Among the 3,874 reasons I’m not rich and famous is this: I believed in talent and inspiration. Yeah, and I’d have to put that somewhere near the top of thousands of reasons.
That is, I thought that to be a really good artist or writer, all I had to do was a) be born with the ability and b) waft gracefully about (preferably wearing black) until Capital-I Inspiration struck. Then — voila! — without effort, the poem would write itself, the art would art itself, the Great American novel would spin itself out with no more than a little typing on my part. And glory and satisfaction would be mine.
Sure, I’d heard that line about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But hey, that was for light-bulb inventors, not Artistes.
Which is why I am where I am today. My high school guidance counselor would have called it “failing to live up to my potential.”
I’m not complaining. Mostly. I’m pretty happy with life, or at least that part of it the NSA stays out of. And there’s something to be said for relative obscurity. But creativity still calls. And I’m still fundamentally a lazy ass. Most of my adult life I’ve struggled between a “call” to do creative work and an inability to … actually do it.
I had a big breakthrough back in 2006 thanks to one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Really opened the doors of perception, that book did.
Since then I’ve returned to drawing and pastel painting, played at building kaleidoscopes, and have done a little jewelry making. This has been an on-and-off thing, though, and mostly off for the last couple of years as I put my creative energies into fixing up an old house.
Last week I decided to get out my boxes of beads and beading tools and play with them again. I have another lovely book called Beading for the Soul, whose elaborate, unusual designs have themes of spirituality, remembrance, and things of the heart. This one by an artist named Chelle Mayer had been on my mind for years:
The book calls it a totem necklace. I call it a memory necklace, since (along with thousands of just-plain beads) it contains personal treasures, symbols of her heritage, and other meaningful things. I liked that it’s symbolic and not just something to wear. I loved the wild abandon of the design. I could also see that it would be a whale of a lot of work, weaving all those tiny seed beads.
I decided to make my own version of it, using the provided instructions but of course my own special stuff. Here’s what I’ve done so far:
And here’s a closeup of Chelle’s version, different but same idea:
The dangly-bangly parts are fun. They involve winging it — making constant, on-the-fly decisions about which bead to use next, how long to make each dangle, and so on. Hours of work. But not work at all. The 14″ woven band, OTOH, was hours of utter, mind-bending monotony. And see that little beaded “sock” around the shank of the old skeleton key? That’s done in something called tubular peyote stitch* and on my version that itty-bitty bit alone required about 2.5 hours, made me feel as if I had 12 fingers on each hand (all working independently of each other), and had me wondering why the heck I was putting so much effort into … well, a teeny, tiny beaded sock that fits over a key. Which is only a teeny, tiny part of a necklace. Which most likely nobody will ever wear.
I’m going to finish this thing. I’m done with the worst of the tedium now. But as I weaved those gazillions of little beads, I found myself going back to that old belief that creativity ought to be — if not entirely effortless — at least not boring. Clearly, though, all manner of creative acts (both great and godawful) require a seemingly incompatible blend of great inspiration and the kind of precision or attention to detail that comes only after looooooong, boring, almost assembly-line like work. Pilobolus and the performers of the Cirque du Soliel don’t acquire such weird precision through “inspiration” alone. Michelangelo must have cussed his way through all the dreary years of ceiling-painting tedium in the Sistine Chapel (only to end the dull, dangerous project with a signed protest: “Michelangelo, sculptor”).
I admit that although I look back at my young self and laugh at the notion that creativity is just a kind of a breeze that carries the artist along, I still don’t grok how creativity and so much toleration for mind-numbing boredom can possibly inhabit the same soul. It’s a mystery. Truly.
There’s probably a freedomista message in here somewhere, too. If I figure out what it might be, I’ll write about it another day. Right now … I’m beat from beading.
* I don’t think anybody knows why the stitch is called “peyote.” Maybe because it’s so boring to do that you need drugs to help you get through it.