Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A path less travelled...

As August 2011 begins, I can't help thinking that this has been a mad half a year - full of ambition and ideas, thoughts of nature and the elements and art and artists, and all as starry and dark as Van Gogh's beautiful painting, 'The Starry Night'.

Why such a mad half a year? Well, I'd finally taken time off to pursue my studies:)

Yes, I've been quite jobless lately, and studying William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to boot:)

It's been fun so far. But while it's been crazily good not to have to wake up early every day and hurry off to work, I have to say it was really disorienting in the beginning to become a student again.

I'd always suspected that I'd come to rely far too much on the social outlet of work to provide me my sources of inspiration. And darn it, my suspicions were proven true so fast!

Left to my own devices, I found myself feeling quite lost. And pretty unmotivated to get new writing out.

But family and friends were there (thankfully!), as were interesting classes on authors I've neglected to read. Studying them is a humbling, humbling process btw, one which has made me realise just how ignorant a writer I am... and how much room there is for any writer to learn and grow.

And though the quiet day to day can be really uninspiring a context for writing or studying or anything, really, the solitary aspect of being a writer and student has had its benefits.

The reason I wanted to take this time off for myself in the first place was simple: I needed to surround myself with an environment that would stimulate artistic growth and good literary work. My day to day job before this was one that wasn't too hectic, but it was extremely dry and dull for me. It wasn't a 'painful' job, but it wasn't passionate either. It was simply - comfortable.

Only, being too comfortable can be quite hazardous to creativity, can't it?

Every single day, I could feel the pull of being a writer thudding deep inside me. But I was unable to give that imaginative passion free rein.

Even when I did take the time to sit down for hours and write - enjoying myself hugely in the process - I became aware of an urgent, wistful whisper playing at the back of my mind. It was a kind of warning that, if too much time passed, my writerly self would simply vanish without a backward glance beneath the quiet demands of my comfortable job.

The thought scared me. I loved writing too much. I wanted to become a successful writer too intensely to simply give up that dream without a fight. I just wasn't sure if the fight was one I was equipped to win. This doubt ended up diluting much of my desire to make it as a writer - I thought that failure to make a living at the writing trade would be the ultimate defeat. Faced with defeat, I simply gave up trying (a curse of the perfectionist, if you will).

But the desire to write can be a stubborn, obsessive one, and this time I'm glad that obsession has had a positive turn to play for me. Basically, I was faced with the choice of carving a strong career path that didn't involve writing, or taking the chance to chase my dreams and make them happen. I knew that something in my life needed to change drastically if I were to choose the latter path. But enough time had passed that, emotionally, physically etc, I was confident enough to take the plunge.

Doing something drastic is different for everyone, of course, and comes in many guises. For me, the drastic  change to my world manifested in the risk I took to leave behind a secure job so that I could further my studies in literature and reignite my passion for storytelling.

In taking this time off  - a time off that I've worked hard for many years to finance btw, which makes it taste all the sweeter:) - I've found my creativity growing in leaps and bounds. In fact, my initial hopes in this respect were quickly exceeded!

Not only has reading works of nineteenth century Romantics and debating literary theory  stimulated many, many thoughts creative - it's been an added bonus that exposure to works self-published by writers of old (and which subsequently went on to become classics) gradually influenced me towards entering the world of indie/self-publishing.

Now, a multitude of my stories/poetry have been sent out into the world. And they are actually finding an audience! What more could a writer hope for?:) I might not be the next millionaire writer out there - though I really hope that happens! - but knowing my audience exists is a huge motivator for my writer's soul:)

I suppose the question of the day is: How do you know when the right path has been taken, when the right step has been made in any endeavour?

Answer: You don't.

The important thing is, you have to follow your heart, dig in to acquire the skills necessary to make what you do the best it can be, and hope it all works out. If you must, have a back up plan. But make sure it is the back up, and doesn't become the only plan without you realising it/because you fear failure (which was my bugbear for the longest time).

Hmmmm, in the spirit of taking risks and paving paths that are often easily dismissed, I'm reminded of a well-known poem that's always been one of my favourites. I'm sure many of you love it as well. It captures a kind of magic - the magic of the moment if you will - promising that if you follow its shadowy trails, certain paths can change your life forever. I've loved Robert Frost's 'The Road Not Taken' since, well, forever! And I hope you enjoy it too:) -

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

by Robert Frost

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