There is a little slip of paper I have taped to my desk with a quote on it from Martha Graham:
“There is a vitality…a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
I read the first chapter of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” today and had to reach desperately for that Martha Graham quote. The writing in this book is so clean, so real and present, that it sort of blew me away. Of course, the first thing any writer does when they read really great fiction is to compare it to their own work.
I truly believe my 45th year is going to be about finding my own expression–that quickening that is translated only through me into action. “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.” I should have that tatooed on my wrist.
I wonder how artists do it, all the time? How does an actress get through her day without looking at others and thinking that other actresses do it better? How does a sculpter fire that piece without thinking another sculpter could have been more true to the subject?
Is it simply the lot of the creative soul to constantly self-judge? Or is there some way out of this quandary?
“It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
It is my business to say my peace, whether in fiction or nonfiction. It is my business to tell my truth, and never worry that my truth is somehow less important than that expressed by others.
We only have a short time on this planet. Why not tell the truth? Why not be brave? Why not live like an artist, creative and passionate and honest?
There is nothing to be gained in comparison. Comparing my writing to Alice Sebold’s is like comparing a penguin to a volcano–both are important, interesting, natural…but they’re nothing alike.
If you read this, and you’re feeling the urge to compare yourself to someone else, please just stop. Stop for a second, or a minute, or as long as you can resist. Don’t kick yourself if you fall and compare again. Just pick yourself up and try again.
Don’t close the channel. Keep it open. The universe needs every expression of truth it can get.
Peace to you,