Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The drought ... and I don't mean water

So what do you do when you’re in a drought? What happens when no matter what you do, and what you try, you suffer a creative dry spell that makes you wonder whether you’ve lost your mojo?

This seems to be what’s happening with me. Sometime around the end of March or beginning of April I wrote a short story. Banged it out in a day. Thought it was great while I was writing it …and hated it as soon as I put the final period on it.

 I find myself hating everything I write these days … whether’s it’s for work, or just for my own creative advancement. I wonder if I’m too picky … or too Virgo “perfect,” or something else that might explain why I haven’t done anything worthwhile in well over three months. The reasons abound. I’m busy. We just came out of the winter tournament season (well, not “just;” it’s May, after all), which is hectic and generally leaves me emotionally drained. All of a sudden, after a spectacular winter and an even more spectacular April, we got reminded why they call this region “New England” with the crappiest stretch of weather we’ve seen around here in at least two years. Crappy weather is depressing.

Well it is to me, anyway.

 As an aside, I love how people react to bad weather. As I said, we have the single most extraordinary winter we’ve seen around here since probably I was born. It was an extended autumn and an early spring, perhaps, but it wasn’t winter. Except for maybe a week in January, when it actually got cold andn snowed once, we were well above average. We were also dry. So dry that the forecasters were starting to use the “D” word … drought. Dum-Dee-Dum Dum. They usually throw that word around in July or August, after a brutal stretch of heat without rain. But they were using it in April, when we’re usually doused with rain. So it started raining around the first of May and, save for a few days here and there, it hasn’t stopped. But bless people and their short memories. Now it’s like, “damn this weather. When is it ever going to stop raining?”

This is why we live in New England. The law of averages catches up with us. We have one horrendous winter; and then we have a decent one. We go three months without rain, then it pours. If it’s crappy on July 4, it’ll be crappy into August before the next pattern takes hold. That’s just how these things work.

I’ve driven many people crazy with the axiom “as goes the Fourth …so goes the summer.”

 But for me, bad weather’s depressing. It robs me of all motivation, and I end up lethargic and apathetic. And we can add sick to the list this year. For the first time in about five or six years, I got a good, old-fashioned, heavy COLD that turned into a sinus infection. So now, it’s “lethargic, apathetic, and miserable.” This is a perfect recipe for just wasting away in Margarittaville (or somewhere else, perhaps).

But the truth is, I’ve felt out of sorts for a long time. Nothing’s coming to me. No blog items. I completely blew a deadline on a short story writing contest because I couldn’t stand the story I wrote. And then, when I tried to do it in a day to MAKE the deadline, well, forget it. Anyone who says they can bang together something meaningful in a night is lying. I certainly can’t. Some of my best stuff has come together only after hours of agonizing thought.

And that’s because good writing – even descriptive good writing – is concise and economical. And it’s impossible to be concise and economical when you’re almost writing stream of consciousness prose. that’s great for a first draft. And even better if you’re just filling the paper with thoughts, and expecting that you’ll sort it all out and make sense of it when you’re done. I get awfully suspicious of people who just let it rip … and then file it away as if the job’s done.

 I’ve always considered my best pieces like my children. I spend a lot of time with them, nurture them, correct them when I have to, and tend to want to hang onto them long after I should let them go be what they’re destined to be.

 But in the end, I have to let go of them.

So I figure if I’m going to let this child, or this story, out into polite society, I’m going to do everything I can to make them both acceptable. Anything less does them no justice at all. I don’t know … I just haven’t had the energy in quite some time now to do all that’s required to produce a real good piece of writing. This isn’t to say I haven’t done my job. But my job, thankfully, involves more than producing real good writing. There’s enough planning, editing, graphic design, and other things to be busy without writing Pulitzer-type copy. I’d rather go for the gusto than meet anything halfway when it comes to writing.

There is no such thing as “good enough” with me, and I’ve never understood, or had any use for, people who have that attitude. So I think all of these things have contributed to this funk. If I’m not all-in, as Terry Francona famously said last October, than I’m not in at all.

Back in the 1980s, I remember reading that Huey Lewis (of all people, right?) had this problem. He was having a devil of a time writing music for his next album. Now, I always thought Huey Lewis’ music was rather pedestrian even at its best. He always seemed to me to be a living, breathing example of a guy who went through life with the motto “no heavy lifting.” Yet there was Huey, spreading the news that the well had run dry. He got over it, of course, and wrote more pedestrian music.

Let’s just say I’ve never aspired to be the Huey Lewis of writing. I have the opposite problem. I aspire to be the John Irving of writing. And that, my friends, is an impossible standard to meet. Ever since I read “A Prayer for Owen Meany” I’ve felt that nobody could ever write a better book. Even he’s never really topped it. His “Cider House Rules-Owen Meany” are to modern literature what “ Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper” were to popular music. They both represent a period of prolonged, stunning excellence that may never be duplicated. They were both the works of extremely talented artists hitting stride … confident in both their material and their presentations. But here’s the thing. To get to Cider House Rules, Irving had to slog through three books in practical anonymity before he hit it big with “The World According to Garp.”

From there, he sailed, but the period leading up to Garp lasted almost 10 years. The Beatles didn’t have Irving’s problem with regards to anonymity, but if you take their material from the beginning up to Rubber Soul, you can see the progression. You can see how they went from teen idols serious musicians without too many people noticing.

 I went back recently and listened to a lot of songs from “Help,” and, lo and behold, there were signs on that album that they were straining at the confines of teen idolhood. There was maturity in a lot of those songs. The point is nobody produces a masterpiece right out of the gate. Well, except maybe Michael Oldfield with “Tubular Bells.” And Justin Hayward wrote “Nights in White Satin” with the Moody Blues when he was 19 (and it always infuriates me when he says – as he often does – he had no idea what he was writing).

 By and large, though, we all have to trip all over ourselves a few times before we connect. And even after we connect, the important question – at the end of the day – is “with whom are we connecting?” I ask because we may connect with ourselves (which is much more important in the long run than whether we make the top 10 best seller list), but with no one else. If you know anything about the history of the arts, there are way too many examples of composers and authors whose best work languished in obscurity for years before someone gave it another look … and often long after these people were dead.

So yes, it’s a crapshoot. So if you’re an artist, or in any way creative, you’d better learn the chorus of Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party:” You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.” Anyway, that’s where I’m at today … tonight … as I contemplate why I’m stuck in a morass of ennui and apathy. This is my confession of sorts. Who knows. Maybe it’ll break the logjam. Lord knows something has to.