Monday, 21 June 2010

A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE



In my ‘other’ life as an artist, I make collages. I cut words and images from magazines and arrange them into tiny worlds on a card backing. Many have an inherent narrative, and each has its own atmosphere. An Olympic swimmer balances on the back of a skeleton horse, serenaded by a fat man blowing a giant horn. A child gazes out from her nest of open-tongued lilies, while black hounds bark 'This Is Now'.

When I first began making them, I’d work diligently within the card frame. But gradually, it became important to allow images to ‘break out’ of the frame. In one of this week’s collages, a pair of turtles swim outwards, their flippers sweeping air; a swallow hovers above and a sheaf of wheat grows through the frame and out. For me, these are messages from my creative self: it's time to return to the wild.

Writers and artists – indeed, anyone in the act of creating – are not domestic creatures, even though we may spend vast tracts of time in the domestic arena, hunched over the laptop or the canvas. We are not made to live within the confines of society's expectations of us. We are made to live free, in the wilds of the imagination; we pad through the brush of the eccentric, the idiosyncratic. We are the outsiders looking in.

We begin life as unfettered creatures, our ideas and inspirations running free. Full of life, full of our ideas and full of ourselves in the very best sense.
Then we begin to learn. And the process of learning, whilst necessary for improvement, may also run the risk of becoming a process of domestication, or, more precisely, institutionalisation. As we learn ‘how’ to write, we become - quite rightly - aware of the parameters set by the industry we’re aiming to write for. We learn that adjectives and adverbs are anathema, that we must Show rather than Tell. We learn that Publisher X only looks at novellas and that Agent Y will only take a synopsis of at least five pages. We learn that Paranormal is the new black, and that Angels are the new Vampires. All good information. However, too much focus on such parameters can cause them to mutate into walls, then bars - and these can, over time, cause us to shrink, to wither into something a little less than we are. We begin to become careful, too aware of what ‘they’ out there require of us. Our writerly eyes become dull with the effort of ‘fitting in’, of doing it right. Our roars become muted. Our coats become dry and matted as the rejections drop through the letterbox.

And our writing becomes good, but bland. Unfaultable, yet somehow without life. We have become tame.

Rules may well help to shape us into better writers, but they are a process to pass through rather than an end to be attained. We would be foolish to commit to them for life. There's a time to move beyond the rules, to break back out into the wild, to find that unique voice or concept or whatever-it-is that defines us as an individual in spite of the accepted norm.

The irony is it’s these flashes of wildness in us that are what can propel a book into the stratosphere. It’s the wild books that win the Booker – or which crash, like Icarus, into the sea of rejection. That’s the risk.

Back in my thirties, I read Women Who Run With The Wolves by storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and again and again since - it's now almost fallen to pieces. It's a remarkable book about creativity, and I heartily recommend it to anyone seeking out her (or his) wild, forgotten side. One line stands out for me:

"I love my creative life more than I love cooperating with my own oppression.'

Because, surely, that's what it's about, this thing called creativity. Yes, we must learn. Yes, we must be aware and mature. But please may we never forget the unique, who-gives-a-fuck side of ourselves who will otherwise call to us forever from whatever wild place it inhabits, longing for our return.

As poet David Whyte puts it:

"In a sense, at crucial and difficult thresholds in our life, the part of us that is most at home is the part of us that for most the time has no home at all. The part of us that lives outside normal rules. We have a gleam in the eye; we look to the edges of things; no-one really knows what we are up to; we see with the eyes of those who do not quite belong. We are dangerous again, and glad to be so."

14 comments:

Fionnuala Kearney said...

OH Susie! I'm up early today. The sun is shining, its a new day... And your post has inspired me almost to the point of tears. I'm doing a bit of a 'Meg Ryan' shouting 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' at the laptop! Today I'm determined to root out my inner lioness. Thank you. x

Geraldine Ryan said...

A lovely piece of writing. Like Fionnuala I too am inspired by this and I'm sure you'll inspire lots of other people who read this to shake off the shackles and take a few writing risks on this beautiful day.

Joanna said...

The most perfect inspiration and reassurance I could possibly have.

Thank you.

Caroline Green said...

I'm also moved and wanting to embrace my inner wild animal. I've spent at least 15 minutes in happy contemplation of what mine might be [wolf? big cat? eagle? Wildebeest...]

Lovely post, Susie and wonderfully written.

Fidelity said...

Yes,indeed,Susy - if need be forgive my informality (though probably not) - one isn't writing unless one is thinking and that excludes conforming. A good thing that blogs exist or this kind of writing would do nothing more than cause scratching on an eds head. I don't know, but imagine so. It's wonderfully ennervating; the sense that there can be real writing without contracts and gawdawful hype. We readers know what's good without having to be told, and this is writing.

Bethany Mason said...

Totally agree with everything you say in this post - rules are important to learn as you can't break them if you don't know them. I believe that we are always learning and always striving but if we reach the end then we know we've done something wrong as it's a process that has no end.

sonia said...

Brilliant post-thank you.

Karen said...

It wasn't until I'd stopped overthinking what and how to write that I got the Big Idea for my novel, so I can totally relate to this. I don't know about wild, but something was unleashed that day! Brilliant post.

Derek said...

I always look forward to your posts, Susie, because you see through the eyes of an artist. And you remind us of how it feels to create from WITHIN rather than constructing from without.

Writing is a journey. The acceptance of agents and publishers is like the mythical questing beast. And it's through the questing itself that we become whole. (And a contract along the way would be very nice, thank you!)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Aw, thanks all.
Hope we all find our inner lionesses/lions...and ROAR!
Susiex

Poppy said...

Fantastic post. (knew it was you)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Ta, Pops. :)
Susiex

Nishant said...

I don't know, but imagine so.
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Debs Riccio said...

Excellent post, Susie - well said!