Years ago, I worked for a woman who redefined the term “high maintenance.” When she wasn’t wrecking one of her underlings’ lives, she was hovering over us, all a-twitter, telling us how much she loved being around creative people.
Creativity! Creative people! The creative process! Cool!
She mostly spoke to me and a couple of my colleagues that way, since, she confided, she felt we were creative. That was probably because we spent most of our time moping and whining and slamming doors and coming to work with dark circles under our eyes because we read too much late at night.
But — whatever. If she wanted to think I was creative, fine.
What I couldn’t bear, though, was that she wanted to hang around and watch. That was too much.
Maybe it’s different for other people. Maybe they’re very attractive and winsome when they write or compose or paint. Not me. To me, creating something — which is only writing, in my particular case — is an ugly, unwholesome business.
It involves drooling and twitching. Numerous trips to the refrigerator. Staring off into space. Scratching. Raking my fingers through my hair till it stands up at attention. Sighing. Endless cups of coffee. Microwaving said cups of coffee as they invariably grow cold. Taking showers. Scalding myself. Squinting. Throwing myself on the floor when a word won’t come. Throwing myself really hard on the floor when a word comes, but it’s the wrong one. Throwing many other things. Making faces at the computer screen.
At one point, facing a deadline, I found myself driving around town for an hour. I knew I had to kill off a character. But how? Murder? Car wreck? Fatal disease? Suicide? Does this sound sane or attractive or like something you’d want to watch? I didn’t think so.
Writing dialogue is usually worse. It’s bad enough that I go around hearing conversations in my head (always a bad sign, according to mental-health authorities). But it’s even worse when I start speaking those conversations aloud just to see how they sound.
Today, though, I’m hitting a new low. I’m attempting to write song lyrics for an Esther’s Follies show. The melody I’ve chosen — Edith Piaf’s Milord — is jangling around in my mind. I chant words out loud to hear how the accents fall. I sing them. I ruminate. I delete. I sing some more. I realize this may be the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life — and the outcome may well be dismal and pathetic. So I sing some more. It occurs to me that if some federal agency is bugging our house, I may be possibly driving them totally out of their minds with my offkey voice and my aching, clumsy attempts to rhyme.
Still want to see the creative process in action? I didn’t think so. A sausage factory would be much more attractive. Either that, or watching somebody make cottage cheese.
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P.S. Here’s my firstborn’s first published piece: http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0214/p09s01-coop.html
Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker