Lucy Lemay Cellucci

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All That And A Bag Of Chips

chips

Today is an emotional day. I have just clicked the ‘send’ button on my laptop. As we speak, my latest novel manuscript, the yet untitled sequel to True Colours, is on its way to my editor who will set the wheels in motion to approach publishers on my behalf. On the one hand, I am elated at finally having finished what seemed an impossible project. I have completed not one, but two whole novels in my forty short years of life. Compared to the accomplishments of some writers, this may hardly seem cause for celebration, but seeing as writing is my fourth gig behind motherhood, teaching dance and running an insane cat asylum, I think completing two books is pretty epic.

The downside of this, of course, is that I have now entered that state of writer’s purgatory where I will wait to see if I will be invited to the dance. On a daily basis, thoughts such as the following will drop by unannounced: What if all the publishers he approaches thinks it sucks? What if it does get published and all the readers think it sucks? Dammit, I wish I had written The Fault In Our Stars. I wonder if we have any chips?

This endless loop of self-reproach that I am currently caught up in seems to be something that many artists are prone to at one time or another. You see, we artistic types are a tortured people. And though many of us make a second career out of suffering, we don’t particularly enjoy it. It’s just that we have a rather fine-tuned ability to take the best parts of ourselves and turn them against us. After all, every weakness is, at its core, an over-used strength. This, I believe, is the reason that many artists are so familiar with the landscapes of depression, anxiety and addiction. They’re kind of like signing bonuses given to those who have been blessed with the gift of creativity. The Comedy Awards 2012 - Arrivals

 

R.I.P Robin Williams. Who knew that a man so full of pain could bring joy and amusement to so many? The world feels your loss.

 

 

The suffering, tortured artist isn’t a novelty, but it would be remiss to ignore the many gifts these individuals have given to the world. One only has to look at the works of Vincent van Gogh and  Virginia Woolf as shining examples of artists who have produced beautiful, profound and poignant work through the darkness that shrouded their lives.

The importance of art, be it visual art, literature, music, dance, etc., lies not so much in the body of the work itself but rather the emotions that it is responsible for evoking in its audience. To be an artist, to create something which is capable of generating a feeling, requires that you be an individual with the capacity to feel deeply about things that may not even register on the emotional Richter scales of others.

There are people like my son who see the world painted across a black and white spectrum. There is right and there is wrong. The space between these two places serves as little more than a conduit to travel to and from. Then there are people like an English teacher I used to have who saw the world in varying shades of gray. These people see the subtle transition from black to white. They recognize that sometimes, for example, good people do bad things. Then we have that peculiar anomaly known as the artist. For each shade of gray on the spectrum, the artist sees an entire canvas of possibilities. Sunrise, sunset, a rainy afternoon, a snowy meadow, a beautiful garden, the face of a mountain, calmness on the surface of water, a couple holding hands, a child viewing a butterfly, an elderly woman sitting alone at a cafe … to the artist, these are not merely the constituent parts of daily life but the subtle whisperings of beauty into their very soul.Vincent V.G

To see beauty in life is to see God. This is why, for many artists, creating is such a divine experience. And in those glorious moments when an artist is being courted by inspiration (often at the expense of convenience), creative energy flows abundantly from its universal source and takes root in its host. Some will be called upon to paint, others to dance. Some may compose music or head to the nearest device that will allow them to hammer out their thoughts. Whatever the medium may be, the artist will be greatly preoccupied with the idea that has gripped them like the plague.

Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh, sold only one painting during his lifetime. He took his own life at age 37.

Creating is torturous and chaotic, but having created is deeply satisfying in the way that an artist can look upon their creation and say “There it is. That is what I saw in my head.” If every artist were to pack it in and call it a day at this stage, things would remain on an even keel (somewhat). But like an impetuous child in pursuit of something forbidden, most of us don’t know when to quit. We have that burning question in the back of our minds: Do you see it too?

                The first time I heard Pachelbel’s Canon, I was twelve years old. The haunting melody filled me with a feeling of nostalgia and I hummed it to my piano teacher so that she could tell me what song it was. I promptly had my mother drive me to the music store so that I could hunt for the sheet music and learn to play it. At age eighteen, I saw the ballet Swan Lake for the first time. I was moved to tears by Prince Siegfried’s impossible longing for the beautiful Swan Queen, Odette. At the time, I ached with every fiber of my 5 foot 9, 160-pound frame to be part of the ballet world. Like Siegfried, I also knew what it was like to want something I could never have. And last summer, when I read The Aviator’s Wife, I could not believe how poignantly the author captured my feelings of motherhood and family life — the overwhelming sense of love, gratitude and sheer desperation — all rolled into one experience! All of these experiences were like a jolt of electricity. They accurately described a feeling I could not articulate and gave me something to channel my newly awakened sense of passion. And this is how great art make us feel: as if a key has been turned in an invisible lock, giving us a glimpse into a room that we always suspected was there but somehow were unable to find on our own.

