I decided to start anew – to strip away what I had been taught, to accept as true my own thinking. This was one of the best times of my life. There was no one around to look at what I was doing, no one interested, no one to say anything about it one way or another. I was alone and singularly free, working into my own, unknown – no one to satisfy but myself. I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue.
– Georgia O’Keeffe
Reading this quotation, I started thinking about what I was doing, and what I wanted to be doing, with my writing. In it, Georgia O’Keeffe is describing a process she went through relatively early in her career, when she decided to stop imitating the art she had been studying and try to find her own style. She restricted herself to drawing in order to find the essence of what she was doing – of what she was doing, as opposed to anyone else.
I wish I had the time, the solitude and silence, to do that.
I have a fantasy of being able to go somewhere, maybe even the Southwest where O’Keeffe painted, so different from the forested Northeast where I live now. For a week, I say when thinking conservatively, but in my fantasy for more than that – perhaps a month? Of staying somewhere alone, or with friends nearby that I see in the evenings, so that the days are my own. And of reading. I would read, and I would write, and I would try to figure out who I am as a writer, what my own style is. I would write poetry, prose, whatever came to mind, and try to get to the essence of it.
I do feel that the more I write, the closer I come to understanding both myself and my own writing. But I have a craving, just now, for solitude and silence, for time by myself to discover who I am, what I think. I would particularly like to read books that I have not read, more by Vladimir Nabokov for instance, or some of the modern novels I just can’t keep up with, to see what I think about them, where I say “yes, that’s good,” where I say “no, I don’t think so.” Because those judgments inform my own writing.
I would like some time to do nothing but work on short stories, one after the other. And then I would like to write personal essays, one after the other. And then I would like to find a new way to write poetry, a way I think I’m reaching toward but never have time to develop, because poetry is more time-consuming than anything else I write. I can write most of an essay, or most of a short story, in one day. Or most of a poem. A poem is a particularly inefficient form of writing, alas. And when I’m finished with it, I have – something to put in a drawer.
Solitude and silence, a great deal of sunlight on a cushion where I can curl up. Tea in a mug. A large stack of books and a brand new notebook, every page lined but blank. A brand new pen.
That’s what I want, universe. Are you listening?
I’m concluding with some other quotations from Georgia O’Keeffe. They helped me, and perhaps they’ll help you as well. Here they are:
I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.
To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.
I think it’s so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary – you’re happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.
Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.
I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me – so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.
Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.
Funny, this is what I have been doing for several years now since I withdrew to be a hermit in the Arizona desert (off the grid): reading; writing; and trying to develop my own voice. I can recommend it, but what you have to give up to pull it off…well, I’ve never met anyone else willing to do so (I’m sure they exist: hermits don’t meet many people, really).
But a month is probably doable!
I don’t think I could do it for more than a month, but a couple of weeks sure would be nice!