Why Artists Stop Arting and Where Blogs Go to Die

I want to talk about a phenomenon that every blog reader has likely experienced at least once during their time as a fan of the written, online word. That phenomenon is the sudden and unheralded disappearance of their favorite blog author.

I decided to peer into this epidemic after recognizing that it had happened to me, through the perspective of my own inactive blog. Three years. That’s how long it had been since my last post. This blog was once a forum for me to talk about my art, my dreams as well as featuring the work of other authors going through similar journeys.

Then I just…stopped.

The “poof, they’re gone”-ing of blog authors seems to be a fairly common internet practice. Blogger enters the scene with big promises to build a community around a particular topic and regale her/his readers with expertise, experience and a laugh or two along the way. Blogger does that for a while and then, like dust in the wind, blogger disappears as suddenly as they arrived, leaving subscribers and fans wondering what the heck happened. Is the blogger okay? Were they kidnapped? Did they forget how to write?

What happens next – often a year or more later – is a brief return and halfhearted apology from said author and promise to do better and write more – mostly made out of a sense of obligation to the audience they built more than any genuine belief that they actually will “do better.”

I almost made one of those today. I almost wrote up the whole, “Hey guys, I’m back! I’ll do better! I’ll write more! Let’s go right back to talking about the effects of adolescent pain and discovery on writing!”

That would be bullshit. It would feel true for a blink of a moment as that old enthusiasm came back, then I’d hit “publish” and immediately get swept up in the same Capital-S “Stuff” that pulled me away in the first place.

So instead of apologizing, I’m going to talk about creativity through the lens one kind of project – a blog – and discuss why those creative projects grind to a halt.

We all know the general answer to this. I’m not keeping anyone in suspense here. The one and only answer is simply: life. Life, great unpredictable bastard that it is, just gets in the way.

In my case it was a job; or rather a series of jobs. I was offered a place on a local volunteer arts council. It was a big deal for someone like me: a little artist with dreams of being big. I came in with every great aspiration there was to have. I wanted to meet established, successful artists and learn from them. I wanted to work with others to create events and public-facing art projects the whole town would remember. I wanted to be a local rock star.

During my term on the council, I did these things. I made friends with other artists doing big, “important” things. I helped put on workshops, performances and a massive art crawl where I managed three performance stages in one night and performed on two of them. I lived the dream for a while.

What I learned during this time was that once you’re on stage, it’s hard to get back off again.

The Arts Council led to invitations to other volunteer opportunities, readings at friends’ shows and planning for big, future arts initiatives. Networking led to a job opportunity with a government arts commission, where I booked, organized and helped facilitate even larger-scale arts projects.

All of this was beautiful, all of this was for one cause or another I felt passionate about. The problem was that I was doing this, being on stage and doing the rock star thing while also holding down a second, nearly full time job, trying to continue my work the local writing association, balancing friendships and relationships and…what was that other thing I was supposed to be doing, again?

Oh yeah. Writing. I’m a writer. Fuck, I nearly forgot about that.

In the midst of three years of Capital-S “Stuff” I had, in fact, continued to work on the third installment in the urban fantasy series this blog was created in part to promote. I wrote and submitted a few short stories. What I can’t say I did was maintain the passion and creative energy I had before. That third novel fell by the wayside as I finished the draft, said, “Meh, I don’t feel like putting in the work to polish this” and went right back to the daily grind. I stopped attending conventions. I stopped self-promoting. I stopped sharing my journey with my fans and friends.

Instead I allowed life to be one long procession of dates on a calendar. That thing I had to do on that day. In between “things” I was so exhausted that I barely wrote, I barely put in effort to keep up with friends and family outside of these art circles. I sacrificed my time with the Writers Association – a group of upstart authors I had once been passionate about – in order to fulfill a million other obligations for things that I discovered I found as draining as I did inspiring.

Why did I find them draining? I think it was at least partially because these causes – as cool and as necessary as they were – weren’t my own. When someone you respect hoists a banner and leads a march to war you want to follow them, but eventually that might lead you away from the smaller, more personal battles you need to fight. Neglect those personal battles and you’re still a soldier fighting a good cause – but one without the energy and attention that cause really deserves.

