"The measure of artistic merit is the length to which a writer is willing to go in following his own compulsions."
-- John Updike
Updike's words speak to me, and not just because, like many artists, I am compulsive.
I used to carry around with me the words, "Passion equals strength." I'm not sure anymore whether this was said or written by anyone famous, and if not said by someone else, how I came to put those three words together, and believe in them with such fervor (the word "fever" would also work here, too, I think!).
Our passions, our compulsions -- they can lead us into risky territory.
If we're just talking self, it's how deep we go inside to find our art, and then -- how much of that we're willing to share. Yes, sharing is risky business. My fiction is heavily layered (at least I think so) ... so layered that the truth, my truth, is buried somewhere within several characters. I will admit that, readily.
Eleanor, as a female counterpart to my own self, allows me to say things that might be too risky for a male character to say, as in, too close to home. ("How much of your fiction is autobiographical?" the interviewer asks. "Well," you respond, "none of it -- it's a story for gosh sakes. It's made up. Fantasy. Not my life, but somebody else's. You interviewers all ask the silliest questions!")
Eleanor is helping me find my truth, this I will also readily admit -- along with the other characters in her story, her life. But it's a combined activity of characters and the words that carry them.
And to what lengths will I risk myself in this effort? I have to risk everything. Have to. And then I can turn it around and put those layers on, like frosting a cake.
Therapy is tough going, especially when you need to be honest with yourself first, then taking it one step further and trying to tell a compelling story that the reader can take ownership of. You, now reading these words, are the therapist I cannot see. In the end, I have to answer to myself, though -- however far I am willing to follow those compulsions -- which is, of course, the risky business of art.
The thing is -- this risky business saves us.
For Updike, artistic merit might be the reward, at least in context of those words. For me, the reward is that "strength" that I used to imagine came from passion, in some past life. Maybe it still does, the passion part, but I must look at it through a different name.
"Words are so cool," Eleanor is telling me, "because you can twist them around any way you want, for good or for bad."
Well, I need it to be for the good. (Whatever "good" means.)
To Reach The Green Light At The End Of The Pier
FOR AS LONG AS IT TAKES: "We are saving ourselves through the words," says Eleanor, the leading lady of a novel-in-progress. This exploration into the creative process -- which includes plenty of distractions/tangents /thoughts & rants by Eleanor, her Biographer, and selected guest artists -- will continue until Eleanor is certain her story is "right." (But we dare not jump ahead of ourselves.)
There will be the occasional typo (as Eleanor points out), and much of this is intended to be "original draft" -- what comes out of our mouths (heads) first, and then set down in that order. Not all of it will be included in the novel, but all of it is happening in real time.
ELEANOR says: "Please turn the page. Keep reading."
For more of Eleanor and her Biographer -- as well as the work of our many guest artists -- check out the older postings. "Everything is part of the process, and the process is the journey," Eleanor says.