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