You may think it's Practice, but you're already there
One of my favorite books of all time is the Judy Blume classic, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. It's about a tween girl trying to understand life while waiting to get her first period, something I remember being highly concerned about, as well, when I was that age. But the book was about more than just Margaret, engaging character though she is. It was also about the power of writing, its ability to communicate experiences from writer to reader.
To wit, Margaret has a grandmother whom she meets at Bloomingdale's for a day of shopping (also one of my most favorite activities as a girl). Her grandmother arrives in a green pantsuit and "lots of green eyeshadow to match." That magical phrase has stuck in my mind for-evah and made me fall in love with Grandma from the first read. I can feel the creamy, mint-green eyeshadow slathered across her slightly crepey lids. In my mind she also wears a particular shade of lipstick, an almost natural-looking pink color that glows with metallic frost. Her shoulder-length hair is light blond from a box and flips up at the ends. She looks Grandma-glamorous, not farcical, in my mind, an older woman with aplomb and verve.
Blume's use of the word, "lots," paints a vivid picture of her character. She tells us so much with so little. I can't remember exactly what Margaret and her grandmother do on that shopping trip. It may just be a lunch date. But my image of Grandma is so clearly wrought, and Blume's phrase has never left my mind.
In the same book, Margaret, along with her schoolmates, has been assigned a year-long research project. A topic unique and personal to each student, the project is due at the end of the school year. Margaret has spent her year considering the interfaith nature of her family. One parent, her mother I think, is Christian, her father, Jewish. (I think the grandmother with the delicious eyeshadow was the dad's mother.)
Again, Blume creates an indelible image with her words. At the end of the school year, the other students lay "thick booklets" on the teacher’s desk, full of what we imagine to be deeply researched academic subjects. Margaret turns in "a letter," in which she has written her conclusions about what religion means to her. As I read the scene, I heard the crisp "T's" in the word, "letter," in contrast with the aurally heavy "thick booklets," an artful distinction that has also stuck in my brain since the first time I read the book. The words express Margaret's brittle confidence in her project, mirroring her fragile sense of self.
I name these quotes in my little book review solely from memory. While I have a copy of the book on my shelves- I even read it again several months ago- I did not pick it up to help me quote the lines. There was no need. These favorite phrases have never left me. They're like my own memories. Reading about Grandma's eyeshadow felt like meeting Margaret's grandmother for the first time. Watching Margaret turn in her project, visually inadequate but emotionally revelatory, made me quiver with anxiety. That's art.
I've been writing a memoir of sorts for the past several years. It's about how growing up as an adopted child influenced me to become an artist. I've written and rewritten parts of it again and again - experiences that shaped how I see the world- so many times I've lost count. I seem to start all over every time I sit down to write. Despite being a highly organized person in other areas of life- the way I run a home, the efficient processes of my business- I just can't seem to get this thing off the ground.
It's possible I'm holding myself to the high standards set for me by Judy Blume and the hundreds of other authors I admire whose works I've had the privilege of experiencing, whether through actual reading or by listening via audiobook. When I do finish my book, I want it to be full of good writing and words that evoke rich images of time, place, people and purpose. But I know that "every first draft is shit." (Didn't Hemingway say that?)
I soothe myself by rationalizing, "maybe the time just isn't right yet." As a person in daily touch with my creativity, this mantra holds truth, not procrastination. Many creative people support the concept that an idea comes to you when it's ready to be expressed. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, writes about this in another great book, Big Magic. I accept this may be the case for me, but it's frustrating, nonetheless.
For now, I'll have to satisfy myself by practicing writing, just as I do designing jewelry. Not every new idea gets incorporated into a collection. I have a few things one th right now, as a matter of fact, that show promise but are by no means ready for prime time. Some ideas are solid but need tweaking in terms of size, weight, or my improving my technique. At minimum, these factors must come together before I can release an object that is comfortable to wear, made efficiently enough to bear a sensible price, and tells its own story.
Hmph. It looks like I may be telling my story already, just not through writing- yet. That's a new idea, an emotional revelation, almost. Hmm... I think I can be satisfied with that, for now.
PS- While researching details for this post I found out there will finally be a movie adaptation of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret! It’s Judy Blume-approved. Read all about it here, and keep your eyes peeled. I can’t wait to see it!! I wonder if Grandma will look like I imagined her...