isn’t anyone’s fault.  People pursue literary degrees because they love it, and people go into teaching (hopefully) because they love it, and editors work on magazines because they love it, and so on.  It’s all love, and yet the inevitable happens, and the literary sphere becomes esoterically bland, cannibalizes itself, regurgitates trends of style and education.  And what is the current stylistic trend that has prompted my rant here?  Well in fiction, it’s something I’ve seen a growing number of critics and editors complain about.  It’s this postmodernist, self-aware, meta-referential, first-person-casual approach to story-telling.  It’s this structural and tonal uniformity I keep finding, a hollow sameness.  Something’s missing – heart maybe, or courage, or insight.  Emerging writers seem to take the advice of “write what you know” and then produce safe, tepid stories of suburban ennui, cynical disenchantment, PC hipster irony, college confusion, childhood memories, domesticity, etc etc.  Much of modern literary-fiction has come to be conversational, almost reality-television-esque.  Stories like to focus on recognizable mundanity – it’s like having coffee with someone who is telling you a half-way interesting anecdote.  The literary scene has become rife with passive voices, prefab creative-writers who are brimming with craft but neglecting art, like a blacksmith who forges perfect hoops for wooden barrels but couldn’t pein a decorative door handle to save his life.

Okay, I’m glad I got that out of my system.  And let me amend my tirade – I’ve yet to publish anything, I have very little formal education, and I don’t write a tenth as much as I should, so my opinions on this should be taken with generous spoonfuls of salt.  I just wanted to vent an observation I’ve had about the modern literary state of America, because frankly, I know there are amazing writers out there.  I’d like to see university-driven literary journals have better funding and grow in numbers, but even more, I’d like to see non-collegiate journals flourish.  We need to revive literature and foster its expansion, because that will result naturally in more diversity and more voices, and a richer culture overall.

Now back to poetry.  If it’s tough making a name in fiction-writing, it’s borderline impossible in poetry.  Because who reads poetry?  Who goes out and buys poetry books, subscribes to literary magazines, attends readings?  Other poets, that’s who.  And there are not really enough of us to create a booming industry on our own.  Poetry is quixotic, a doomed quest.  The ratio of published, self-sustained poets to the number of poets in general has got to be staggeringly low, a fraction of a fraction.  We accept this, and hope to achieve at least some dignity in trying.  It will be interesting in the coming years to see how technology reshapes this paradigm.  I already see growing numbers of online literary journals, e-books, blogs, tweets, and what have you.  As a grumpy old throwback who considers the sensory experience of actual printed paper to be inimitable, I have mixed feelings on all that.  But perhaps it will democratize the writing world for the better.  The downside of course to those self-publishing avenues is the lack of built-in quality control – the role of external gatekeeper, traditionally played by editors and publishers but increasingly disappearing.  When “anyone” can become a “published” writer through modern technological channels, writing itself feels cheapened, and it becomes really hard to find the gems among all that slush.  It’s an ongoing debate with some complex factors, the broken system of traditional publishing not the least of them.  We’ll see what happens.

For now, all I can say is, if you’re a writer, keep on writing.  And if you’re a reader, keep on reading.  And if you’re a poet, well… you have my deepest sympathies.  :)

Ruben Dario: Voice of Modernismo

14 May

“What sign do you give, O Swan, with your curving neck
when the sad and wandering dreamers pass?
Why so silent from being white and being beautiful,
tyrannical to the waters and impassive to the flowers?”
(Longman 837)

Ruben Dario (1867 – 1916) was a poet of tenacious drive and discerning passions, the founder and foremost advocate of a vital artistic and intellectual movement.  It was called modernismo, and it had a tremendous impact on the Spanish-speaking world and beyond, though today it often evades popular awareness.  Coalescing around the turn of the twentieth century, it was a literature that blended influences of Romanticism and Symbolism, and concerned itself deliberately with emotional intensity, individuality and creative freedom.  Dario himself was the embodiment of these ideals – a poet of vibrancy and dreamlike urgency, an artisan of words both tactile and hypnogogic.  As seen in the stanza above, he had a special fondness for the symbolism of swans, and would often juxtapose their beauty with sadness and death, giving them a mystical status that recalls the Romantic and classical.  It’s an example of what made Ruben Dario the champion of Spanish poetry in the early modern era.  His modernismo style was impassioned but classically melodic, radically exploratory while revering the legacies of the past.