I became a solider marching to someone else’s drum, and the longer that went on the more I realized that I could no longer hear my own.

Is that the curse of an artist? To always have to strive alone or risk losing their personal inspiration in the midst of someone else’s? Or is that just a human problem – that we’re all selfish creatures that need a bit of “my way or the highway” in order to be truly fulfilled?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know what happened to me. I burned out. Excitement became anxiety. Joy became responsibility. Passion became abstract – as I understood why a project should happen but not why I personally wanted it to or why I should be the one making it happen.

So what did I want during this time in my life? I wanted to be left alone. I allowed myself to roll off the Arts Council without renewing my seat – and in the midst of a small event I was planning, no less. When my one-year contract with my commission job expired I told my employers – who had been great to me – that I did not want to renew the position. In an attempt to get off the stage, I bolted out the back door. I pulled away from just about every one and every connection I had made during those past years in desperation to find myself and my own passion again.

I wish I could say that I immediately found it. I tried. I underwent “The Great Hermitude” and moved to a house just outside of town, further from the perceived stress. The stress followed anyway as I found myself dreading simple social engagements and the schedule of the plain-old 9-5 job I had rededicated my time to. Writing happened, but slowly and with barely a sense of pleasure or pride. Another year passed in this gray space. I sought treatment for anxiety and depression – with varying degrees of success.

I hit a breaking point. I had the freedom to fight my own battles and pursue my own creative instincts again. Why wasn’t I happy about that?

I took a hiatus from work – a risky, unpaid month I knew I had to take or risk a nervous breakdown. During that period I dove further into solitude, taking long, meandering walks and rediscovering my ability to let go of daily stress and responsibility and simply focus on me. I dug up an old but interesting writing idea and forced myself to at least look for that creative spark again.

To my surprise and delight, I found it. A spark of a spark, but a recognition that my muse was still alive and well in there. I hadn’t trampled her to death trying to sing loud and proud on stage.

So slowly but surely I started coming back. I moved closer to town again, realizing that hiding from the world entirely was doing me even less good than losing myself in it. The small writing project turned into a big one. Today I’m roughly half-way through a novel that has me more intrigued and excited than anything I’ve written since my escapist teen years. I’ve been going back to Writers Association meetings and trying to pick up some of the slack I left behind.

I still hear a voice inside me to be more and do more. To build community rather than passively experience it. To be that rock star and to receive immediate validation on a public stage rather than a quieter, more honest appreciation from those I know and trust – and most importantly from myself.

This leads me to today, completely aware that I’m still not in a place to make any promises of “doing better,” posting weekly and getting back completely into the conductor’s seat of the self-promotion train.

Life got in the way. That’s the easy answer why I and other bloggers in my position disappear and let their blogs lapse and their readership drift off to newer, more exciting outlets. What I think a more accurate explanation is: Life evolved.

I’m not the guy I was on October 24th, 2014, the date of my last post. I’ve done things and been through things and been taken places just like every individual – artist or not goes through. It’s hard to make a plan and stick with it because we suddenly find ourselves turning right instead of left at an fateful intersection we may not have ever expected. Opportunities fall into our laps. Mistakes happen. So do miracles.

So the next time your favorite blogger disappears or your favorite musician takes a sudden hiatus from performing, take a moment to wonder what beautiful or terrible thing took them away from you, but also have some compassion for the choices they made that led them there. They’re still going through the journey you’ve been following them on. They just had to leave the microphone behind, at least for now.

As for me, you’ll probably see me again. Or maybe not. Regardless, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share myself with you form time to time, when life and inspiration allow.

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Getting Up Again: When Emotional Slumps Lead to Creative Ones

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t written in this blog in over a month. The last time I did was a simple excerpt from a novel I’m working on. The reason for this is that I’ve been wrestling with emotions for a while now that left me feeling drained, tired and weak. Too weak to even feel the energy to try to be creative.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Well, I say that but every life stumble is different. Each disappointment is its own particular cocktail that leaves you with its own particular hangover. This one was about self-doubt, wondering if I’ll ever really know what to do with my tidal waves of emotion, and frustration at a life-long pattern of inability to hold onto something beautiful.

