It seems unkillable, and relentless. If anyone has a ready remedy (besides drug addiction), oh please, send it over. I’ll dedicate the next book to you.
I know the common response, of course: “Shut up and get back to work.” I’ve offered that one many times myself—mainly to myself. But if we face our naked egos in the mirror, we know that does not banish the demon so easily.
It’s true that doing the work is always the head-clearing essence of what matters—that, and being electrified and enriched and made larger by others’ works, all our lives.
What else is art for?
(Answering that, an old friend just sent me a quote from Stella Adler, which I’ll paraphrase: “Life crushes the soul; art reminds us that we have one.”)
It’s just that there’s one distance: that between the art and its maker. Then there’s the compounding distance between that maker and other makers, which troubles me and has no answer—and is probably ancient. We know relations got testy between Renaissance masters.
But meantime, we have to keep finding (or inventing) ways to live with buzz anxiety.
Every day we meet the Anointed: in book reviews, in the annual rosters of award-winners, fellowship- and grant recipients; in announcements of appointments to positions of honor: names that bob perennially to the forefront of the literary scene who can seem to do no wrong.
It’s not a million miles from the pinch of jealousy one felt toward the popular kids in high school (nothing’s ever that far, finally, from high school)—the ones who wore the cool clothes, had the right hair, the most liberal parents, and dated the cutest people.
Admittedly, I didn’t precisely want to be those types in high school, which was (surprise) a terribly painful and lonely time for me.
What I did believe at the time, very clearly, was: There’s a tribe out there that is mine and I’ll know them when I run into them; it only falls to me to locate them.
One would think I’d located that tribe, at long last: the tribe of writers. But it’s not so simple. And any honest artist would be silly to deny that.
(I’ll carry this on in a subsequent posting.)
Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Life, just nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.