It is a Monday as I write this, and Mondays are Art Days for me lately. I sometimes think I should cancel because the class is long, 2-1/2 hours, all afternoon, and I could be doing something useful in that time, like exercising or writing more pages, or cleaning my house, which has been a less than perfect place lately.
The truth is, I’m really busy with writing work. I have more Lark books coming, and a Barbara O’Neal book in progress (which is taking so much longer than the usual for a book of this sort!) and a surprise project fell in my lap over the summer that I could not possibly turn down. My word count for the next six months intimidates even me, with all my schedules and process checks and charts.[pullquote]
When I leave, I am more rested than if I’d slept the whole day. This, too, is a meditation, a place to let the girls in the basement regroup and talk among themselves without my buzzing, frustrated noises.[/pullquote]
Busy. You might know something about this. Maybe you have a day job or a toddler (if you have an infant, enjoy this time and realize it is fleeting and beautiful) or family problems or like me, ten billion words to write in the next six months and you have no idea how you’ll get it all done. Technically, looking at the charts, the days needed, the hours I must spend working, this Monday Art Day thing is just a bizarre luxury.
I also walk the dog every morning, walks that are very slow and easy now that he’s thirteen and suffering some of the indignities of old age. It sometimes makes me feel anxious, to tell you the truth. It can take a whole hour to walk this route, which once took us half that. He smells everything and wanders down to the next thing to smell. I have a rule that I’m not allowed to check email or other social media sites while I’m walking because I want to be present. With this dog, right now, a dog who is on the downward slide, who will break my heart into billions of pieces when he slides on out of this world. So I stay here, right now.
And meanwhile, the earth is filling me, as Mary Oliver says, showing me everything she has. Sky and the grass in the fields—so long and green a month ago, so dry and wispy now—and birds singing and the very old man I thought might have died making his rounds. My mind flits and wanders around ideas for the works in progress, trying things on, tossing them out. I think about how to organize my day and what to cook for dinner. It’s meditation on the hoof.
This morning, my Art Day, I thought about all there is to do—this column and some administrative tasks and an outline that’s due in a few days, and some research I haven’t done—and I thought I should cancel my class. It will be there next week, and I’m not sure what I’ll be painting and I’m never going to be particularly good at this.
Except, you know, I like it. When I settle into the rather plain workroom with the other painters, the outside world falls away. I focus on getting the leaf patterns right on a fern, let myself be corrected again and again and again, trying anew to capture that shadow, to pull the paint away, to master techniques that are often beyond my meager talents. We rarely talk, the students and I. The instructor is eccentric and elderly and a startlingly good teacher.
When I leave, I am more rested than if I’d slept the whole day. This, too, is a meditation, a place to let the girls in the basement regroup and talk among themselves without my buzzing, frustrated noises.
And here is another small thing about Monday Art Day: I look forward to it all week. I’m happy when I awaken to realize today is Monday Art Day! I’m going to paint! That pleasure of anticipation brings something rich to my life when I’m so busy, a promise of reward and a chance to honor the part of me that desperately wants to just play, to do this thing where nothing is required of me but my simple, humble participation.
I realized, as I walked that dog this morning and he smelled the juniper so thoroughly that I’m sure he didn’t miss a single frond, that I’ve been approaching my writing much the same way the past few years. It started with the whisper of excitement over a new genre. What would happen if I just started playing with new adult romance? What if I invented a new name and gave it a year to see what might happen?
Lark O’Neal happened. She’s having a good run and I am enjoying myself wildly. I’ve also tapped into a readership I’ve never interacted with before, young readers for the most part, who write some of the very best fan letters I’ve ever had.
Another thing I played with is re-publishing my historical romances. I wrote seven of them, gritty books, really, and because they were not on mark at the time they were published, I had all the rights back with the ebook thing exploded. I repackaged and published them myself, and I have to tell you, they have sold way way way way more copies now than they did then. I’m delighted—and kept telling my beloved that I should write some more.
And voila! The universe dropped a project in my lap that is proving to be a completely delight—and it’s also a new model in the current publishing world. Serial Box Publishing is billing itself as HBO for readers, building on the prime television model of story, an “episode” every week, and the first serials are releasing this week. I’m participating in a Restoration-era project with a group of extremely celebrated and accomplished women, to create a series about powerful women of the era. I hesitated at first because the model was different, because I don’t usually collaborate, because I already have a lot of work to do, but the girls in the basement said, “Hey, this will be GOOD! Let’s do it!”
So last weekend, I went to New York for a three-day story summit with Liz Duffy Adams, Madeline Robbins, Delia Sherman, and Mary Robinette Kowal to brainstorm the first series. We were kept on task by fellow romance writer Racheline Maltese, the coordinator for this project. And it was so fast, such a pleasure to be with such intelligent women who know story and love it as much as I do that it filled the well even as it put a lot of pressure on my work load. (Check out the trailer for Serial Box here.)
Work and life, life and work. The art class fills my heart, gives space for things to settle. The dog sniffing hour grounds me in the moment. The new projects stretch my skills and imagination, and keep the rivers of my creativity fresh and exuberant. We cannot only work, but if we take time to tend those other things, the words will come faster and we will produce more than we can ever imagine, and better work, too.
Do you have a Monday Art Day like me? Or some other thing you do to run away from the work and your every day life—maybe a basketball game on a weekday evening or a cooking class or a church service?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!