In her book Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg writes about a poetry reading she went to where one of the poets, Peter Orlovsky, instead of performing a finished work of poetry, simply read aloud from his own personal journal. In doing so, Natalie said that he showed the audience of writers that “he accepted the unacceptable, the daily drudge of writing.” And while she shared that his standing up there, reading from his journal while the other poets, like Allen Ginsgerg, read their best works, had pissed her off at the time, it had also impressed her. Years later, she says it is the only reading of that night that she remembers at all.
Maybe it made such an impact because Orlovsky got up there and had the nerve to pull back the curtain and expose what goes into making art. Not the drugs, traumatic memories or the bed-wetting, but the plain old drudgery, the grind of doing The Thing. I am saying that just anyone should be getting up and reading from his journal and calling it art. My journal, for example, is filled with a lot of lists of things I want to accomplish, musings on the nature of God and a lot of whining about how I need to get off Facebook.
But, whereas I used to have a standing promise from my friend JoDee that, upon my death, she would get a hold of all my journals and dispose of them immediately, now I’m ok with them being saved and passed on. In fact, I demand that they be passed on and, not only that, but I want my kids to read those bad boys, if for no other reason than I’d like at least two witnesses to the drudgery that went into me trying to say something interesting. It is hard, and clumsy and I am aware that in the end, I will probably fail, but I Gave It My Best Shot and, hey, if that went on my tombstone tomorrow, I’d be ok with it.
And now, poor you, you are an audience to my journey when I’m sure have your own drudgery to contend with. Is it the daily grind of feigning interest in your girlfriend’s Arbonne business? Is it the drag of kicking the habit of drinking wine while you make dinner every night, although now you’re drinking the whole bottle before you sit down with the kids? That’s some drudgery right there. (And maybe some art, too, underneath, or way down in the cracks and around the edges. Especially, the edges).
When I read Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, one reason I loved it so much is that I felt like I got a window into her creative process or, more accurately, her process of becoming an artist. Don’t we all want to know how a person finds her voice? Or maybe it’s just me.
(It’s never just me.)
So, although I don’t pretend to have any followers (actually, I have four! Four whole people who want to know when I post something! Hi guys—you rule!) I would love it so much if you, whoever is reading this, would just post a line or two from your journal, if you keep one. Open to any page and give it a go.
Look, it’s easy:
Oct. 17 2015. Am I having difficulty creatively because I won’t write about the hard things? Because I waste so much time? Because I can’t spell or use commas correctly. I can’t do a cartwheel and I can’t dance in pointe shoes. The list of what I can’t do is endless.
Give me a little taste of your own personal drudgery. Not everything has to be a Vanity Fair cover, you know. If I get no responses, which is entirely possible, it’s ok. Sometimes I imagine that my friends worry about me, with this blog. They worry about the haters (kisses, haters!) and, worse, the silence, that might echo through my computer screen as I stare at it in the dark.
I can take it.
I have performed for audiences of two, while acting (badly) in Chicago, delivered a singing telegram in a sausage factory, and loved someone who didn’t love me back. I eat silence for breakfast.
Why keep pretending that what we create just blooms from thin air like a magical flower, while we demure, “What? This old thing?” Even the loveliest flower has to first fight it’s way through the plain old dirt of planet Earth. That’s the pure drudgery of becoming.