I recently set out to challenge myself, to write something other than a post for this blog, a communication strategy or a copywriting job. Set a goal, people encouraged me. Writer folk espouse that competitions can provide the necessary impetus, setting a deadline for you without compromise, a looming date whereby a piece of work must be polished, printed, proofed and posted.
I am used to crafting careful messages, sharply defining the complex, crystallising a blur of technicality into a stark transparency. Sure, I sometimes weave in a witty repartee and experience the odd flash of (dare I say) brilliance during my personal indulgence in developing prose; but generally, I have made my living by making the confusing, clear and the indifferent, meaningful.
So, when faced with the task of drawing outside the lines, dancing with the shadows of subtlety that deliberately push a reader into the dark, I was more perplexed than I expected to be. Skills I learned long ago seemed to elude me. I had put them down somewhere and could no longer locate them. What I had deemed a minor professional transition was suddenly exacerbated to overwhelming. The elephant I had planned to eat in small bites multiplied into a herd, and I began to lose my appetite.
Extracting the required story from my creative being proved similar to the intricate game we played as children called Operation, where you lay on your stomach wielding tweezers to remove tiny plastic bones from an inanimate, two-dimensional man.
My procrastination was excruciating and the blame splashed everywhere but on me. I couldn’t write in an unclean house. I was hungry, thirsty, tired, could not resist watching endless repeat episodes of Californication. I struggled to be creative at the same desk where I conjured up the corporate devil. Fed up and in a flabbergasted effort to refresh and re-boot, I took myself out and down the street to put pen to paper, the good old fashioned way.
Our strip of ‘urbia offers a plethora of options for caffeination. I select the most eclectic of places, the one that vibrates pure, haphazard, hippie randomness in order to enhance the flow of my so called artistic juices. To the right side of the front door, there is a stout blackboard and on it I read a message. Had it been delivered in a bottle, I would have sworn it had been (pre)scribed, just for me:
If you will it, it will no longer be a dream.
How encouraging. After my third latte, it is not only encouraging, but occurring. Ink and paper finally connect and there is more evidence to speak of than when man made contact with the moon. Scribbles return home to be relayed to trusty Daddy Mac. Words front up to numerous iterations and renunciations on screen. Cobbled together, it’s parchment by patchwork and along with some inherent failings, a conclusive draft comes to exist. A story strewn from beginning to end, which in itself seems to be an act of protest against nature. My own nature, that is.
Mould of a masterpiece now etched, I pro-actively seek perspective from a deliberately diminutive number of supposedly like-minded commentators. This serves as a stinging reminder that it is always better to rip the band-aid off yourself. Getting someone else to do it... it is not designed to hurt them. My small band of merry people inflicted many wounds and they used a range of weapons. Some of them technical, some credible, some subjective and some intuitive. I see a bad moon rising and I am remiss to wear my armour. Resilience, I had forgotten, is the formal wear of the artist.
(And despair is the lonely friend, who always wears black and lives in a cold stone cottage, just out of town; close enough to visit occasionally.)
My recovery is week-long until a fresh day when I wake up clean and pick up an empty basket to start cherry picking the wreckage. The story I gave birth to is never the same and I accept that perhaps it shouldn’t be. I polish my beaten resolve and try chanting a more upbeat, mantra. Opinions are like bums and everybody has one, or so I am told.
I meet the competition d-day and after I mail the yellow envelope, I am still rumbling with mild dissatisfaction at the final product but I am relieved to let it go. I decide on a coffee, so it is back to 'caffeine ecelectica' for another dose. I pass the blackboard standing guard and today the message is even more fitting and profound;
Use what talent you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. [Henry Van Dyke]
Well. How about that.