Dario was a cosmopolitan man, a product of a growing sense of global connectivity.  He absorbed all of the influences of the literary scene abroad along with the experiences of his travels, yet his poetry reflects a singularly beautiful insight.  His sensibility is well-illustrated in the opening line of one of his most celebrated poems, a piece which has retrospectively become the standard of the movement:

“I seek a form that my style cannot discover,
a bud of thought that wants to be a rose.” (Dario 60)

As Octavio Paz notes in his prologue to Dario’s Selected Poems – this particular line “is a definition of his verse… He seeks a beauty that is beyond beauty, that words can evoke but can never state.  All of Romanticism – the desire to grasp the infinite – and all of Symbolism – an ideal, indefinable beauty that can only be suggested – are contained in that line.”  (Dario 14)  But even as we dissect the influences of Dario’s poetry, there remains that abstract, indefinable “something else” which makes it inarguably his, penetrating and sublime.

When Ruben Dario first pursued the writer’s craft, his efforts were suppressed by the reactionary government of his native Nicaragua.  At the tender age of fifteen, he tried to obtain a scholarship to pursue the literary arts in Europe.  He read some poems to the authorities, who immediately denied his request, fearing that exposure to European culture would only breed further liberalism in the young man.  Dario’s restless artistry led him to leave Nicaragua on his own and begin a new life, traveling all over Latin and South America, writing poetry and forging relationships.  He soon found himself quite successful, receiving official recognition all over the Latin world, where before as a youth he had been denied.  He was appointed consulate in Colombia and the ambassador for Nicaragua, which would later rename his home town of Metapa to Ciudad Dario, in his honor.  As his fame grew, he eventually did make his way to Europe.  Spain welcomed him as a diplomat and as the most celebrated artist of the New World.  From there he was drawn naturally to Paris, the epicenter of art and poetry, where he came under the spell of the French symbolists.  This was a defining moment, both for Dario and for the movement he was leading.  From then onward, Dario’s poetry would become increasingly complex, dreamy and profound.

The modernismo movement was giving a new voice to Spanish artists while socially and politically redefining Latin America.  While Dario was recognized as the movement’s head, the movement as a whole grew from a scattered network of poets looking to redefine the art of their language.  They were examining themselves and also looking to France for artistic queues: Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine top the list of influences.  These influences informed much of the structure and tone of modernism, but it was the singular Spanish sensibility, the natural rhythm and fire, which gave the poetry its power.  Modernismo is said to have “officially” begun with Dario’s first manifestos, and with the international publication of Azul (Blue), his first collection of poems and stories.  The poetry of “Azul” is at once familiar, and breathtakingly new:

“Month of roses. My poems
wander through the vast forest
to gather honey and fragrance
from the half-opened flowers.”  (Dario 41)

There is a clear Romantic sentiment here, but there is also a uniquely sensual flavor.  And Dario was every bit a sensualist; a man of deep feeling and endless curiosity.  Gerald Brenan calls his verse, perhaps a bit disparagingly, “hedonistic, pagan and steeped in a violently sensual and erotic atmosphere.”  (Brenan 428)  This is where the “modern” in modernismo shines through.  Such unabashed liberty of expression was something novel to Spanish literature, and though there were many disagreeable reactions from traditionalists, the fresh air was largely welcome to the younger generation.

Octavio Paz dubbed Dario “the bridge” between these old and new spheres of Spanish verse.  “His constant travels and his generous activity in behalf of others made him the point of connection”, notes Paz in his prologue.  (Dario 11)  Poets rallied around Dario for inspiration and leadership, and he in turn led them to reinvent not only Spanish literature, but the language itself.  Between the end of the “golden era” of Spanish literature in the seventeenth century, and the beginnings of modernismo in the late nineteenth, Spanish had stagnated.  During the conservative Napoleonic age, literature and poetry (a largely liberal endeavor) had utterly ceased.  The language was largely stuck in the baroque.  There were some achievements in the Romantic period, notably from Gustavo Be’cquer (an influence on Dario’s early work), but nothing as profound as that in England, Germany or France.  And then Dario and his modernists came along, and breathed new life into the Spanish language.  Through them, Spanish verse regained its vitality, became once again a viable and effective literary force.

As we see, the effect of modernismo was monumental, and it spread beyond poetry.  It gave a powerful voice to Latin American communities who were feeling the pressure of outside forces, particularly those of American imperialism.  Ruben Dario was not a particularly political artist, but even he could not keep his pen still about the problems facing Central America.  As a journalist for a paper in Argentina, he covered the Spanish-American War, illuminating the struggle of Hispanic cultures.  And when U.S. President Roosevelt began to strategically foment the Panamanian revolution in 1903 (with the goal of acquiring the valuable Canal Zone for America), Dario called him out in verse:

“You think that life is a conflagration,
that progress is an eruption,
that where you put your bullet
you set the future…
…Beware. Spanish America lives!”  (Longman 836)

The acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone and the building of the canal was of course a major component of America’s growing global influence.  It gave the U.S. tremendous economic and military power at the expense of much bloodshed and upheaval, and the Latin American people would not soon forget the manipulative self-interest of the U.S.  Poetry was at least one way in which they could vocalize their grievances, though the Canal Zone would continue to be a violently contested issue for most of the twentieth century.

