A Creative Writer Braves the Inauguration

This is not a post about politics. It is about a creative writer struggling to maintain an art-committed life.

It was great to have a ticket for standing room space on Capitol Hill, but by the time we got through security our view of the festivities was blocked by a tree. It's a good thing this wasn't an April inauguration, as they used to be, or that tree would have been covered in leaves.

It was great to have a ticket for standing room space on Capitol Hill, but by the time we got through security our view of the festivities was blocked by a tree. It’s a good thing this wasn’t an April inauguration, as they used to be, or that tree would have been covered in leaves.

The story begins with a trip to the second Inauguration of President Barack Obama. I was one of approximately 500,000 people to make my way to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall Monday to witness the ceremony. I somehow suppressed my agoraphobia during the entire day, which included packed Metro trains and stations, an hours-long security line, and of course the masses of bodies surrounding me at the base of Capitol Hill during the ceremony itself.

I was there as a loyal supporter of the President, but also as a creative writer. I am everywhere now as a creative writer, ever since I chose three or so years ago to embrace that identity. I can’t turn off that filter on my world.

It was easier to watch the President on a large screen through another tree.

It was easier to watch the President on a large screen through another tree.

So when I listened to the President’s speech, I appreciated its substance, including strong language calling for us to address climate change. But I also appreciated when the prose advanced the substance, such as when he took us through a lineage of rights struggles for women, blacks and gays: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

Now I'm looking west, past the Capitol reflecting pool. Crowds reached the Washington Monument.

Now I’m looking west, past the Capitol reflecting pool. Crowds reached the Washington Monument.

I found myself, however, channeling my third semester Vermont College of Fine Arts instructor, who always wanted me to make better use of metaphor. Ronald Reagan famously did this in his shining-city-on-a-hill speech, which was an homage to a 17th Century John Winthrop sermon. I found metaphor in poet Richard Blanco’s reading. Blanco was a guest writer at one of my VCFA residencies, and it was great to hear him read a poem written for the occasion. It dripped with compelling imagery. But–and I say this with the greatest respect to him–I have learned at VCFA readings that there is not a direct correlation between a poem’s length and its beauty. Speaking for most of the half-million attendees who had been standing for hours in the bitter cold, if you read after the President’s address and before Beyonce sings, you might want to keep your reading short.

We spent several hours jammed on First Street NW, waiting for the orange gate to open; no one was telling us what the delay was, and I'm still not entirely clear on that.

We spent several hours jammed on First Street NW, waiting for the orange gate to open; no one was telling us what the delay was, and I’m still not entirely clear on that.

I would have welcomed a speech by Vice President Biden, although he’s never been one to keep an address short. I’m a big fan of the man President Obama on election night called the “happy warrior,” an homage to William Wordsworth’s poem about the death of Lord Nelson. But Biden demonstrated his passion in his strong enunciation of the oath administered to him by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Both the President and Vice President had been officially sworn in on Sunday, the 20th, as the Constitution stipulates. This was a mere re-creation. But you’d never know it from the happy warrior, who embraced with perhaps more enthusiasm I’ve ever seen another chance at a job one holder of that office compared unfavorably to a bucket of warm spit.

And where does all of this tie in with my struggle to maintain an art-committed life? Well before dawn on Monday, I arose to get in an hour of creative writing, work on the memoir I am determined to complete during my final VCFA semester. Yesterday morning I again arose before the sun, to work on a personal essay I’m writing for a local magazine, before driving my kids to school and myself to my day job. This morning I again greeted the dark as I returned to the memoir. I am now finishing this post before heading into work.

We cleared security just as Chuck Schumer began the official ceremonies. Were it not for our collective fear of antagonizing the TSA agents working the metal detectors, I'm sure some of us would have been freaking out by now.

We cleared security just as Chuck Schumer began the official ceremonies. Were it not for our collective fear of antagonizing the TSA agents working the metal detectors, I’m sure some of us would have been freaking out by now.

This is a difficult time of year for me to rise so early. Along with agoraphobia, I suffer from seasonal affective disorder, which cripples my mood each winter. It helped tank the end of my last VCFA residency. And it took some of the edge off of an otherwise delightful Monday on the Mall.

But I am making use of the whiteboard wall behind my desk, where I track my writing projects in progress. Across its eight-foot length, in foot-tall letters, are the words “WRITE.EVERY.DAY.” So I do.

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

17 Responses to “A Creative Writer Braves the Inauguration”

  1. Patrick, your commitments make mine look paltry, and yet I struggle to keep my WIP moving forward. When I was a writer for hire, I always found time to advance my novel. Maybe I need more stress in my life. Or maybe I, too, need more light. I live in the very landscape in which they shot the Twilight saga. Gloom! That`s what the location scouts were looking for. I must remember to take a double dose of Vitamin D with my coffee this morning. And if you can keep your commitment to your creative projects… then so can I. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for sharing in such an open, honest way. Like many writers I struggle to find the time and seem to manage to do so many other things other than write. I will write when I have worked my day job, completed some consulting assignments, cleaned the house, etc, etc. There is always something distracting me and I am resistant to surrender to making writing my priority. I know it is fear, but in the moment it is easy to forget that we are all overcoming some limitation that can either define or guide us. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thank you, Deanell, for this comment. I have to write at the start of the day, because once I turn to other things, it’s that much harder for me to turn back. I’m impressed that you can still write after those things, but also recognize how those things can be a way to avoid the work. We all do that.