But a person very important to me kept telling me throughout this that the thing I need to focus on is compassion for myself. Instead of raging against what I feel are personal stumbles I need to embrace myself and tell myself that, no matter what happens and no matter what I do, I love myself and I’m worth loving anyway. Though it hasn’t always been easy and though my natural reaction to failure since childhood is to want to yell at myself for not being strong enough, I know she’s absolutely right. At the end of the day, the most important arms around me are my own.

As artists (and in some lovely way, we’re all artists of our own craft) we have a means of pulling ourselves up when we feel so very down. We can create. We can put our fingers to keyboard or guitar strings, we can put our brush to canvas or hands to clay and simply let flow. It doesn’t matter what we’re creating or what can or will result from it. When we create, we’re letting our hearts sing.

That song may sound weak at first or even out of tune, but as we sing, about everything and anything and every bit of what’s inside of us, that voice can’t help but get stronger…and clearer…and more true. As we sing, we wrap those arms around ourselves and let our compassion for ourselves become a part of the vast love of the world. We may not feel beautiful in the moment, but by creating and therefore being the truest form of who we are, we become a part of the greatest beauty of all.

So know that, even when you feel empty, even when you feel trapped or untethered, there is always a way out. Listen for your heart’s song and sing it. It’s always there, and it will always carry you home.

Sneak Peek: The Pull Book 2: Home is Where the Monsters Are

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Below is a sneak peek at the upcoming second entry in The Pull series, Home is Where the Monsters Are. The book is due in the fall. The first book, The Pull is currently available on all major digital platforms as well as in Athens bookstores.

Prologue  

This world we live in is a strange one. The last year of my life was the strangest yet but I somehow know it only scratched the surface. Metal demons, a boy with no memory, a handful of young upstarts successfully standing against the most powerful man in America – perhaps the world.

Amazing things have happened to me since I met that masked boy with the green eyes and the pull inside of him. Amazing things have happened and I know without a doubt that amazing things are yet to come. Beautiful things. Terrible things. I know this because I dream about them.

Sometimes I wake up and remember. Other times I don’t, and carry with me the vague sense that something rich and powerful and ageless is stirring and we are all a part of it. That ageless power is what we call fate. It is more aware than we think, however. It calls to us. It directs us. It pulls us.

I don’t yet know where it is pulling him. I know that question haunts him every day as The Pull grows stronger and louder and more insistent. It pulled him to Atlanta, and there he found other heroes and stood with them against monsters both real and figurative. The monsters without and the monsters within. Some were defeated. Others still attempt to claw their way out from within each of them. I feel that one of them in particular will soon come to face the monster within herself, and the others may suffer for it.

They are my friends and yet they feel like strangers to me. They feel like pictures in a book or words from a poem. I feel that way about myself sometimes too. There are things down that road coming for me as well. Will I become a hero like them? Or will I succumb to my own monsters, and fall before my own purple fire?

I’ve played a part in this story and I have parts yet to play but for now these chapters belong to them. Four heroes, each with a pull of their own. Each has a destiny and a monster to overcome. Each has a weapon they hold close and a dream of a future they will fight for. Without each other, I have no doubt that each of them would fall, broken and alone. Yet together they stand strong. Together they will change the world. In fact they’ve already begun to do so.

My name is Patricia. Like my brother, I sleep now. Like him, when I sleep I see the world for what it really is. I see the story of humanity. There will be loss in this tale; but there will also be triumph. I close my eyes…and turn the page.

Look for Home is Where the Monsters Are, Fall 2013.

What Dreams May Come: Creativity in Your Sleep

– “Humans and Chickens are slaves to robot army”

– “2 astronauts get caught in a giant space net and taken to a giant-sized version of Earth”

– “Island nation is invaded by Nazis. Kid fights back by leading sea monster and fairy army”

All of these are entries in my dream journal. All of them are also being written into short stories. Why? Because I bloody well have to. Sometimes I wake up fresh from a dream so intense, so weird and so exhilarating that I have to follow that story thread through. See my dreams never have an ending. The only way for me to see what happens is to let my imagination take me there.