Along with its importance in the historical context of its time, Ruben Dario’s modernismo was a surge of energy for all Spanish literary arts to come.  As Brenan notes, regarding the publication of Dario’s most innovative volume Prosas Profanas, “These new, intoxicating rhythms and cadences burst the narrow banks in which Spanish poetry had long been confined.”  (Brenan 428)  The eruptive effects of Dario’s verse make it a vital subject of study for world literature, while the verses themselves continue to enthrall generations with their deep emotion and magical imagery, their profound and unequivocal artistry.  Federico Garcia Lorca says it best, in this excerpt from a speech given in Dario’s honor in 1933:

“He gave us the murmur of the forest in an adjective, and being a master of language… he made zodiacal signs out of a lemon tree, the hoof of a stag, and mollusks full of terror and infinity. He launched us on a sea with frigates and shadows in our eyes, and built an enormous promenade of gin over the grayest afternoon the sky has ever known, and greeted the southwest wind as a friend…”  (Dario 140)

~

Works Cited

Learning the Hard Way. Again.

7 May

I have a Spring resolution to begin submitting poetry to literary journals, with the hope of getting at least one piece published this year.  I’m not sure yet if this goal is modest or naive, but I figure you’ve got to start somewhere, some time.  So I selected some university journals to submit to, and began the task of choosing and refining the pieces I wanted to offer.

Now, one of the questions I had had about blogging, right from the beginning, was whether or not any poems that I posted for the public would be considered “previously published”, according to an editor at a literary rag.  As you may or mayn’t know, basically every literary journal / press / agent / whatever out there will not consider your work if it has been previously published in any form.  Using common sense (that cruel betrayer) I figured a measly blog couldn’t possibly count, and went on my merry poetic way, posting random verses on Dying Fire, my companion-blog, just to get an idea of how they would be received.  I mean, it’s just a blog, right?  It’s my work, right?  Right.  I started putting poems up, and it was nice to get some feedback, so I put up some more.  I didn’t worry much over the whole “previously published” issue – until I started researching literary journals.

Let’s make a long story short, here:

DON’T POST ANYTHING ON THE INTERNET THAT YOU MIGHT LATER WANT TO PUBLISH.

Ever.

Online content, even just blogging, is considered by most editors (to my discernment) as “previously published”, and thus typically ineligible for submission to anywhere else.  Once it’s online, it’s off the table.  Why not simply delete the piece, you ask?  Well, if you know the internet, you know that it’s an all-consuming data-whore, and nothing is ever truly erased, even when it is.  Harsh realities, I know.  Thus, when it came time for me to pick the poems that I wanted to send out to the presses, I had to forget about using anything that was on the blog.  Fortunately, that was mostly older material, but there were a couple on there that I would have liked to refine and submit, had they not been permanently banished to the virtual realm by my zealous ignorance.

So today’s short post is a warning to others, a versified-head-on-a-digital-pike, of this potentially irritating technicality.  I’ll still post poetry on my companion-blog, but only bits and pieces that I don’t intend to publish externally.  Of course, the whole issue is certainly subjective – some editors probably couldn’t care less about what’s on your blog, others might be googling every entry they get.  And there are loopholes, like posting “excerpts” for critiquing, while keeping the bulk of the piece unpublished.  But for me, when it comes to the high-anxiety game of literary submissions, I think it’s better not to take chances.  As “budding” writers (i.e., desperate, wriggling worms, begging for fifteen seconds of recognition in an industry of astronomically unlikely odds of success), we don’t need to build ourselves any extra hurdles.

Good writing, and good luck!

Why Write? In Defense of Discontentment

25 Apr

“Why do you write?”

This question was posed to me recently for a class assignment, and harmless as it might seem, it immediately sent my mind into a spiral of abstract and tangential questions, like “What is art?”  “What is beauty?”  “What is meaning?”  “What makes it meaningful?”  “Why do we search for it?”  “Why do we do anything?”

It was a long night, I’ll tell ya.

Well, people are weird.  That much I know.  For as long as we’ve been banging rocks together and looking at the stars, we’ve channeled our weirdness into amazing displays of creativity and thought.  We’ve painted cave walls and church ceilings, built towers and tanks and toilet bowls, blasted our brethren into outer-space.  But why?  What makes humans so uniquely obsessed with all this constant mucking about and manipulation?  When it comes to simply being animals on planet Earth, why are we so weird?

Goya's Sleep of Reason

Goya's "Sleep of Reason"

When people talk about the “human condition”, what immediately comes to my mind is our perpetual discontentment.  This might sound like a negative thing at first, but actually it’s what makes everything move forward; culturally, scientifically, politically, artistically.  With our tremendous capacity for conceptualization, we can’t help but analyze and reinvent everything around us – tearing down and building up.  It drives our achievements, and the fulfillment of that urge, the attainment of satisfaction, means a slow, mediocre death for progress.  The constant restlessness of humanity is both essential and inescapable – the bane and the boon of our existence.

Now, a question like “Why do you write” can certainly be a fun intellectual and creative exercise, and no doubt I could muster up some sort of profound bullshit to make it all seem very inspiring and inevitable.  But really, there is no easy answer for me, and I won’t pretend there is.  Me, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer.  When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist.  And then I wanted to be a cartoonist.  And then I wanted to be an architect.  But throughout all that, the one thing I’ve always been, and always hope to be, is an explorer.  Explorers are impelled by insatiable curiosity and unrest, and I see every artist as an explorer, in league with Jacque Cousteau or Ernest Shackleton.

Exploring is how we grow, personally and as a civilization.  And one of my favorite ways to explore has always been writing.  I was the kid in class who loved essay assignments while everyone else around me groaned.  Still am, actually.  Later on, as an angsty teen, I began to write terrible poetry (who didn’t?).  I was exploring my identity, trying to understand who I was and where I fit.  Then as I got older, and the pressure was on for me to choose a direction in life, people began pushing me to pursue a writing career.  And when my first college made me the “Featured Writer” of their journal, I considered it for a minute. But discontentment soon reared its head.

I was a good student, but I wasn’t satisfied with where I was or where I was heading. For better or worse, a stronger force began working within me.  It was what my grandmother would call “that old gypsy blood”, the restless seduction of the new and uncharted.  I was feeling directionless and powerless, unimpressed with the options on the table and drawn to the Siren song of new adventure.  Thus, in true explorer fashion, and without very much thought for the future, I abandoned the predictable and turned my back on school, home and economic viability.  I quit my job, broke my lease, sold my stuff, and hit the road.

Frontispiece from the book - South: Shackleton's Last Expedition

I traveled about for years, settling momentarily here and there, but never long enough for roots to touch ground.  I was thirsty for life and drunk with freedom, an American pioneer.  But I was also running away, Peter-panning, breaking through the atmosphere of a prescribed world that simultaneously bored and terrified me.  I didn’t want to carve out a career, or start a family, or improve my credit score.  I just wanted to explore.  I guess I figured life would figure itself out, and all I had to do was drift, let the eddies do the work.  Then I blinked, and I was twenty-eight years old, and I realized I’d become stuck somehow.  I hadn’t actually escaped anything; I’d simply let myself sink, let the world wash over me.  I hadn’t outsmarted the system, or created anything new, or even found any meaningful answers, at least not any that, deep down, I hadn’t already known.

And that’s when I really began to write.  Poetry, short stories, essays.  Once I stopped running, and faced my discontentment head on, I discovered that the real “uncharted realm” wasn’t out there on the highways and train-tracks – it was something broader and deeper than physical space.  I wanted to be a vagabond on the sphere of ideas, a pilgrim of imagination.  I realized how much I love to think and research and learn and argue.  How much I love words, and lyricism and well-crafted language.  I realized that story-telling, whatever form it takes, is probably the greatest achievement that us weirdo humans ever came up with.  Right up there with hammocks, beer and bicycles.

The more I wrote, the happier it made me, so of course I did it some more – an animalistic pleasure response.  I discovered the beauty and acuity of poetry, the sheer joy of fiction – a thrill of omnipotence and creative surrender that made me feel like a kid again.  I had found a way to hold on to my fascination and creativity, a way to focus my restless, discontented energy in a way that might actually matter.  I had found my Neverland.

View from Pi'ilani Highway in Maui, HI

View from Pi'ilani Highway in Maui, HI

So that’s why I do it.  I definitely don’t write under any illusions of fame and fortune waiting on the horizon.  I don’t know whether my words will mean anything to anyone but myself.  I just write, because I want to share, and understand, and create, and expand.  I write because if I didn’t get at least some of these synapses down on paper (or computer screen), I’d be just a little less happy and a little more nuts.  There’s no easy answer to why we feel this compulsion to create, to push boundaries and be heard.  Perhaps, like George Mallory climbing Everest, we do it because “it’s there”, a crucible standing before us, waiting to see if we have what it takes to go just a little further.  Maybe there is an intangible divinity of human spirit pushing us to become the best versions of ourselves.  Maybe we’re dissatisfied, over-thinking apes, screaming defiantly into the void.  Or, maybe we’re just weird.

