Wednesday, December 17, 2008

sitting down to write

I'm embarking on this journey as a working artist - which means, to me, that I'm stating through word and action that my writing and my documentary filmaking are my real work. The job that does-not-quite-support me is simply income. Even my cocktail conversation -- my answer to the what do you do question -- has changed. I'm working on a book, and a documentary film. And I do this internet/print marketing gig for money.

At a party, I mostly leave out the fact that the woman I work for refers to me as a "personal assistant." I don't actually mind being called a personal assistant. I'm getting paid a decent amount of money, and part of my learning around this job is that I don't get emotionally invested in what I do, or the people I work for. That doesn't mean I don't care -- I do. But craziness exists in EVERY workplace, and this is practice for me to keep my head and my heart out of it. When my income producing job was also the work-of-my-heart (as in my time at the Center for Documentary Studies) I got completely wacked out on office politics. Any reasonable person would have, to be sure, but I chose to let it crash over me like a North Shore wave.

In certain circumstances, I'm just fine if folks don't ask me "what are the book/documentary about?" I can live without going into the details of bipolar disorder with an almost stranger when I have a plate of sausage ball in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. On the other hand, even at my parents' holiday open house, I found myself in more than one deep conversation about depression, mental illness, and struggle -- while standing next to the fridge, or on the couch. By then, I'd switched to Diet Pepsi.

I hope my penchant for intense dialogue won't stop you from inviting me to your party. I'm a lot of fun, and I looked really pretty in my sparkly holiday garb. Lots of people said so -- not just my parents.

Ok. Not unlike what happens when I sit down to write, now I'm going to get to the idea that got me writing this afternoon.

I am in transition. With this whole trying to be a working artist, there are so many steps. First was finding a part-time job that didn't suck out my soul. Done. Actually, first was to decide I wasn't going to jump back into a full-time job; instead, I am working to keep focused on my identity as a "community based, mixed media, conceptual artist/activist" that was so nurtured at Pendle Hill. I am going to remain spiritually grounded (that's only going ok).

I'm getting screwed up with verb tenses, here. I will, I have, I am. None of it is working. I have a whole 'nother post -- actually, I have a chapter, gosh forbid -- that I want to write about the dangers of not only negative predictions, but of the potential tyranny of positive ones.

Here's what I wanted to say when I first started writing. That in order to write, I can't just say, ok, there it is, on your calendar: "Write, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday." No, it starts back with getting to sleep at a reasonable hour on Tuesday night. And getting to work on time. And maybe exercising. It's a whole life I'm trying to construct -- a life I want to be present in.

I'm tempted at the cellular level to write from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. I'd get a lot done. But the next day, I'd be sick with emotion, not to mention how my body would feel. If I fell into a pattern like of late night/early morning and then sleeping much of the day, not only would I lose my job, but I would also be dangling bloody meat before the ravanging wolf of bipolar disorder. Here, kitty kitty kitty.

I'm having to learn a whole 'nother way of being a creative person, one that does not involve painful sprints and abrupt, muscle tearing, screeching halts.

I don't feel sweet about having to learn a new way of being. It's not entirely new -- when I worked in clay at Pendle Hill, I created and presented art without the sprint. Not without angst, but without the crazy. I was, however, living in community. I was being fed three meals a day. I was hanging close to God, and I had the best teammate EVER in launching the exhibition. I wasn't so dang alone.

The alone, well, I need to work on that. While to say that my Mom totally rocks is an understatement, I looked at my social calendar this week, and it was like, "Mom" three times. That was it. Now, that's my own fault. I now have two additional engagements, neither with family members. But I just haven't reached out to the amazing community here in Durham the way I need to. I have friends, I just need to take the initiative and get out there...

In summation: my first job isn't being an artist. My first job is being present, being well, having a LIFE. I'd like to skip that part and get right to being a writer and a documentary filmmaker. Frustratingly, that won't happen, not for any sustainable period of time.

I feel so jangly, in pieces all over the place. But in this moment I'm writing. And in this moment. And in this one...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

this morning, I write

Last night at 4:30 a.m., I woke up with words ready to be put down on paper. I thought about getting up, and then thought harder about falling back to sleep. I'm serious about working on my Bipolar Girl Rules the World memoir -- a real honest to goodness book -- and the feeling of that early (too early) morning desire stayed with me until after I had eaten my oatmeal, drank my coffee, and put aside the New York Times Sunday Styles section.

So I've written for at least a couple of hours on what I imagine to be the Introduction -- I know that I've written long enough to get hungry again, and to do three loads of laundry. I was pretty grossed out by what I was writing when I started, so it was a moral victory to continue onward. I'm going to take the radical step of stopping now, and giving myself some credit for getting work done. I even have a calendar I use to mark out the work I do on my own creative projects, to show progress, and to present evidence when my emotions lean toward catastrophe (you never, you won't, you can't, how dare you believe).

I think I'll post essays as I go along, and I would obviously LOVE any response to my writing. Right now, I'm working on three sample chapters to submit to agents. At the North Carolina Writers Network fall conference, I took a step past the slush pile with two NYC agents, and was asked to submit a proposal for the BPG book. So I guess I better write the darn thing. But I'm building up good support team -- an editor to read the chapters when I'm ready, a possible writing group, and an ex-Random House editor to vet the whole proposal when I'm ready. None of this (except the writing group) is free, but it feels like the right people are lining up to help get'er done.