Here’s an example of one I finished:

– “Small town kids all turn into super heroes. Quiet kid gets it first and learns his school crush is a super villain”

And here’s a link to the actual story:

http://www.fictionpress.com/s/2879058/1/Heat-Vision

Not all of us dream the same. I have a friend that claims he only dreams about mundane scenarios from his ordinary life. Not too exciting to write about sitting in the office drinking a cup of coffee. And yet…the writer in me wants to try to pull a story out of just that scenario. What if the coffee is…EVIL COFFEE!!! What if it’s actually a living liquid creature that is letting itself be drank so it can infiltrate the body of my friend and make him do horrible things that will culminate in the destruction of Earth as we know it! Okay, I’ll stop there.

The point to my fellow writers, storytellers, artists of all mediums and weavers of tales of all shapes and sounds is to mine your dreams. Mine them like there’s gold there and each and every fleck and pebble you find is a valuable commodity waiting to be turned into a beautiful necklace worn by a fairy tale princess.

Just re-read the above. Yikes. My melodrama is showing. I want to go on a tangent now about how we need to create for ourselves and what our subconscious desires ask of us, but I’ll save that for another time. I smell another blog tomorrow! Smells like fried pickles.

Later, dreamers

How Pain Can Lead to Wonder

ImageI’ve insinuated during this blog that my high school experience wasn’t easy. That’s putting it lightly. In fact it was the hardest four years of my life. Social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone for fear of making them not like me. That fact, in turn made them not like me. By the time my junior and senior years came around I was simply known as the silent kid and any attempt I made to make friends was laughed down or looked at with mistrust because I was trying to step outside of my prescribed role, and in high school roles are everything.

Because I couldn’t have friends in the real world (or at least told myself I couldn’t), I resorted to creating friends in my head. First and foremost was a big sister character who was tough, funny, protective and a wise-ass who could love me even though I was quiet. She needed a face, so I looked around at my classmates and saw a tall striking blonde who looked like she was always ready to kick someone’s butt. That became Melissa Moonbeam.

Next I needed a brother character who would be the thinker of the group. He was intelligent and philosophical but also kind and with a dry sense of humor. That became Jason Dredd. There was no one around me who was quite like Jason at the time, so I composited a middle school friend named Damien (my first African American friend) and my real life brother Andy.

I realized then that I was missing an important element to this group: a love interest. I needed someone who would react to my character (more on that in a bit) with kindness, understanding, encouragement and warmth. It just so happened I had an enormous crush on a girl I barely knew at the time. That crush developed because of one instance of kindness showed to me after I had embarrassingly goofed up during a mandatory school play. Because she had shown that element of kindness I needed I took her face and her name and combined it with the warmth and understanding I wanted in a character it would always give me butterflies to be around. In that way, Stacy Cross was born.

Now there was one thing developing during all of this that I’ve neglected to mention. I was assembling that “ideal” circle of friends around me, but during the course of it I was also creating a fictional character for myself. It wasn’t the ideal me, for this version of me had flaws as well, but it was a me I could respect during a time I found it very difficult to respect the real thing. When I looked into my mind’s eye I stopped seeing myself and began to see Nick.

I mistrusted my own identity, so Nick was a character with no identity and no last name. I was skinny and weak, so Nick was skinny but could still kick ass. I didn’t care for my face, so Nick wore a mask. I was uncertain about what I was meant to do with my life, so Nick followed a Pull towards a destiny he neither knew nor trusted. In ways Nick was stronger; in ways Nick was more broken; but he was always quintessentially me even when I didn’t want to admit it.

There were other elements that sprung up around these characters. I wanted a constant companion so a dog named Blitz was born. I felt that teenage life presented an ever-present adversary for me and always whispered in my ear that I would never be strong enough, so an unstoppable monster named The Whisper came to life to unceasingly torment Nick.

These characters were born to give me comfort. When I sat in the back of a classroom struggling with my schoolwork, Melissa, Jason and the others comforted me and made me laugh. When I felt bullied or threatened, a scene would play out in my mind where Nick battled The Whisper and always held his own – or his friends joined him and battled the threat along side him.

These characters soon grew beyond mere comforting mechanisms and began to have lives of their own. In bed at night dreading what the next day would bring, I’d suddenly find a scene playing out in my mind. I’d see Nick and Melissa arguing over something. At first I wouldn’t be sure what, but like wiping the fog away from a window soon I knew. I knew what they argued about and what caused it and what that fight led to and how Stacy and Jason felt about it and that The Whisper was watching the whole time and that Blitz the dog was curled up on the couch oblivious to it all.

