Sometimes everything you say or do feels lackluster. Over the years I’ve discovered that when you are in this frame of mind doing something creative, even if it has nothing to do with writing, can be just the spark you need to rekindle your prose.
One dreary Wednesday found me in an Ithaca storefront clutching a Rene Magritte print that I bought at Museum of Modern Art at least fifteen years ago. It has been sitting in one of those cardboard tubes silently reproaching me every time I pass it. The reason I bought it in the first place is that it was both unusual and quirky and instantly appealed to me. So why did I refuse to frame it? For lots of reasons. It would be expensive. I wasn’t artistic so the end result was sure to look amateur. Where would I hang it?
Julia Cameron would say that it’s because I was being stingy with myself, denying myself something that would inspire me and make me feel good whenever I walked past it. She would be right. I had some extra cash, an empty wall space in the room where I read that needed filling, and whoever was in the store could help me decide how to present it. The only problem was that the first question Sam asked me was “What are you looking for?” I gazed around the room and saw hundreds of frame samples, all different colors, textures, and widths. Instead of panicking, I took a deep breath, emptied my mind and thought about my picture. One of the reasons that I was drawn to it in the first place is that it shows a neighborhood in shadowy darkness, yet there is lightness too, in the windows, the soft glow of a street lamp, and the sky above is a brilliant blue with fluffy white clouds. To me it represents both the joy and melancholy in all of our lives. That’s what I wanted to think about whenever I looked at it. The colors I chose for the matting and frame should reflect that. Cautiously I began to experiment with different shades of light and dark. After a few failed attempts, I stopped feeling discouraged and began to see my framing project as a challenge. I finally understood that this was something I knew how to approach simply because I was a writer.
When I decide to write an article I begin with the tiny grain of an idea, something that makes me want to delve deeper, to learn more about it. Then I try to find a way to say it, to unearth a universal thread that will bind me and the person who is reading it. I felt the same way about the Magritte. I didn’t want to look at it and think “Oh-that’s a nice picture” and walk away. My goal was to create something that was greater than the sum of its parts. Sam and I spent a happy hour talking about what we thought the painting was trying to communicate to us and why each combination we tried did or didn’t work. As we experimented with different combinations, my confidence grew and I became bolder and more and more aware of what my piece of art meant to me. Finally, the two of us were satisfied that we’d done a fantastic job and I went home poorer, but with a spring in my step. A few weeks later, I returned to the shop and gazed at the large package wrapped in brown paper. What if it wasn’t what I had hoped for? Would it disappoint me? I closed my eyes while Sam took the brown paper off. When I opened them, I gazed with awe at something I had managed to create that will give me pleasure (and confidence in my own abilities) for the rest of my life. And that is priceless!
I guess what I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is that, as a writer, you will frequently get discouraged and overwhelmed. There will be times when you don’t know where to begin or where you will end up. That’s okay, as long as you never give up. You have the inner capacity to make something beautiful and meaningful out of disparate pieces. All you need is faith in yourself!