In my last log, I confessed to tellin’ a lie. True. Aye, I don’t hate writin’, but it’s like boarding the Publishing King’s boat—bloody exhaustin’ yet exhilaratin’. That’s not what I’m blabbin’ about his time, however. I was tellin’ ya why I didn’t take up the flag of art. More importantly, I’ll tell you how I took up the flag of writing.
All right. I left ya with motive, if you be rememberin’. Now, motive can be as simple as “Thar! A Ruling Kingdom ship, full of absconded wealth. Let’s lighten their load, right, mates?” See? Simple. I see a ship, I want that ship, I take that ship.
But motive can be like the feelin’ you get when you’re surrounded by fog, but you know somethin’s out there.
Same with the art. I couldn’t figure out what awaited, but something weren’t right.
If ye also remember, I told you scallywags ‘bout my early years in Oregon, chasin’ an artist’s life. What need be told is the tale of my beginnings, why art had me in its clutches, while something valuable lay at the bottom of sea, waitin’ for me to drag it up from deep.
The cold Atlantic state of New Hampshire was my birthplace. If you take a gander at a map, you’ll find it tucked between Maine and Vermont with a port of Portsmouth and a measly coast, the shortest of all the states, of eighteen miles. I loved the land, the bodies of water called the Lakes Region. An idyllic childhood of swimmin’ in Lake Winnisquam, pine forests surrounding the houses, offering a playground where imagination ran wild and fantasy found footing—that is ‘til ‘bout twelve years of age, when the real world locked you from that playground and rules, when broken, brought swift punishment.
Arr, we all know ‘bout being pressed into service by parents, neighbors, teachers. Art was my escape hatch. It came easy. I grabbed every line art threw my way. Painting scenery for the school plays, art editor of the high school yearbook, illustrations for the school newsletter, signs for rallies. Even at my New England Tel & Tel job, they took me off the switchboard to paint murals on the wall or create fancy presentations for the district manager. My high school paintings were showcased in the library, then a bloomin’ real art show at the school. Community members attended. I sold two pieces to faculty at the local prep school. A few pieces were even stolen. Har, har! High praise, indeed! I was perceived as having a gift.
And there lies the rub.
Aye, lads and lasses, my talent, my gift, brought recognition, reward, praise. What more motive did I need to keep my compass pointed in art’s direction? Even landlubbers love praise. But while I was bein’ rewarded for one creative venture, I was being punished for another.
Like many young ladies do, I kept a diary where I confessed my secrets and yearnin’s, my crushes and fears. I also formed a small secret club of friends who wrote and swapped short stories, fantasies, mostly, of where we wanted to sail and with whom. Our sexual exploits made it to paper when most of us had never been kissed.
Then the boot came down. First, my dad let it be known at the supper table that he’d secretly been reading my diary. Shamed by this, I metaphorically threw the diary to the fishes. And then, alas, in class one day, one club member passed a story to another girl and the teacher confiscated it, looked it over, turned red-faced, and marched it into the principal’s office. He called in the author and her parents. The club was disbanded. We never spoke of it again.
So art was praised and writing was punished. Around this time, I, the good daughter, found her pirate heart, cursed the mighty, and eventually, my rebellion led to Oregon.
You know the Oregon story. While I took art classes, while I make a living illustrating products for Bi-Mart, the writing ever so slowly surfaced. A sea chest of understanding had to be dragged up from the deep and I found the motive that kept me hooked to art. Productivity, status, and recognition were the currency of my youth, and perception ruled the rule makers. It didn’t matter if you were happy. It didn’t matter what skullduggery played out behind adult closed doors, those same rule makers, as long as no one opened their doors. To expose the hypocrisy would most probably leave you in shackles. The scheming liars who pretended to be God’s own, or privy to special consideration, would do anything to protect their wealthy ship. Poor Grace Metalious of Peyton Place fame lived in a nearby town and frequented the store where my mother worked. When she laid bare the rotten innards of our fair community, she was shown the metaphorical gangplank.
The heart of a creative soul is often cut out to save the reputation of the status quo. Why are we pirates? Because our other option is to become slaves.
So I spoke of hatin’ writing. Thar’s some truth. I could have continued sailing in sparkling artsy waters, but for me, fine lads and lasses, art wasn’t a passion. Writing is. Why? Is it the challenge? Or is it as one of me dear merry friends, me own Roll Around Heavenly Seas pirate chum, Jessica, said, “Do you think it's our potboilin' Celtic blood? The Celts are such word folks they basically won't shut up! Storytellers, all.”
Aye, Jess. I’d say that has much to do with it. But as we wordy, tall-tale tellers discover along the way, it’s a bountiful way to fill our need to express ourselves. In words we can engage all the senses. People move and act on the page. It’s oceans and landmasses of imagination that feel fully alive. We just have a passion for painting with words instead.
Well, mates, I bet ye thought I’d forgot about motive, now, didn’ ya? Nay, I’ll tell ye what sets my sail for followin’ the writing life.
Remember what I loved drawin’ most? Aye, people. For me, and my apologies to the artists out there who feel different, life drawings never came fully alive. With words I can render people with all their senses, from body odor to speech patterns, from obsessions to hidden desires, from a brush of the hair to a powerful punch in the jaw, how they act, who they fornicate with, what they prefer in good grub. What fills my heart like a wind-blown mainsail is uncovering their motives, especially when I know they’re still in the fog. Where will they go next? What will they do? How will they bloody survive? There’s satisfaction in charting their course, in giving them an adventure, and hopefully lettin’ them find their purpose or what makes them happy. Bloody, bloody exciting’! So there it is. Maybe it’s the challenge, somethin’ I never felt with my art.
Well, my fine friends, I hope your sea chest is open and full of treasure, and if not, you’re having your own adventure to discover it.
Right now, before I dry my ink and close my book, I’m lookin’ out my cabin window, and the ocean blends with a wintry horizon. A whipping wind has run cowardly from fierce sunshine while ponderous clouds aim to sink that sun. Luck on ye, ol' sun.
Wishing you a hearty good night, and bless this ol’ ship that carries us forward.
“Sink or Swim: the Dangers of the Writing Life”
"The Fountain of Creative Ideas, or Why My Resume Wouldn't Land Me a Normal Job"
... and an interview with Jessica Maxwell of Roll Around Heaven