Friday, March 6, 2015

The Unscary Maybe

So here's a juicy bit of news: I got to writing some things by the end of February. I played all kinds of mental games with myself to try and get going on the wikibook, but it didn't work, so instead I went back to the secret project. I'd planned to write it all longhand and then type/revise only when I was finished, but my intentions for it have changed in the new year, so I typed and revised the first two chapters (previously written) and then wrote about half of the third. I wish I could explain in more detail what this project is, but it feels like a fragile clay carafe full of magic - like the bottom will fall out if I pick it up and try to describe it, and all the magic will escape, and there will be sad trombone.

It felt good to be doing the act of writing after what has been a vexed dry spell, but it was a mixed good: I wanted to be writing the wikibook instead, and this project is weird. I set out to write it for myself, but now I'm starting to look at it with a more critical exterior eye.

In 2013, I read two books by Lynda Barry, One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is. Both wonderful, both recommended. I don't remember which one of them had her "Two Questions" within, but I realized recently that I've kept a lesson from it in my head all this time in precisely the wrong way. Here's the first panel (and the link in the prior sentence will take you to the whole thing):

Octopi and sock monkeys seem to be friendly spirits in Barry's marvelous universe

For over a year, I've been looking at my work with those two questions in my head, together, as a barometer. I do not freak out over them or allow them to keep me up at night, and I don't think I consciously consider them when I'm drafting, just when I'm revising. Yet only if the answers are yes and no, respectively, do I believe the work is finished and/or ready to go out into the world. Most of the time, I think what I write doesn't suck, but it isn't always good. Some of the time, I think it's good - will be enjoyed by others - but to my own eyes, by my own measure of what I want to accomplish, it sucks. The distinction might sound ridiculous, but to me it isn't at all.

Barry's piece goes on to explain that for her, relearning how to enjoy making art involved forgetting these two questions, because all they did was torment her and keep her from working. So as much as "Two Questions" has helped me, I've been following the exact opposite of her advice.

I don't know that I could feel finished with a piece lacking some sort of yardstick, though, some question that I can ask and answer about the work that tells me whether I've properly finished it or not. I think the point of "Two Questions" is to allow "I don't know" to be an operative mode of creative work, to let "I don't know" be unscary. I can live with uncertainty (I think I meditated on that already this week), but I cannot work without finally considering whether what I make is going to be enjoyable for someone else. Even if that someone else is only Matt, or only my friend Kathleen, or only my friend Rob.

It's possible that this means I'm not a mature artist, that there's more letting go I have yet to do. I accept that as a possibility. As an unscary maybe.

I thought that the secret project was potentially a step forward, because I meant to write it altogether for me and to not really care whether anyone else liked it. But some of the experiments I tried in the second chapter have made my head scream THIS IS GOOD AND DOES NOT SUCK when I read over it. How can I ignore that, when usually what I get is eh, someone might like this someday?

I hate a little that this project is shifting into something more external. Not a lot, but a little. I wish the reasons that made me change my mind about the external/internal aspect of it had cropped up after I was finished, so I could cover my eyes and arrow it into the world once I'd really, truly written it inside the little bubble of what I alone want to do. But I certainly can't stop now. It's going, it's work that's actually going, and I've been starving for that in recent months.

So: onward. Twelve chapters. No prisoners.

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