Solitude, Audience, Looking Away

Writers spend lots of time alone. We all know this, know that
sometimes it gets lonely. LOTS lonely. Lost too. Lately I'm
learning (re-learning? Surely I must have noticed this
before) a hard lesson: the fact that very few of the people
close around me ("close" as in proximity) care about
the words I use, care about the poems and books I'm making.
Most of the people I interact with on a daily basis don't
know I write, or don't care, or think it's something hobbyish,
something to do between turning off TV and washing the dishes.
I guess until my father died, I didn't feel the sting of this
so much. He was a good audience, my father; aside from getting
hurt or angry, occasionally, at the political content of my work,
he cared a lot that my work got written. Understood it as work,
as a form of labor and also ardor. Perhaps I'm experiencing
a turning point (some of you have passed this point already
and can tell me what to do): anticipating an outward audience.
Not expecting much, or anything, from neighbors.
Looking for an audience across the country, overseas, out,
far off, and knowing I'll never meet them. Writing for
strangers instead of nearbys. I wonder if this shift is necessary
in order to reach more readers, or if it's not a shift at all,
just a growing awareness of what was there all along?
Perhaps it's just a sense of melancholy after being asked
one too many times lately by strangers if I have kids.
Yes, I think, several. They look like books. You can take
them home with you and read them. You can get inside
their skin. Since this is not an answer anyone wants to
hear I say nothing. It's strange, having your best self,
your most cherished self, your sacred-self invisible to
others. Of course, being gay, this is true all the time.
Anyway, instead of feeling this as sad I want to
make it beautiful -- think of it as an opportunity,
a reaching-out. It isn't that I want applause; I don't.
It's that art requires a certain kind of dialogue
in order to grow. Maybe the difficulty of hearing
that dialogue here is that I live in a small town.
But I think it's more about the lack of interest
in art, in artists, in a culture that values clutter.
So who do I write for? Who have I been writing
for? What feels different now? I wonder
if any of you think consciously about audience
and struggle with this sense of invisibility.
I wonder, too: is it tied to gender? Have
I under-reached all along, because as a woman
(a woman educated primarily in the company
of men, educated amongst and by ambitious
men who discounted me all along) I see my
place as always-already local? Or does it go
back to (as it must) this war, a country increasingly
alienated from its neighbors, a country frightened
by borders, a country cut off? Is what I'm
feeling the trickle-down effect of The War
On Terror -- a sense of isolation from those
around me, a sense that words are not enough?


amelia k bowler said…
this entry spurred so many thoughts for me -- hopefully this is somewhat cohesive.

one of the reasons I do feel isolated is that I am not "out" as an artist. people know that I am a cellist --it is clean, safe, classy-- it was my life from the age of ten. my grandfather asks me to play for his church choir, but he certainly doesn't read my writing, or ask about it.

I want to write things that I need to write. I need someone to read them and think about them, but maybe not people who know me, who knew me when I was a cellist, a good girl, a straight girl, a thin girl, whatever. that "cherished... sacred-self" is a little too scary.

one of the things that appeals to me about the tree art is that even in its anonymity it is recognizable, that the process is visible, that my friends get excited about it. it makes me a part of a community of artists, rather than an artist's girlfriend... who happened to have majored in creative writing.

it's funny and somehow wrong that the most secret art is the deepest, most personal, while the very public art feels the safest: riskless, and very nearly devoid of self.
MEDEA poetica said…
Your father sounds wonderful. What a fine gift for a writer to have had.

Your observation that “it’s strange, having your best self, your most cherished self, your sacred-self invisible to others” rings true for me as well.

I’m introverted enough that it can be a relief when my best self remains hidden from strangers, but it would bother me greatly if I couldn’t discuss my creative pursuits/feel valued by and competent around/get feedback and inspiration from other writers and creative types. This keeps me going, reminds me to focus on my sacred self and its need for expression.

“...lack of interest in art, in artists, in a culture that values clutter...”

Yeah. It is so tremendously important to discuss our work in meaningful ways amongst the like-minded, to find and maintain that connection, to know that we what do is valuable -- especially because our writing requires us to sit in a lonely space, apart from our audience.

“Art requires a certain kind of dialogue in order to grow”

Indeed. The web provides the possibility of this connection to some extent, but it can be odd to interact with writers you never actually meet. The web provides a means to more easily/affordably identify writing that can stop me in their tracks too, which is a gift (but I also want to support folks who publish this work). And, perhaps most importantly, it helps me identify like-minded lesbian writers. Knowing others are out there makes it easier for me to keep doing what I’m doing far more than any connection I feel with my audience.
Carol Guess said…
How lovely -- your words -- thank you for understanding and adding to my thoughts --
Jennifer New said…
Carol, I found your wonderful essay on the Front Porch site and then traveled here to your blog. i was really taken with this post for several reasons. I lost my father a year ago, and though he wasn't an explicit audience (he read my last book and said it was "neat"), he was and remains in some way the person i most want to please. far as invisibility, the notion of others thinking it's a hobby, it was funny that you mentioned kids, your work as kids. i am a mom and a writer, and i too struggle with this. i'm writng about motherhood and creativity right now, and i think a lot of dedicated, ambitious mothers who are also artists constantly feel that art is this total luxury they shouldn't afford themselves; that motherhood should be their 'real work.' Mothering is much loneliner than writing, partly b/c when i write i can be who ever i want to be, but as a mother, you're constantly swimming up stream against all of these powerful notions of what a mother is.

oh, i've gotten us off on a tangent. i'll stop there, but j ust wanted to thank you for your clear prose.
Carol Guess said…
Thank you, Jennifer. And thanks, James, for your earlier comment.

Jennifer, have you read Carole Maso's _The Room Lit By Roses_? I'm not a mother, but I was so moved by her descriptions of the link (and sometimes tension) between mothering and writing.

It's funny -- I almost deleted this post after I published it. It felt too raw, maybe sloppy or useless. And yet several friends as well as strangers have commented that they feel the same way. I'm glad to be in dialogue with you all. Thank you.
Dennis said…

Thank you for the kind comment you left on my blog. And thanks for the M. Harvey notes--her book is part of my winter break reading stack. I hope you are doing well there.

All Best,