My subconscious took these characters from my grasp – maybe borrowed is a better word – and brought them to life. As if glimpsing a movie or a TV show, I watched the entire story of their lives, from Nick waking up alone in the woods with a sword in his hand to the fateful battle atop the *omitted for spoilers*. I gasped when Jason defeated Raven atop a factory in New Orleans. I grinned in triumph when Melissa took to her motorcycle and decided to face her past for the sake of her friends. I wept tears of loss when characters died and screamed in frustration when The Whisper showed up at the wrong time and just couldn’t be beaten.

My conscious mind created fantastical versions of the friends I truly wanted, and my subconscious mind pulled a life – a story for them to live through – from the ether. I didn’t intend to create the story of The Pull, and yet it happened. What I did decide to do, though, was grab a notepad in my parents’ basement in 1994 and begin writing those scenes down.

The story of the process of shaping The Pull into a novel is best left for another time, but I wanted to share that because I think its important for us to realize that even the worst times in our life can give birth to something beautiful. I’ll never call The Pull “the greatest story ever told” but it is my greatest story because it is the one my heart gave me when I needed it most. I share it in hopes that it may be able to give a bit of comfort to those in pain in the same way it did to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a popcorn tale, but it just so happens to be one about finding your true value in a time when nothing is certain.

That value is always there to be found. Sometimes we need monsters to fight, journeys to take and friends to take it with us, but I truly believe that at the end of our own Pull, something beautiful is always waiting.

The Pull Costume for Dragon*Con 2013

ImageCosplaying as Nick from The Pull at Dragon*Con this year. I’d say its coming along nicely. Have any of you ever cosplayed as characters from your original fiction before?

Creativity Through the Fog of Depression

Some of the best artists were inspired by their sadness. Poe, Dickens and van Gogh immediately come to mind. Maybe inspired isn’t the right word though. Maybe they were driven forward by depression; shoved to push their emotion through the only outlet they knew and in the process creating art that lasted through the ages. I’d say more of us, however are simply halted in our tracks by it.

When I say depression I don’t simply mean sadness or loss; I include apathy, lethargy and self-doubt in this grouping because all affect artists in a similar way: they are feelings that either create art within us or prevent us from doing so. I myself am a victim of the latter kind of depression. When I’m filled with self-doubt, every word that appears upon the page is one I neither trust nor feel that I can follow through with. On my down days, I’ll type out a page, absolutely hate it and not touch the keyboard for the rest of the day.

I’ve tried pushing through it. On rare occasions that has worked but more often than not I end up junking everything I’ve written that day because there’s simply no spark of inspiration in it. It’s the sad ramblings of a distracted mind. It might be different if I was a poet or a painter or a songwriter where stream-of-consciousness creation can often lead to genius, but as a fiction writer if I’m not in the game and in the head of my characters that work is going nowhere.

Before I give you the wrong idea with this entry, let me stop and tell you that I don’t have a solution to this dilemma. There won’t be a magical “ah-ha” proclamation at the end of this page that tells you how to pull yourself up by your bootstraps while feeling down and get back to creating great art. I’m a seeker just like you are. This is a blog of questions more than answers, no matter how much I wish it to the contrary. I want to know what you want to know, and in voicing these questions I hope to begin to see answers peeking through the fog, or perhaps even discover that those answers lie within the questions themselves.

Perhaps the ups and downs and how we deal with them are what make us alive. We can’t be at our “best” every day or even most days because on any given day we will only be who we are. I can’t put on a magic hat and suddenly be the best Rob there can be. I can only be today’s Rob. I think…there’s something beautiful in that. My inspiration will come not out of pushing and pulling and fighting it, but out of letting it happen. If you believe yours comes from a similar direction, try to be proud of that, not frustrated by it.

You know the adage about the quietest of us often having the most profound things to say? Maybe that’s a good metaphor for some of us. We sit. We listen. We live, and then suddenly we open our mouths and something beautiful comes out.

I may be back to being frustrated with myself tomorrow, but today that realization makes me smile 🙂