Look at me. Three years old, and I already knew what I wanted to do in life. My family, no doubt, had other hopes. Nurse, secretary, happy wife and mother. Productive, conventional, practical goals. They wanted to see me as a sweet-tempered compliant child, and there, too, they were disappointed. I was willful, disobedient, and often sneaky. I learned to write my name quite early and scrawled it on any available surface. I had imaginary friends who were appalling influences. I made up stories and told them to everyone who would listen (I loved an audience, even when I was doing something bad). I was jealously possessive of my books. In short, I was a writer, and my family couldn’t have been more baffled if a werewolf had been born to them.
Gads of us are born with a creative gene sparking and burning in the DNA dark. The fire gets stamped out in a lot of us, sometimes by our families, sometimes by circumstance, and sometimes it just fizzles because we form other loves that get fed more fuel. But for those of us who stay afire…well, the urge, the need, to create (whether we are writers, painters, sculptors, etc.) is a force like hunger. To deny it is to starve.
So why aren’t all of us creative types successful? Why, nearly four decades after this photo of me was taken, am I still struggling with my brand of creativity? Oh, the answers are myriad, and mostly valid, but in the end unimportant. The important thing is that I still wrestle with my writing. That may seem cold comfort, when writers everywhere are trying to grasp the brass ring of publication and enough earning power to live on. But I have experienced the doldrums, and I don’t mean garden variety writer’s block or a frustrating dry spell. I mean complete becalmed Hell. Silence. The muse has left the building. For seven long years. It was like the loss of a sense or a limb. I could remember the spark, feel the phantom of it, but IT was gone – that blazing pool at the center of me that I had taken for granted. I thought my crippling was permanent.
So, yes, the fire can be painful, demanding, and even crazy-making. It can bring a writer to her knees, howling for mercy. But that is so much better than numbness and cold ashes. I’m ablaze again, thank all the gods, and embracing the agony of it this time. It’s part of who I am and I don’t want to cut it out. If it makes me unhappy, it also brings me wild joy. Fellow writers, accept your own immolation and burn bright. It’s a done deal, anyway, and you probably wouldn’t have it any other way.