Three years ago I had the most unexpected encounter with the Muse. Until this experience inspiration came to me in the form of images, sometimes still, sometimes moving like a film, but never with sound. I'd often feel the presence of the "characters" I painted (they like to live in my left shoulderblade until I finish painting them) but I'd never "heard" any of them. But that all changed one night in 2009.
I'd just finished a years worth of oil paintings and silverpoint drawings for a gallery exhibit. I was looking forward to sitting back and doing positively nothing for a few weeks. Oh the muses, they had other plans. The very night of the opening, after hands were shaken and the wine was gone, after I said goodbye to friends and hugged my husband, I fell into bed looking foward to the easy sleep that comes with contentment. I woke up to voices. Voices in my head.
I'm not being melodramatic, promise. I literally heard the voices. People were talking and I knew it was no one that was in the room. I closed my eyes and tried to see "them". They were shadows. I knew I wasn't hallucinating so I wasn't frightened for my health, and I think some part of me had been "hearing" the voices for months. I'd simply held them at bay. I didn't allow their words to pierce my consciousness.
I remember going downstairs in the middle of the night and hoping the words would morph into pictures. If I could just draw this new inspiration I thought I'd be okay. I'm so comfortable with pictures. Painting, drawing, this form of expression is HOME to me. I feel ashamed to say, even easy.
But writing, I've never been as comfortable with words. I covet them, admire them, play with them like knickknacks on a shelf, but I've rarely tried to make art with words.
Words scare me. Because of this I tried to push the voices away. They wouldn't leave. Not for two weeks. For two weeks I was flat out. Done. I barely slept, hardly ate and didn't know what to do with myself. I had no tools for dealing with words as art. I couldn't get the words on a page and I couldn't get them to stop. My husband thought the whole thing was very exciting. He recognized the voices for what they were, characters in a story. I resisted this idea, even though part of me knew he was right.
Eventually I won the power struggle. The voices faded and I got back to making visual art. My husband, I recall was disappointed. He seemed unaffected by my sunken eyes and snappy disposition. He is unfailingly supportive always, even when I don't want him to be. He told me the voices would be back. He said I was infected with a story that needed me to tell it. What a horrible thought that was. He was right.
For two years I resisted. I cursed and denied, bargained and lied (<-- apparently I also rhyme). Just when I'd think I'd won the battle, it became clear I'd utterly lost the war.
A year or so ago I stopped fighting. I've let the story come to me as it may. In November I'm doing NaNoWriMo - just to get myself started. No pressure to finish, it's simply time to start manifesting this thing already.
It's a weird story, and I love it. I get terribly insecure about it all the time. I think that's normal, and probably okay. There are bits I worry about, will other people get it? Does it seem contrived? Does this part seem totally separate and disjointed from that part? But all those thoughts are quicksand, and you'll get stuck in them if you linger too long.
I've learned to translate what I know of making visual art into a tool-set for painting with words. It's been working for me relatively well for a year now. And quite well for a few months.
I think one turning point for me was allowing myself to draw an image from the story. It's a pivotal image for me, an illustration that embodies so much of the essence of the story (that's it above). I suppose they call these boiled down bits - back story, or world building, or whathaveyou. Whatever it is, it was essential to draw this moment.
Art & Words - for me they seem to be dancing partners. (In fact this story I'm writing will ultimately be illustrated if it ever gets published - BUT let's not let the Muses get ahead of us with their delusions of grandeur)
To support my artistic soul this month I'll be working on a complimentary project along side of "the story". After a frightening day of I'm certain, near-drowning in a lake of prose I'll be able to find refuge with the original tortured writer - Mr. Poe.
I'm illustrating a new edition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven for publisher Candlemark and Gleam and I'm so delighted. I suspect that Edgar is the only one who can truly understand the dense ache that lives between the shoulder blades after a long day of word torturing. Interpreting his words to images will be my great honor. Although I suspect, not easy.