Nothing gets done, fellow artist, but that it gets done by your body.
That includes every speck of thought, dreaming, planning. That includes every speck of perception and memory, and all those amazing, disturbing images that tiptoe shyly into the secret clearing in the secret forest of the writing mind.
Therefore, we can’t live like idiots anymore.
If you have to ask what that means, you’re still very young—either chronologically or developmentally.
It means, writing friends, we must pay attention to our heads and faces and necks, our clavicles, chests, bellies, arms and legs and feet! Lungs, hearts, veins, livers, guts!
Our dear bones. Our joints. Our patient, faithful, for-the-most-part-long-suffering and enduring, sturdy bodies.
Resolve to treat yours like royalty, going forward. Put in high-grade, clean fuel. Give it plenty of vitamins, rest, and vitalizing recreation. Go gently on (or make a wide end run around) alcohol, sugar, drugs.
The above reminders may seem insultingly obvious. But you’d be amazed (or maybe not) at their willful repudiation by many who have absolutely taken what they consider a daily blood oath, to make good and abiding work.
If you degrade the instrument, if you treat it carelessly or unkindly, what’ve you got?
Blighted pages. Or no pages.
Not only does the body—containing the precious precious brain—fuel and drive (via memory, impulse, and articulation) your work. It dwells in the world, and thereby infuses your work with lifegiving authority. It schleps around. It sees and listens. It knows the score (even, often, when you don’t). Its experience every waking minute gives unimpeachable form and dimension to your stories.
Somehow, writers get lax about remembering this as we grow up and learn to navigate outrageous fortune, as we try to figure things out. But we most of us were once, even for a little while, someone’s darling baby, fed and cossetted, bathed gently and wrapped in a warm towel and vigorously rubbed until we shone.
We have to reprise that kind of prizing—if I may—of the instrument.
Paraphrasing Keats: That’s all we know on earth, and for an artist’s intents, all we need to know.
Carry on, then, this new year, in health—and in joy for the privilege of possessing artistic purpose. Be someone, per Henry James, on whom nothing is lost.
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.