  3. Love your entries – it speaks of a generous spirit and a gutsy guy who faces fears and shares vulnerabilities which equals a strong person to me. I adored the inaugural poem – was surprised at its length, but it gripped me, every word and every pause; i felt he put poetry on the big Map. okay have good days, happy writing; and high regards.

    • Thank you for your continued support and kind words. I like your take on the poem, putting poetry on the big map! It certainly exposed a lot of people to writing they don’t often hear.

  4. I couldn’t agree with your last point more. When I make it a habit to read AND write everyday, I notice a positive difference. And while I have my qualms with Mr. President’s politic tactics, I will give him this, he is a great speaker.

    • Thank you, Karoline. You know, it’s funny; you hit on a topic I plan to blog about, the importance of reading. I fear that is what I am losing in my day-to-day routine; I don’t have the mental energy to read anything with any substance or depth. It is about reading AND writing. and thank you for reading the post even with a difference in political philosophy to our President.

  5. Egad, Patrick, I cannot fathom how you do all of this … all the more now that I’m aware you deal with S.A.D. When depression strikes me, it’s all I can do to defy the gravitational pull of my bed. I’m assuming the agoraphobia reference is tongue in cheek since you do, indeed, go out and about … but I’m aware that the malady includes variations (ones I’ve dealt with, too). How wonderful that you got to be present for such a momentous occasion … and bring your writer’s ear to it. (That last part makes me envision you carrying an ear in a box … which isn’t what I mean at all.) Thank you for your willingness to share your struggles as well as your triumphs. Makes the rest of us feel a little less alone.

    • Terri, what you describe is the nature of depression itself; it’s not just you, although I’ve read your honest words about your own struggles and I can relate. I wish I were teasing about the agoraphobia–I refer here to a fear of crowds, more specifically being in tight spaces with many people–but let me say that I first figured out the problem as a teenager, so I’ve had more than two decades to develop coping mechanisms and train myself to handle situations. A key is avoiding a situation where I am surrounded by a lot of people without an easy exit path; I chose to skip the Inaugural balls in part because they are in fact just massive jams of people in ballrooms with loud noise and flashing lights. The National Mall doesn’t have walls surrounding it, creating at least the illusion of escape. It has been a good four or five years since I’ve had an anxiety attack, and they are not crippling, but they are embarrassing.

      It was special to be able to be there. I chose to skip it four years ago because of the fear of crowds, and have regretted it ever since.That crowd was 1.8 million, so 500,000 was far more manageable! :)

  6. Wow, Patrick, you’re brave! Going into a situation like that with agrophobia is incredible. My eldest son suffers anxiety attacks so I know how debhilitating they can be. You’re keeping up quite the writing schedule too. It puts my piddly hour or two a night to shame, and I’m only a stay-at-home mum, I’ve got no excuses. I like your mantra to ‘write every day’, I’ll borrow that idea and add it to my whiteboard.

    • Given that you’re a stay-at-home mom, Yvette, I think it’s impressive that you squeeze out an hour or two at night to write. I can only imagine how drained you are at the end of the day. But you write children’s books, correct? So perhaps your day job provides some inspiration for you. If so, that’s fantastic.

      • Yes, children’s books, thanks for noticing, Patrick! :-) I’m just venturing into the YA field with my WIP at the moment. I don’t know that writing at night is so impressive. You’d have to be a fly on the wall and see that quite often, I wake up on my hand!! On those nights, I usually give in and go to bed. Ha ha. However, PJ and I were just saying (over on his blog) that if we could cut down on all the social media perhaps we could get some more writing done…A good future experiment perhaps?

  7. Oh, Patrick, I so appreciate your eyewitness account and the fact that you viewed the lens through the eyes of a creative writer. I was unable to watch most of this inauguration, as I was in Nashville, busy with various activities, but reading your account made me feel better. (I hate missing such things, had I been home, I’d have been glued to the computer.) Your commitment to your work is inspiring. I get up at 6 each day to write, and often its the best part of my day. If I don’t do it, I feel edgy and out of sorts all day.

    • Hi Charlotte, thanks for the comment! Well, the magic of our digital age is that any part of the Inauguration you’d like to see now is online, but it’s good to be busy! I’m with you in the early morning writing; it’s hard in the winter for me to get up as early as I do, but starting the day writing is great.

  8. Wonderful account of the day, your ideas and so much more. I most appreciate “I am everywhere now as a creative writer.” A well-deserved title, glad you have taken ownership of it!! And congratulations on your final sem at VCFA. Though it’s mighty COLD up here just now . . . :-)

    • Thank you, Sarah! I like the way you put that; part of my path now is allowing myself to own that title, creative writer.

      As to the cold, I am SOOOOOO grateful that I have done my last winter residency there. I graduate this summer, a time of year I love in that state. But yes, my friends in Vermont are letting me know how rough it is right now!

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