I hate to use the word artist to describe myself. I’m not covered in tattoos and don’t work a night shift at IHOP. I’m not struggling to make ends meet, recovering from a drug habit, or walking around with paint on my elbows. I’m a lawyer, for goodness sakes. The amount of artistry it takes to craft a well-rounded, persuasive argument is only appreciated by a select few. To everyone else, lawyers are just suits whose mouths open and shut and money comes funneling into their pockets every time they answer the phone. As if.
But even now that I’ve made a conscience decision to walk away from practicing law, it’s hard. Hard to call myself a writer. Hard to create things simply for the pleasure of creating them. I feel a need to aim that ambition, the same one that fueled me through honors classes and bar exam courses and clerkships, directly into the heart of the creative process. It’s not good enough just to write. Any fool with a laptop can do that. I need to be validated. I need to be paid. I need for this to mean something.
But art is subjective. What makes one person laugh or cry or want to call their mother might be pure drivel to another. My husband read a blog post once that I found particularly emotional and decided to point out an inverted quotation mark. Thanks, dude. Glad that hit you right there in the ticker.
When I was writing my novel, I stayed up into wee hours of the night pouring my heart into the story. I went away for writing weekends. I traveled to Upstate New York and rode cabs alone in Manhattan and hired babysitters in the stale Texas heat just to finish. It took almost four years of painstaking rewrites and hundreds of deleted pages. An editor helped me comb out the background narrative and useless rookie mistakes. But then, I expected my hard work to pay off. I would find an agent. I would get published. My words would matter.
And yet here I sit, after putting two children to bed and wiping off kitchen counters and throwing in yet another load of whites. I don’t have the look of an artist, sitting here in black-rimmed glasses and an oversized t-shirt, with a box of triscuits and a jar of peanut butter by my side. I instead resemble a slightly-crazy person, ignoring reality and doing what I didn’t think possible: I’m giving in to my instincts. I’m not published. I don’t have tangible validation. And yet I keep on going because I simply cannot imagine a world in which I have to stop. I put my hands over my ears when that small little voice starts screaming in my head. No one cares. Quit while you’re ahead. You’ll never make it as a writer. Damn you, little voice. You are meaningless.
I thought perhaps I’ve not been praying enough, or listening enough, or being present enough in this writing process. I stopped myself tonight, standing right in front of the microwave, and prayed that God would reveal to me the best path. How I should be reaching people. Or perhaps learning not to care so much about what those people think. After all, I can’t move mountains. My name might not be in marquee lights. But I can certainly speak with passion – words driven straight from the heart that was formed and blessed by God in my mother’s womb. My heart is ravenous with emotion. My soul is aching to be heard. My hands tremble at the thought of writing about sadness and joy in a way that has never been done before.
And then it comes to me: God’s listening. I create simply for the joy of creating. My words are an offering and a sacrifice, and I can imagine no other audience that matters more.
I am an artist. I offer up these small gifts, my brown-paper stories filled with sparkling words. And that matters, even if no one else is paying attention.