Debra Spark’s article in the recent Writer’s Chronicle “Jump Already” was both interesting and anxiety provoking. She traced in a few writers and painters the point in their development after which they seemed to come into their own as artists: Russo found his downtrodden mill-town milieu, Rothko his color squares. You can see, she says, in their earlier works their efforting, their borrowings and derivations, but after a certain point, their work is singularly their own. This, of course, plays into my constant anxiety that I am not working hard enough, deeply enough, pushing myself creatively enough. Have I plateaued? How do I know? Have I jumped forward recently? Or am I just stumbling along at snail’s pace? Or running in ant circles? There was something she said about the artist finding some true inner voice. What the hell? How can I tell some true inner voice from some fake outer voice? I talk in fake voices all the time. My husband finds himself amused/annoyed when I suddenly scream “Preet Bharara!” in high pitched alarm at some new tale of the demon barber of Cheat Street. I am not infrequently Cartman. What does it mean?
David Brooks’s column the other day talked about Ernest Hemingway, who, Brooks avers, lost his way in the thicket of his own fame and booze, but still was able to exhibit flashes of that thing that made him him, and one reason is because of his dedication to work. So I come back again and again to that idea: doing the work.
But I think that deep sense of self from which some authentic art can form might be accessed — and here again is an ongoing theme for me — through play. When I think about play I think about tearing things up and putting them back together again. I think about giving voice to inanimate objects. I think about that edge of giddiness, that burble of laughter in the chest that hasn’t quite come out yet. I admire my friend Beth who seems to have such easy access to that playing place, that silliness that’s not fluffy necessarily but engaged in fun. Laughing the way to truthiness. I think about P. G. Wodehouse. I think I need to find some old Donald Westlake books featuring Dortmunder and the gang. Okay, I gotta go. I have serious work to do.
In the meantime, here are some lines of Billy Bragg’s “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward”:
“In the Cheese Pavilion and the only noise I hear is the sound of people stacking chairs and mopping up spilt beer and someone asking questions and basking in the light of the fifteen fame filled minutes of the fanzine writer mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is. I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses while looking down the corridor out to where the van is waiting. I’m looking for the Great Leap Forward….The revolution is just a t-shirt away.”