When I first think of the concept of artistic temperament, I think of the stereotype of moodiness, broodiness, and emotional explosiveness. I think of the sensitive and tortured artist, usually a poet, dressed in black turtleneck and black beret (my thinking, after all, is a product of my culture). But on second thought the concept can include almost anyone in their striving to do something well, to create something a cut above or in an extraordinary manner. Such creators can include the sculptor, the painter, the scientist, the writer . . . and the housekeeper, the child, or the CEO of a large corporation (along with many others). The artistic temperament is the urge to create, the desire to bring forth something new under the sun and the desire to do it just right, to work hard to achieve the level of art.
The creation of something extraordinary involves times of solitude; time alone for thinking, planning, researching, the writing of rough drafts, and the polishing of works in progress. However, this necessary solitude can be the source of friction and contention with those around us (our families, friends, colleagues). The desire to be alone to concentrate and focus on our creations can be perceived as an anti-social act. After all, we literally do slam the door on others as we tune out the din and demands and distractions of the mundane world in order to hear the quiet voice of our muse. If we’re denied our solitude, through excessive socializing or incessant interruptions, sometimes our level of frustration can grow to gargantuan proportions. We sometimes react negatively. Then we can be accused of having that notorious “artistic temperament” in the pejorative sense of the concept–moodiness, broodiness, and emotional explosiveness.
But it’s frustration, pure and simple. Not long ago I felt the supreme frustration of the character played by Jack Nicholson in the movie “As Good As It Gets.” The character was alone writing his book and was just about to make an important discovery. He was writing “Love is . . . love . . . is . . . ” he was almost there . . .and then came the knock on his door. I wanted to scream myself from identification with that character. I know the feeling all too well–almost there and then the knock on the door or the ring of the telephone (danged telemarketers!), and the important thought has slipped away, sucked back into the world of elusive ideas and discoveries.
Many writers who work at home face serious problems of finding privacy. After all, we can write any time…can’t we? It’s not real work…is it? We don’t punch a time clock…do we? Our work doesn’t always pay much…does it? I think Virginia Woolf was on to something important when she said that to be a real writer we need so much money per month . . . and a room of our own. The money, in the form of an inheritance, makes the writer obligated or beholden to no one. It gives the writer the freedom to dig deep and tell the difficult truth. The need for a room of our own is obvious: we need an inviolable space or sanctuary away from the world of ordinary interruptions. It is important that we find or claim that space of our own, whether it’s an office, a room, a shed, a space in the garage or attic, wherever that space can be found. Once we claim that space and train those around us that we are serious about our need for uninterrupted time to create, be it an hour or an entire day, then our situation can improve. Especially if we make it clear that we’re to be interrupted during this time only if someone’s life is in peril. Now, if we could just find someone to mention us in that will . . .
But it’s equally important to keep ourselves from turning into complete recluses or loners. It’s important to stay involved with people and the everyday world. I think of Shakespeare and his amazing knowledge of human nature and motivations. He could not have gotten that sense of things without an active social life (and I’ve read that he was very involved with the people around him). So a writer needs to find his or her own balance between solitude and socializing. After all, it’s people we model our characters on and we have to get out there and interact with them in order to guess what they’re about and why. And it’s people we turn to in times of joy, triumph, trouble, and sorrow. Just as we can’t do without solitude for our writing, we can’t do without people either.
What are we actually doing when we try to write for publication? We’re hoping to catch the ears and eyes of those who will hear us and see us, who will understand and perhaps identify with the things important to us. Milan Kundera writes in his novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, that the essence of the writer’s occupation is that we write books “because our children aren’t interested in us. We address ourselves to an anonymous world because our wives [spouses, friends, etc.] plug their ears when we speak to them.” Could be. Could be. But it’s interesting to me how the anti-social act of writing/creating can then become a social act of communicating and connecting, perhaps even on a deeper, more intimate and extraordinary level. So we continue to write and create, despite the many obstacles and difficulties we’re presented. Where there’s a creative will, there’s a poem, essay, story, or book that will eventually be born.
(Originally published in Fiction Fix)