Tuesday, January 30, 2007

the proximity of gold

When I've started a new novel but am not actively working on it, I quickly start to resemble a crotchety old miner living in the shadow of a massive mountain bursting with ore veins: He grumbles over his lack of riches, rather than simply taking up his pick and striking rock to find what he's looking for. (Okay, my analogy needs work, but hopefully you get my drift.)

Children accept this immediate proximity of gold without all the angst, which is why it's good for occasionally embittered adults to spend time with them. When was the last time you heard a child agonize over a new creation? "I could build that flying Lego fortress, but if it doesn't work out it's going to call into question the validity of every ambition I've ever had! I think I'll play it safe and go wallpaper the bathroom instead."

Of course, writing (like mining) can be hard, deliberate work, each strike of the pick or pen carrying with it the reminder that you might ultimately be proven a fool for even trying. Committing to an artistic endeavor is a gamble, and many of us who choose to use our lives this way are both humbled by the longs odds of victory and encouraged by the success of colleagues. When I have begun a new project that has not yet reached that tipping point where momentum takes over (and it's easier to simply finish the darn thing than to have it bouncing around in my head), I find that I have a real gift for coming up with endless excuses for living in the work's shadow, rather than picking away until I strike a vein. This is not to say that my prose is like gold (as if I had to clarify that), but it is to say that the act of creating (Something! Anything! Be it a flying Lego fortress, or the next Great American Novel, or a tap dance solo, or a model of the Statue of Liberty made out of those cardboard toilet paper roll cylinder thingies!) is the gold itself. One need only be as immersed as a child when actively working on a new project to understand this.

So, what's your mountain? Are you living in its shadow, or have you taken up your pick?


  1. The shadow of my mountain is my lack of self confidence.

    Whew, talk about weird analogies!

    I'm taking up my pick by forcing myself to finish writing the thing (it's the 4th one) and now digging in and editing and rewriting. And also getting off my butt and riding a horse and taking some tests so that I can prove to potential students that I know what I'm doing.

    I'm crazy for doing two things at once but I have to. I spent much of my life telling myself that neither of these dreams were practical or useful but I can't run away from them anymore!!!!!!

    Beautiful post Nicole! Thanks!

  2. Lorelei1:23 PM

    I getcha. What do I not want to do SO much that I procrastinate and make excuses, right?

    I have 2 things. One is confronting people with criticism or in an emotionally charged situation. Hate confrontation. Why can't we just all get along? For me to say something, I really have to work up to it. And then if I've taken the time to develop my response, that's procrastination enough to diffuse my message.

    AND, work. You all would have guessed that if the counter on this website showed which computer had logged on how many times. I'll check this site, shop online, work on kids's school stuff, and then *poof* it's time to go home. Well looky there! If I'd just knuckle down and work very hard for 5 hours a day, great riches would be mine!

    : )

    Oh, and for anyone who thinks they might know me from the above description, Lorelei is not my real name. I'm just using it for this site....

    another : )

  3. Lor, it's not so much "what do I NOT want to do," but rather "what do I want so much that it's scary to actually work at it." Clearly, my analogy needs even more work than I thought. :-) I liked your response, though, and I totally get the procrastination thing when it comes to something I don't actually want to do. I need to have two t-shirts made - one with the words CARB QUEEN across the front, and the other with the words PROCRASTINATION QUEEN.

  4. I disagree with Lorelei's interpretation. I see the question you are posing as "what big things have you inspired or planned to do, where life has simply gotten in the way." If that is indeed the question, then my 'mountain' is my children. And motherhood. I never feel as though I have done enough, or been enough to them. With the arrival of each little bundle, I would secretly whisper all the things we would experience together, all the wonders we would see together, and the quality times we would share. And I know, with my oldest already gone, that I have indeed fallen short. Sadly, an unfinished book, or dusty project will harbor no ill feelings towards you for not "digging longer to expose the ore". Children on the other hand, grow up all too fast, and are capable of asking, "why didn't you dig deeper for me?.."

  5. Jackie: Yeah, well again, I don't think it's Lorelei's interpretation that's off base, so much as my analogy. :-) I loved your comment. It made me think of how much blame we mothers take on when things go wrong with our kids, and how little credit we take when things go right. And you're right about the difference between falling short as an artist and falling short as a mother...very interesting things to ponder.