Commitment: Upstream by Mary Oliver

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In her book Upstream the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver says of creative commitment, “There is a notion that creative people are absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social customs and obligations. It is, hopefully, true. …The working, concentrating artist is an adult who refuses interruption from himself, who remains absorbed and energized in and by the work — who is thus responsible to the work.”

head-1745250_960_720Responsible not to the clock, the carrots to slice for dinner, or the clothes in the dryer, but to the writing, drawing, music, or whatever your particular talent is. That is an amazing state of mind, which may wreak havoc with the mundane practical elements of life, but which prioritizes that which is most eternal. Do you sometimes drive past your exit on the highway because you are tweaking a plot in your head? Have you forgotten an appointment to have your car’s oil changed or perhaps you’ve put the milk in the dish cabinet by mistake all because you were inventing something in your head? Congratulations. You are being faithful to your ultimate mission.

Does this commitment to nurturing creative thought make you feel guilty? It well might because you are a participant in a society, which comes with responsibilities. You have family, friends, a habitation to care for. Is it selfish to focus on your picture book, your novel? No. You owe it to the world – and to those close to you – to contribute what you do best. Your voice adds something unique to the world that no one else can.

You may be saying that there is not enough time for your creative work. That is a choice you make. Your life is your own, isn’t it? (Easy to say.) There are strategies to make it easier to give yourself to your work.

I’ve belonged to four critique groups, each of which has been a good motivator. Why? One reason is, deadlines. Those artificial demarcations of time allow you to push everyday trivialities aside in favor of the work you love most to do. They give you justification.

Goals can also help because they are targets of ambition. You are not allowing your mind to wander, you are directing your energy toward a higher achievement. If you expend sufficient creative drive, the outcome will enrich life.

A place is also key. Mary Oliver talks about building a small house for herself to write in. Wielding a hammer and nails for your art is one possible solution. Another is to find a space where you can be part of a community of artists, for example Paragraph in New York, where people rent space to write where others do the same. Whether solitary or in a community of like-minded souls, you must have a space in which to let your inspirations become realized.

w-pencilsThe bottom line is that the more time you devote to idea development and the execution of deeply inventive work the more you will be able to enhance the life around you. Dust may collect on your bookcases, but so what? Beauty, passion, and exquisite communication are more meaningful.

On the thought that your deepest commitment must be to your inner self, Mary Oliver says, “In truth, the work itself is the adventure. And no artist could go about this work, or would want to, with less than extraordinary energy and concentration. The extraordinary is what art is about.”

7 comments

  1. Joyce, this is a good counterpoint to my repost “You Will Always Be Creative” from last week.

    You say, “Does this commitment to nurturing creative thought make you feel guilty?” ABSOLUTELY! This is my biggest roadblock and always has been.

    You say, “You may be saying that there is not enough time for your creative work. That is a choice you make. Your life is your own, isn’t it? (Easy to say.)” YES, easy to say. STILL difficult. I’ve done better at carving out “daily” time but it’s more like “4 days a week.” Still, it’s better than nothing. And better than living on savings until they run out, if I just quit working! 😉

    You say, “Dust may collect on your bookcases, but so what?” The trouble is, I’m already there–always have been–but I still have trouble honoring creative time.

    Like

  2. I love this, Joyce. I no longer want to spend much time in my kitchen. Simple meals keep me with my writing longer. After reading your post, I will no longer feel guilty…or at least I’ll try!

    Liked by 1 person

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