Scene: Two Zuni first graders, noses almost on their desks, intently freewriting and helping each other with the hard bits:
Zoe: How do you spell cute?
Brandon (deadpan): Q-U-A-C-K.
Zoe: T’ank you.
Even when I don’t want to write, if I begin, the flow begins: very steady, like blood, or a river.
Year after year I hiked down Frijoles Canyon to the Rio Grande. The river is always there. In different seasons it is different colors—tan in March, emerald in October—and has different water levels, and the sky above changes color and temperature.
But the river itself is always there.
My family was anxious about labels. (“What’s your major?”)
To my ancestors—who according to the Zunis are dancing for eternity, though it’s hard to envision those inveterate Presbyterians dancing at all—I say: What I am is me. I am the one who writes, paints, works, sings…and dances.
How to do it all—time allocation—is another question. Honest, guys, I don’t know how. I dither and fiddle and get cranky. I put in a good work day, but sometimes that means lying in the grass staring at clouds, or walking around an Asian store trying to guess what the hell some dried object is.
I try to distinguish my family’s slightly hysterical work-ethic voice from the deep, driving voice of what actually wants to get done. Sometimes one is louder, sometimes the other. But as I accept my own mortality I have less patience for the hysterical voice. More and more I cleave to the voice of time, nature, peace: the voice of earth, where we are one of the gang: very unimportant, very much a part of the world.
For more on the double life, click here.
Who am I? A writer or an illustrator? Which? Both?
For years I drove myself insane with that question. Sometimes quite theatrically. “Is there a name for somebody who isn’t just an artist and isn’t just a writer but is something that doesn’t really have a name? How do I tell people what I ‘do’? What am I?”
Many a 2 a.m. distress session there. Until a friend clarified things.
He said, “Your nouns are fighting each other: artist vs. writer. If you used verbs instead—I’m painting or I’m writing—then it’s just a question of time allocation.”