Maud Gonne claimed that the whole world owed her a debt of gratitude for refusing to marry Yates. Had she not rejected the famous poet’s advances we wouldn’t be privy to all that beautiful verse.
The biographies of artists and authors are rife with stories of unrequited love, painful childhoods, challenging experiences and moments of such darkness as to shatter your soul. Misery breeds creativity. Or so it seems.
I, on the other hand, am an altogether happy person. When the movie Happy Go Lucky came out, several of my friends urged me to see it. “It is a movie about you” they said. My general positive outlook on life excluded me from artistic pursuits. I sat safely behind a 9-5 job while keeping myself busy raising 3 children. When writing arrived in my life, it was with utter bewilderment that I tentatively welcomed the unexpected guest. I lacked the right attitude to be a writer. Or so I thought. Can a pursuit of happiness include creative work?
In hindsight, remembering that times contrasts sharply with memories of the arrival of my second daughter. I had read all the parenting advice books. I understood the importance of preparing an older child for an arrival of a new baby in the family. One nurse practitioner explained to me the emotional upheaval of losing the single child status: “It would be as if your husband arrived home declaring with excitement that he married a second wife and expected you to welcome her with open arms.” My husband and I did everything we could to prepare the first for the second. Despite us showering her with all manners of love and displays attention, there were many tantrums and emotional bumps along the way.
I thought I embarked on my pursuit of happiness prepared. Was I ever wrong.
I wish I had prepared my family for the arrival of creativity into my life with an equal degree of loving tenderness. But alas, there are no picture books titled “Mommy Wants to Write”. There are no 800 page manual called “How to Share Your Wife’s Warm Embrace with all The Fictional Characters that Pop in her Head” that you can give your husband. And there is no “When Everybody in your Family, Down to your Second Cousin Hates what you are Writing” self-help book that I could read to deal with the upheaval that followed.
Let me tell you a little anecdote from that time. This story of a failed pursuit of happiness is like the tiny grain of sand, if you contemplate it long enough you can recreate the whole Sahara Desert.
While writing my first novel, I knew I needed to further the narrative by inventing a recipe involving eggplant. For three months I laboured in my kitchen, roasting, frying, broiling and barbequing eggplants with an infinite number of ingredients hoping to arrive at just the right recipe that would tell a story by making music in the mouth of anybody who attempted it. My husband loves eggplant, it is his favorite vegetable. My eggplant creativity delighted him, producing many new recipes which he asked me to make again and again. Only one recipe made it to the novel, but the traces of that experimentation phase lasted long after. When I finished the first draft of my novel, I gave it to my husband to read. That is when he realized that the crazy eggplant phase was for the novel. I saw hurt in his eyes. He interpreted my aubergine obsession as a passionate love letter from me to him. Not only was I labouring in the kitchen to make his favorite dishes, I was employing creativity to invent new favorite dishes to delight his taste buds. Now that a different intention became clear, it felt less special. He felt wounded and had every right to feel that way.
My family had a full on tantrum and I was bewildered by my new circumstances. I found myself asking: “Does misery fuel creativity? Or is it the other way around?”
Princess Happy Go Lucky was transfigured into Creative But Miserable. And so my pursuit of happiness got sidelined.
The path to Creative and Happy was long and humbling. I do not have the energy to chronicle the full length of my passage. I will flick another sand grain in your direction, hoping you can imagine a lush muddy meadow on your own.
I have a few regrets. Change is hard. Change is painful on the individual level. And change is even more painful on the group level. My way of dealing with my family was to hunker down and knuckle through. Indirectly I was saying: “This is what I am going to do and you just need to suck it up. Just deal with it.” A pursuit of happiness is hard work.
In order to write a novel, one must conjure up an imaginary world with fictional characters. Then you must spend hours and hours for months and years inside this world hanging out with your imaginary friends. Time not spent with those that I love in the non-imaginary world.
“Surely some revelation is at hand;” tells us Yeats in his famous poem “The Second Coming.”
Imagination feels like swimming among purple clouds wearing cotton wings woven from angel’s breath. Once I discovered that place, I wanted to fly all the time. It is a seductive state. It also can become an escape. A way to avoid the mud of earthly reality. But. I refuse to use my art as a tool. This is not crutch. Keeping my feet firmly planted on the ground as my head floated to seventh heaven requires both discipline and practice.
I wish I handled the in-between phase with more compassion. This pursuit of happiness is exhausting.
So thank you Maud Gonne. I don’t need your gratuitous heart break to keep me going. I practice, and sometimes fail, full presence. When I stand across from you, I am fully there. In body and in imagination. When it is time to sit cradling a laptop, my wings emerge.