"Books...are now part of the 'entertainment industry', and a first-time novelist was as likely to be judged on the power of his author photo as on the character of his content." ~Pico Iyer, Los Angeles Times
This is a detail of a 30" x 30" wood panel that has gone through a half a dozen or so revisions, each with its own layer of paint, paper and other assorted materials. The latest layer was a painting, and the day I worked on it I sent out a Twitter that explained, "I told myself that today's goal was to be willing to do a bad painting; I can now officially say I succeeded royally!" Even though I wasn't particularly proud of that particular painting effort, I kept it up for the following weeks just to remind myself that it's OK. Instead of walking in my studio and judging it or looking at it and thinking myself a failed artist, I just let it exist on my easel, part of the background of my working days.
I did a bad painting, yet here I am, continuing to live and breathe!
This weekend I decided it was time to do two things: Move forward and go back to the beginning. I was able to accomplish these two seemingly contradictory tasks by peeling off all the layers I've applied to this panel over the past couple of years. I grabbed a xacto knife and started cutting, pulling and peeling off, and today I'll finish the job with a good hard sanding. It won't give me a perfectly clean panel, but I can once again feel the surface of the wood and see what colors I used for the first brushstrokes on this panel. I am moving forward with this piece by pulling apart everything I've done so far so I can work on the original surface once again. Moving forward, going back to the beginning.
"Now, there's no tidbit too whiny or personal for the memoir, no mega-store too large, and no print book that can't be 'replaced' by an e-reader." ~Judith Freeman, Los Angeles Times
I have read a number of articles and essays since 2010 rolled in about the changing nature of the publishing world and hence, the world of writers. Technology - and its laser beam focus on ever-increasing speed and immediacy of everything from information to success - is altering our landscape both physically, emotionally and psychologically. While I suppose this is the lament of every generation as they look towards a future being created by the generation born when they were in high school, I can't help but feel a not-so-small tug of longing for things to slow down. And I also can't help but notice that at the same time I, too, have gotten caught up in the dream of being flung into a success story starring me as fast and forceful as a slingshot.
I am being called upon right now to do a lot of soul searching in this regard - to look closely at my definition of success and whether or not my goals and pursuits are in alignment with that definition. I usually feel certain of what it means to me, and can give an easy, concise answer on any given day. But it is easy to lose sight of it in the day to day and get caught up in what everyone else is doing, what everyone else thinks "success" means and what everyone else thinks will provide a sense of contentment, self-worth and gratification. With so many stories being flung around cyber-space and onto my computer screen, it is woefully easy to start thinking I'm not living up to some kind of herculean standard.
"They are, after all, the product of a moment that doesn't reward persistence, that doesn't see the value in delaying recognition, that doesn't trust in the process but only the outcome." ~Dani Shapiro, Los Angeles Times, speaking of today's young writers
Life is fast these days, and time feels short. And while I don't think technology is the big, bad ogre, I do think certain values are being lost in this frenzy, and I recognize I am just as susceptible to the allure of the Big Immediate Break as anyone else. When I began Swirly in 1995, I set a specific intention to grow slowly and take my time with every step of expansion, and you know what? It worked beautifully. As I move forward into this new year I want to go back to that beginning - my beginning as a professional artist - and let go of thinking about how great it would be to brag about my Amazon ranking or announce a multi-city book tour. Right now I need to do my work, and get clearer on what, exactly, I want - on a definition of success that best reflects my dreams, the needs of my marriage and family, my strengths and my weaknesses.
Has my ambition softened? Maybe so, but does that mean I will make less of a difference? Does that mean I will be less of an artist, a writer or a teacher? Absolutely not.
Time to get to work.