Being an Artist
I have this experience periodically when I get together with productive writer friends. Hearing their joy in their work reminds me not to neglect my own. It’s not that I always need reminders. I have felt led to write for nearly twelve years, and I’ve slugged along pretty faithfully, squeezing in writing time, but always balancing it with teaching, motherhood, and now daughterhood. By the standards of many wanna-be writers I know, I’ve been productive. But while the toasts to Elizabeth reminded me how hard she worked on this book—staying up until midnight, getting up at 5 every morning—they also reminded me that I could be spending more time on my own writing, not just trying to sell and promote my work, which is what I’ve been doing lately.
When I heard that Elizabeth had sold her first novel for an unprecedented $2 million dollars, I was so excited for her I started telling everyone I thought might be interested. Several people responded by asking, “Aren’t you jealous? I am.” At first I was surprised by this. Envy isn’t one of the seven deadly sins that gives me trouble (gluttony and pride are more my issues). I felt nothing but joy for Elizabeth, except perhaps a little concern about the added pressure her new fame would bring her. I know that at this moment in my life—with my mom in the hospital and likely to need me more in the next few months—I’m not quite ready for Fox news, Good Morning America, and the rollercoaster of publicity activities Elizabeth is riding at the moment.
If I envy Elizabeth anything, it’s her passion for writing. Long before Diane Sawyer was knocking at her door, she claimed the title “artist” with a clarity I still don’t have, not because I don’t value my art, but because I feel pulled by too many different identities. Sitting in the club that honored Mark Twain, talking with the Slavic singers and other artists at my brunch table, helped to rekindle my own flame and made me long to get home to my lap top in the way one of the Slavic singers said she yearned to sing some more.
After the brunch, I headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to walk off the mimosas before driving back to Philadelphia. The last few times I've been to the Met I was watching my children, rather than the art. This time it was a pleasure to walk freely, to follow what caught my eye and take the time to read the small signs that give context to the work. After the African masks and chairs, I sought out pieces from Eastern Europe—an area I'm learning more about from Elizabeth's novel—and found intricate Byzantine icons carved out of ivory. Then I walked back to my car via Central Park, passing Irish musicians, with acordian and boran, and then a jazz band set up along the path. I felt part of a large community of artists, reaching back through history and around the globe. The African wood carvers, the Byzantine icon makers, the musicians in the park, the bestselling novelist, and I are all connected through the same deep human impulse to create. It's an impulse I want to honor, along with my obligations to my family.