Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sacrificing for Art: A Fine Balance

"This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse." ~Ranier Maria Rilke~ Letters to a Young Poet

My poetry teacher quoted from this passage during our final poetry writing workshop yesterday. It really struck a chord in me. He said that he knows plenty of poets who have miserable personal lives due to focusing solely on their craft, and also those who lead rich multifaceted lives built around writing. Sometimes I wonder which camp I belong to. On some levels I think I need to find more balance. I am willing to sacrifice almost anything to continue my education, largely to learn all I can about the craft of writing.
Would I really live in a cardboard box, as I told my husband earlier in the week, to pursue my art? I would never want to give up my marriage for my art. That is one thing that is too sacred for me to compromise. He is so supportive that it has never hampered our relationship that I'm aware of. He is my ideal reader, and my best editor. It is amazing how much he has learned about poetry and what his feedback has done for my work. He is like a Muse to me. So in that area of my life, I have a solid foundation for my art, not to mention my sanity, in a supportive partner. He goes above and beyond support into helping hone my art. He lets me read draft after draft aloud to him, which is an important part of my process. He tells me when something is unclear, sentimental, or far fetched. He brings me food when I have been in a creative whirlwind and haven't stopped to fix anything. He puts up with dust gathering on the bookshelves because I have been too immersed to stop and do my share of the cleaning. Sometimes he even knocks the dust off of the shelves himself. He is a wonderfully intelligent, caring, and patient man.
However, my social life is another story. My social life has taken a hit. This deficit isn't helped by my social awkwardness, but I rarely pry myself away from my work to go out or socialize. I keep up with people on FaceBook, the occasional meal, or a phone call. But how often do I go out and do things? Not very often. Part of this stems from my drive to create, and to do my schoolwork well so that I can pursue competitive MFA programs. Part of it has its source in my lack of funds. Going to school full time limits my availability to work, so I only work part time.
My financial life has also taken a hit. But I refuse to "take a year off" i.e. drop out of college. I have one year left, and I will finish and go on to graduate school. Come hell or high water. Some people don't recognize my focus or determination, or seem to realize that I have been working towards this goal for almost 5 years. I was the first person in my family (on my mother's side) and the first person in my immediate family to get a college degree when I got my AA (which is only useful if you continue on and get your BA). It is remarkable when you consider that up until that point I had a ninth grade education and a tumultuous past. Some people fail to respect the hard work I have done, and what it means to me to finish what I started and pursue an even higher level of education.
I suppose that therein lies the alienation from some people which daily grows the longer I view myself as an artist, a poet. I am willing to sacrifice. I don't need support, or the support that I do need I receive from my fabulous husband. Even if he had a complete turn around and was no longer supportive I would simply carry on with my work. It is work. So many people act as if education and art are the slack and easy ways to avoid working. Being an artist is not easy, writing poetry is hard. IT is work. It IS work. It is WORK.
I love my work. It isn't much different from building a house, besides its lack of physical exertion.
This leads me to my third area of imbalance. My physical health is not so great. I lead a very sedentary life. I need to go on long walks in nature, or even on a treadmill. Some exercise, fresh air, and eating well could help me lose weight, think better, and have better health all around. In some ways this would serve my craft because I would have less stress and more solitude to rest my brain.
In the dark of night, when I ask myself if I have to write in order to survive, my answer is "Yes, I must." There have been stretches of time when I did not write, and I didn't truly feel alive. Yes, I have built the structure of my life to suit this need. I have a drive to push myself rigorously through the educational system as a part of my process. There are some things I need to work on: going out and doing stuff, working more, taking better care of my health which, sadly, hasn't been enough of a priority, dusting my bookshelves, and taking the time to tend to mundane tasks as well.
I don't want to lead a miserable personal life for the sake of art. In fact, that could lead to some pretty bad poetry. I want to strike a balance, and I think I know what I am willing to sacrifice and what I am not willing to sacrifice; the areas where I need to care for myself and others, and the pieces of solitude necessary for my craft. I am going to pursue a balance of these things over the summer. A mix of everyday work (for $), play, self care, and then the real work that I do; the process which drives the blood through my veins: writing.


  1. Writing, to you, is like Jillian is to me. It's your baby that you are driven to nurture and help develop. I, too, have not found that balance of mommying and self-nuturing but if, mommying is what drives me, I will do it well. You are a great writer. Nuture your baby. Anyone that loves and respects you, will help you to find your balance patiently.

    love to you,
    Jess G

  2. I'm glad you could apply this to your life. Mommying is definitely an art, it is WORK, and it is a good metaphor for creating. I made several jokes about my poetry as being my "baby" over the course of the semester. Finding a balance can be hard, and I imagine especially for moms, they always seem to be taking care of everyone else. Take some time for you when you can find it (it must be there somewhere?). I love you!