21 December 2005

Pasmoimeme, c'est moi

"Not Myself". This is my song (YMMV—but don't stop me, I'm on a roll). I've lived it since I emerged into consciousness and started filling looseleaf binders with stories at age 8. It's about being a creater (not a creator), driven to produce art of some kind—music, writing, paintings, whatever. It's about the muse whose grip on you sometimes chokes. It's embracing the wide wonderment of impulses that you cannot control—and understanding that, sometimes, those impulses will swamp you with fear, or obsessive concern, or irrationality. Not forever; just momentarily. "Would you want me when I'm not myself? Wait it out while I am someone else?"

Exactly. Straight up, that lyric is addressed to my best friend of adolescence, Ria, who'd be hanging out with me and I'd randomly turn to her, eyes alight--"I need to write. Now." (Yeah, I was 14, a little drama there—but that was a powerful, overwhelming urge.) And bless her, she would get all excited and hand me a clean white sheet to write on, then she'd sit alongside and wait. Some poem that had flickered across my brain screen would take shape on the page in Bic pen scrawls—me transcribing the input, that's all. And afterwards, my relief would be indescribable. More than "whew"—more like "yeaaaah." Ria would seize that piece of paper, devour the words, and report back instantaneously. "Wow, Kip!" she'd say (my nickname, in those days.) "You did it again! This is amazing!" Who knew if she was right about my writing's quality? That wasn't the point. She was my champion, and that encouragement was everything in my uncertain young life.

And "Not Myself" speaks to my spouse, the man whose patience and calmness outweigh anyone's in my life experience. He doesn't always read the pages after they fling out behind me, and he doesn't really even know what dark thoughts cross like clouds across my sky sometimes. (Memories of distress past...worries about weird things that no one else thinks of...why must people smoke in proximity to a gasoline pump? this whole convenience store could blow sky-high!...desperate, clinging thoughts that I will never get published, I will fail at my calling.)

But Peter knows it's all roiling. He sees my facial expressions betraying my thoughts, and he feels the empty space in the bed when I can't sleep until everything's thought through for the night. Peter believes I will triumph and produce writing that matters. He waits it out. And he loves me in total, all the colors, all the words.
John Mayer evidently knows what a gift that kind of relationship could be. ("Suppose I said, you're my saving grace....") That soaring, gorgeous line symbolizes all my hopes, as well as my major good fortune in having met a person who makes me feel so wanted and comprehended, no matter whether it's poetry or prose that day.
So when I saw the "Not Myself" demo surface today, I reeled a little in my desk chair with anticipation. I wanted to hear it stripped bare...I wanted it vulnerable. I was not disappointed, and right after the song ended, I was gripped: I need to write. 
Two well-respected writers commented on this phenomenon of creativity and self, and since these quotes are also among my favorites ever, I thought I'd share them. P. L. Travers, who wrote the "Mary Poppins" books (and had a rollercoaster artistic journey of her own, I might add), was interviewed by the New Yorker in 1962. She observed about her writing process:

"I think if I should ever start to interpret I should be a little lost. I read my books over and think, How did she ever think of that? I sometimes roar with laughter at things I've written. I don't mean to be conceited; it's as though I were reading a book by someone else."

And in the summer of 1946, George Orwell wrote in an amazing essay, "Why I Write": "From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.... Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane."
Thus is one's relationship with the muse. I love it when people can articulate it; it's a deep comfort. I'm glad that John Mayer set it to pensive music.

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