Living a life of creativity will require a keen ability to grapple with internal struggles. One of the more challenging forces to contend with will be how to define what success means and recognize the many disguises it can take. Success, as I’ve come to realize, can be a subjective and inflammatory goal to pursue. When I first started writing seriously, back in 2009, I felt I’d be successful if I could just complete the novel manuscript I was working on. All I wanted was to say to myself Look, I did it! It’s done! Way to go! Let’s eat some chips! Upon completing my manuscript, I was surprised to discover how short-lived my feelings of satisfaction were. All I could think about was how amazing it would be if I could actually get my novel published. If I could actually become a real, published author then this success thing would feel a lot more real. Then, by the good grace of God, my ability to write snappy dialogue and an editor who is extremely good at what he does, I achieved my next goal and received an offer to publish. I will never forget what an amazing day that was when I found out I was getting published. Let’s just say there were a lot of chips. But soon I started longing for the next platitude of author success, and the words bestseller began taunting me. Sure, I told myself, getting published is great, but truly successful authors are ones who actually make an income from their writing and get to see their names on important, recognizable lists. Then I felt bad, so I ate some chips.

Little by little, my definition of success expanded to encompass a further reaching goal that relied more and more on outside validation. I wrote a story — purely for my own enjoyment because I had an idea in my head. Then I gathered the courage to share my story with a professional editor. From there I shared it with a publishing company, and then the entire literate population of the planet. Each time I climbed another rung on the ladder I’d hold my breath and wonder Will they see it, too?

Creating art from a genuine, authentic place, whether it be writing the kind of stories that landed Judy Blume in hot water with censorship boards, composing music only Lou Reed would have understood, or choreographing dances that would have made Paul Taylor’s work look structured — all of this requires a certain amount of sacrifice on the part of the artist. The biggest sacrifice that an artist must make is to relinquish his or her desire to know if people will “get” or like their work. They must be willing to shift the priority from belonging to being.

When an artist has the ability to create and share his or her work unencumbered by the fear of failure or how others will perceive it, then he or she is free to follow the threads of an idea and weave the tapestries to fruition. Whether she receives a standing ovation, a lukewarm reception, or tomatoes thrown, she has an internal sense of accomplishment because she has learned to put more value in creating art that resonates with her than in receiving acceptance from others. Every artist, no matter the medium, is always primarily motivated by an idea that has incarnated, not seen by the rest of the world. Inviting others to share in our work should not in any way diminish or augment the artist’s sense of accomplishment. Popularity is not an indication that one artist’s work has more merit than another’s. Public opinion will always be subjective — self worth shouldn’t be.

Virginia Woolf was a prolific English author and journalist known for her non-linear prose and dark, brooding mood swings. She took her own life at age 59.

VIRGINIA WOOLF

Sadly, this is not the way our society functions. Many artists experience crippling personal crisis as the hallmarks of artistic meltdown take root, disconnecting many of them from their God-given talents. Believing the images that are reflected back to them, they accept their work’s (and thereby their own) lack of value. They define themselves by their inability to garner universal appeal and acclaim. Paradoxically, achieving great success also presents similar pitfalls. Now the artist has set a precedent. What if future endeavors fail to live up to the defined level of expectation? What does that say about the artist and his inability to fill his own shoes?

 

Part of achieving great success lies in the ability to surrender to failure. When we stop resisting something, it ceases to have power over us. We can familiarize ourselves with its curves and contours, accept it as our own, and move through it rather than waste time and energy trying to get around it. When an artist refuses to sit with failure, he refuses an opportunity for growth. Every failure, when detached from labels of personal identity, holds a valuable tutorial. Why push away the very thing that could bring you closer to your goal? Every climb needs a place of origin, and there’s no better place to begin than rock bottom.

Facing failure means accepting the possibility that you are not enough of something — not good enough, interesting enough, unique enough — yet continuing anyway. It means allowing yourself to be open to the subjective opinions of others, found to be either lacking or incredible, and be able to walk away from either of those experiences without loving yourself any more or less.

The ability to arrive at an experience with an open heart and not refer to the script of the running stories we tell ourselves is an artist’s life raft off of the sinking ship of self-destruction. Only then will an artist (or anyone, for that matter) be capable of achieving genuine success.

And this is what I strive for as I sit and wait for an acceptance letter, polishing off a bag of Old Dutch BBQ chips – not so much the approval of a publisher, but the feelings of surrender and acceptance, so that I can recognize my own progression on the continuum of success, and be ready to learn what this next stage of my writer’s journey will teach me.

Wish me luck.

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