Monday, November 15, 2010
Being self-employed has a long list of pros and cons, so to tip the scales in the favor of eating regularly, last spring, I acquired myself a mentor. A spit-fire writer in her early seventies, she dishes out equal parts encouragement and criticism, never mincing words although she says she’s like a priest—confessions exit her head as quickly as they enter it.
Recently she called to tell me that she’d finished reading my manuscript.
“You’re a real talent, Valley,” she said, “but the question is, what are you going to do with it? You need discipline! Reading your writing is like racing through a museum with too many paintings on the walls. You need to slow down.” Essentially she was saying that I had something readable that needed to be entirely rewritten. I felt my spirit soar and then flop as it always done when my as yet unrealized potential is held up for inspection.
But instead of balking, I listened. You can’t just pick up a mentor on special at Martin’s. They are hard won. In fact, I feel I deserve special recognition just for having one. A reference to our working relationship really beefs up my self-esteem and my resume, a few short lines after “Waffle House Waitress” and “Food Lion Coupon Distributor.” She went on to quote Gustave Flaubert, who said, “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
“Get boring, girl!” she said.
I agreed that I would try, but getting more boring than I already am is a task. All of the bohemian types I once knew, like me, now have dental insurance and mortgages. Well, that’s not entirely true. One friend is living in a corner of an abandoned warehouse, another sends me emails about her skinny dipping expeditions in Sierra Leone. But by and large the ramblin’ fever with which I used to burn has been watered down.
While there are many ways that I do live on the edge (I actually don’t have dental insurance), I am, for all intents and tax purposes a wife and a mother living in the suburbs. This is a set of facts I often find difficult to accept, much like Steve Martin who refused to believe he was anything other than a small black boy in “The Jerk.” My once bleached, dreaded hair now gets conditioned and blow-dryed. Sensible crocs have replaced the combat boots and fishnet stockings of yore. I can almost say that I am now more comfortable blending in than sticking out.
To enhance the boringness of my life I could stop going to all night dance parties- but oh, wait, I already did that- twelve years ago when I also stopped hopping from state to state, man to man, etc. But what I could really do, that would have an actual impact on the quality of my artistic life, is not say yes when I mean no. I could silence the phone and disconnect the internet when I’ve carved out time to write. I could make a schedule, adhering to it when it’s the last thing on God’s green earth I want to do. I could slough off the outdated belief that being creative means being haphazard and wild. Because being boring and being disciplined are two entirely different beasts; beasts that must be slain politely and with decorum, in the manner of the bourgeois.
From Belle, November 2010.