What Terri Said

This is one of those evenings on which I’m very, very tired.

My back hurts from typing, and I don’t seem to have any ideas left. Certainly nothing left to write about. And on top of everything, I look back at my blog posts from yesterday and I’m not happy with them. It’s because I’m a perfectionist and I want my posts to have a certain shape, and those particular posts don’t. They’re not particularly well-wrought. And that bothers me, you know?

On the other hand, every time I look at this blog, it makes me happy. I like the painting at the top, like the way in which the link colors actually sort of match the colors in the painting. (Didn’t I tell you I’m a perfectionist?)

So instead of trying to say anything profound, I’m going to quote from Terri Windling, who has been saying profound things as usual. This is from one of her recent blog posts, called “Dare to be Foolish.”

“The simple truth is that being a creative artist takes courage; it’s not a job for the faint of heart. It takes courage each and every time you put a book or poem or painting before the public, because it is, in fact, enormously revealing. (Delia Sherman once likened the publishing of a novel to walking down the street buck naked.) Worse yet, what our work often reveals is not the beautifully-lit, carefully-presented surface of our creativity, but the darker shadow-play at its interior. That can’t be helped. But the good news is: that’s precisely where the best art comes from.

“While our intellect chases its bright and lofty visions, our most original, powerful ideas tend to rise from muddy, murky depths below: from the clouded waters of the subconscious; from the baffling landscape of nightmare and dream; from the odd obsessions, weird fixations, and uncanny flashes of intuition that rise up from those strange parts of ourselves that we know and approve of least; from those places most likely to make us feel ridiculous, and exposed. The muse, if we follow her far enough, and honestly enough, demands that we bare it all: our angel wings and our asses’ ears. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing genre fiction and not memoir; it doesn’t matter if we’re painting fairy tales and not self-portraits. ‘All art is autobiographical,’ said Federico Fellini; ‘the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.'”

I think that’s essentially right, that being a creative artist takes courage. For all sorts of reasons, one of which is as Terri points out that art reveals an awful lot about its creator. And so as artists we are revealing ourselves all the time.

I like the image she ends with, the pearl as the oyster’s autobiography. Because the pearl is something perfected, something round and shining and precious. And yet what is it, really? Sand and saliva. Out of sand and saliva, we make our pearls. And they genuinely are pearls, at least if we make them right. What we dredge out of the depths of ourselves becomes complete, luminous. That is the transformation we are allowed, as creative artists. But the price is our courage, our willingness to live lives in which creativity is possible (which are difficult lives to live), our willingness to go into those depths on a regular basis.

I would offer a corollary to her injunction, “dare to be foolish”: “dare to be serious.” Dare to take yourself seriously as an artist, to make the necessary space in your life for the sort of foolishness Terri describes. To practice, to study, to learn. So that you can be foolish freely, like a clown whose movements are so trained that they are also entirely natural.

I think sometimes about how foolish it is that I’m spending all this time: writing, even doing scholarship. What’s it all for? But I think it’s for the pearl, so that eventually the product of my life will be a shining whole. That makes the fact that I’m tired, and I have a headache, and my back hurts, all worthwhile.

Terri concludes with this statement:

“Don’t be afraid to be weird, don’t be afraid to be different, don’t worry too much about what other people think. Whatever it is that’s original in you and your work might sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. That probably means you’re on the right track, so just keep going.”

Whichever track you’re on, just keep going. It doesn’t really make sense to do anything else, does it? Even what seems like the wrong track can become the right one, can result in the work that will someday make you say, “Yes. That.”

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5 Responses to What Terri Said

  1. Sofia Samatar says:

    Here’s to the shining whole!

    I have no idea if it’s even taking shape for me right now, but this is an inspiring post. Thank you.

  2. Jeff P. says:

    “The Wood Wife” is, I’m pretty certain, my all-time favorite fantasy novel. Followed quickly by “Mythago Wood”.

    Thanks for posting this. It never occurred to me to see if Terri Windling had a blog. Now I know and can enjoy it!

  3. Terri has a gorgeous blog! And The Wood Wife is one of my favorite novels too.

    Sofia, it’s taking shape. Most especially when you don’t think it is, and everything seems shapeless. 🙂

  4. Sofia Samatar says:

    Thanks. You’re so right about TW’s blog!

  5. Isn’t it gorgeous? I love sending people there . . .

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