Yesterday we went to New York and I lost my creative lens. Like those slippery, circular, corrective devices I used to poke onto my eyeball when I was in my teens, I need my creative lens to function. Without it, my characters fall silent. Their vocations, locations, and provocations gone as if sunken to the bottom of the ocean never to be seen again. Naturally, I’m hunting frantically for my creative lens.
It was a day trip amid a two-week sojourn to the East Coast. More specifically, a trip to Jersey. When my husband, Jon, and I travel for leisure, there are specific activities we put on our agenda. The purpose of our day trip was to explore Broadway.
We’ve gone to many theater productions in our twenty years together. The first play we saw, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, remains one of our fondest memories of that time when we were figuring out each other and how his goals would become mine and my goals, his. A few months ago we made a quick trip to Anchorage and, in a tiny theater that we’d managed to overlook for nearly a decade, saw it performed again. We’ve seen The Book of Mormon, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Holes just to name a few. So naturally, a Broadway show was on this summer’s vacation agenda.
The parking garage was right off 42nd street, which was a huge relief to Jon and I, but for very different reasons. Jon had been stressing about finding parking in the city since the week before our trip began. Me, I tend to fret most of the time about most things, but most notably about being in a claustrophobic city whilst lost in a sea of people. Enduring was the name of the game since the show was several blocks away.
Perhaps I should be truthful. I didn’t lose my creative lens in New York. I lost it a few days before while in New Brunswick. Have you ever been there? I didn’t know such a place existed until this recent March. I was nonchalantly flipping through my new copy of Writer’s Digest after work. The copy had arrived in that week’s pile of mail and as I casually skimmed the pages not looking for anything in particular, I saw an ad. A small blurb really, about upcoming writer’s conferences. If you know me, you know I’m a total conference nerd. I honed in on the details: Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan...and then I re-read the details. Amy Tan was listed as the keynote. THE Amy Tan. Author of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and The Joy Luck Club.
I developed a plan to see Amy Tan in person. I located the perfect grant application (the one I’d been dreaming about for years as an MFA student), applied, crossed my fingers, and then promptly registered for the conference before grant monies were awarded. It was a good thing too, because when I received that big, fat rejection notice, I scurried over to the Rutger’s University-New Brunswick Writer’s Conference website to lick my wounds. That’s where I learned the conference was already sold out.
So, there I was, thankful for a day job that affords me a reserved seat at Rutger’s to hear the incredible Amy Tan and counting the days until I was in her presence.
The conference was surreal. I sat just a few feet away from Ms. Tan where I soaked up her wisdom. I met The Book Doctors, a hilarious and jovial couple if ever I met one. At the last minute, I put my name in the hat to pitch my project. I was chosen to pitch first and had a grand time on stage. The workshops were fantastic as well and I took copious notes about the writing business. Then I went about my way to the “true start” of our vacation in Brigantine where my creative lens slipped through my fingers like the fog in the air.
The Roundabout Theater was several blocks from the parking garage and the streets were teeming with people. I had to get to my reserved seat for Arthur Miller’s play, All My Sons. When I’m not writing or reading or running a few miles, the theater is where I feel the most creative. It was in that theater that I hoped to locate my missing lens.
As usual, we arrived early, and embraced the fact that for a couple from remote Alaska, we’d managed to find our tribe in a city of approximately eight million. Older, quiet, caffeinated, and ever so casually checking their watches that would signify the doors were open. The minute we were given the nod to enter, everyone in the lounge began to make their way to the right floor, the right door, and their previously purchased seat.
We chose middle-of-the-line seats. Mezzanine level, dead center. The “c” seats where seeing requires an hour-plus hold in a cockeyed position to see the actors on stage were much cheaper, and seats we would prefer over not attending at all, were to the far left and right of us. I bristled slightly at the bargain price those folks had managed to finagle and adjusted my glasses. I was ready. I needed the ambiance of Broadway to shift me back into my creative persona. If I couldn’t find my creative lens here, of all places, then it might never return.
I needn’t have worried. Arthur Miller, in his poignant, fluid, and elegant authenticity may as well have returned from the after life and plucked my creative lens right up against my far-sighted eyeballs. Two words found their way to me in that darkened theater. Raw and one. Two words that I’m repeating for my own personal mantra until they’re branded in my brain.
Raw because I think I short myself (and my readers) some when I write. I teeter right on the cusp of gutting people with an image, a word, a feeling, and just before it happens, I pull back. Frightened, perhaps of upsetting someone. Or, more likely, frightened of the potential success that’s right at my fingertips.
One because I’m so tired of starting over. In the words of Autumn Calabrese from Beach Body: If you’re tired of starting over, stop quitting. Yet, how often do I quit? Maybe not a permanent kind of quitting, but the kind that requires a reboot. And when I realize it’s happened (again) I start all over with recommitting and many times over-committing myself in an effort to gain ground. Only to wear myself out before the end of the first match. So, instead of committing to all the things, I’m challenging myself to commit to one. One day. One blog. One chapter. One at a time followed by another one and another one. Until the one becomes more than one and I’m clocking in and out of this writer life on a daily basis instead of once a week or less.
What about you? Do you search for a word to help you rise to a challenge? Words like ‘brave’ or ‘persevere’ or ‘commit’? In January of this year, I committed to the word ‘independent’ for the purpose of taking an independent stance about my writing. I tend to need others to give my projects worth and I decided this year, it was time to value my projects whether anyone else did or not.