Personally, my money’s on that last one.

~

Art and Solitude

1 Jan

Last night, during my wild mild New Years eve carousal, I had my fortune told by a friend at a bar.  Between sips of whiskey-sour, I casually examined some of her colorful tarot cards. They were in their own way lovely and intriguing things, and New Year’s being a night of hope and forward-thinking, it seemed fitting.  For now I’ll leave off the topic of whether I “believe” in such practices and phenomena, as I’m not the sort to make absolute declarations about the many mysteries of our little-understood reality – especially when it comes to the slippery subject of Time.  Really, I find absolutes to be generally bad things, contrary to our innate creativity and the sense of wonder which enables all art and science to succeed.  If I have a personal ideology, it would be the consistent rejection of ideologies in general.  “All I know is that I know nothing”, said Socrates, maybe the wisest thing ever uttered by anyone.
Stop: Hermit Time!

Anyway, my tarot reading was pretty positive, with an exception.  It called for me to seek solitude, to reconnect with my truest self. This was apparently essential for my happiness and success, and according to the cards, my path to good fortune had to be a lonely one.  I looked down at the Hermit card, a robed and white-bearded fellow with a thin walking stick, and thought about my general dissatisfaction with things lately.  I felt a strong and unexpected agreement with the cards’ advice, felt it somewhere deep inside my guts.  Now, this is a tricky thing, as I happen to be in a long-term and happily committed relationship with a lovely lady, and have no burning desire to return to the solitude of bachelordom.  Whatever the cards may say, I could not sacrifice love in pursuit of art – it would be in a way the antithesis of its own goal.  Though it’s true that relationships, for all of their benefits, can certainly strain one’s sense of self, and infringe on the creation of peaceful, mental space.  Add the fact that I work full time and take evening classes, and it’s clear that solitude is not naturally occurring in my present life.  Even when I’m alone, I’m not – I keep company with the distractions of the internet, or an author I’m reading, or the emotional swells of music.  To be “alone”, truly and fully, is harder than it sounds.

Yet when I think of the people I have most admired in history – artists, scientists, “tortured geniuses” of all kinds – they tend to share an appreciation for solitude.  Rilke was a major advocate for it as absolutely necessary to the artist; for the “journey within”, which enables true creation.  Wilde knew it too, and da Vinci, Picasso, Gaugin, and Osho.  Cicero called solitude the pabulum of the mind.  Einstein relished his autonomy and alone time, and would likely not have made half of his achievements without it.  There seems to be a common sentiment that solitude foments the purest creativity and insight, and from my own experiences, I think I agree.  This raises tough questions, as someone who wishes to devote his energy to creation and exploration.  What about love? Or friendship? Do relationships and sociality cripple the creative process?  Can I achieve my best while living in this busy, fully-inhabited life?  Or must I retreat to the cliche cabin in the woods, cut off all distractions and duties, and devote myself fully to art?

Maybe.  There is a lot to be said for full-speed, self-absorbed commitment to a singular process.  But then, there’s also a lot to be said for balance.  Actually, balance seems to often be the answer to existential quandaries in general.  There is, after all, a lot of gray area between Thoreau and Jackie O. (of course in reality, Thoreau was actually very sociable, and much of his hermit-like persona is invented).  I’m looking for that sweet middle-ground between focused isolation and the distracted integration of modern life.  To find it, I believe I’ll have to create a dedicated time/space for creativity, somewhere between the necessary logistics and pleasantries of daily life, a temporary but periodic oasis.  I don’t do well with time-management usually, though I blame that on Time rather than myself, that slippery and mischievous phantom.  But I’ll have to try, and if anyone else out there has struggled with a similar dilemma, this would be my advice.  Perhaps it won’t be enough, but it will be better than nothing.

So today, in this spirit of self-rediscovery, and in search of that uninterrupted contemplation, I wandered about some woods a few miles from home.  I  spent this first day of the new year walking a trail along a steep gorge, resting occasionally to appreciate the babble of the brook and the ominous creak of tall pines bending to the wind.  It was the first time in a long time that I was truly alone, in every sense.   I hiked up and down hills, into groves of bare oaks and across rocky streams.  I needed space to reassess and come to these conclusions; conclusions which may or may not work out in the end.  But at least I feel better.  I suppose that’s a start.