brown paper stories

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.

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11 Responses to brown paper stories

  1. Anjie Wood says:

    I find you eloquent and envy your ability to detail life. I find you brave, able to step out in faith and do what others (namely, me) only dream of. I read you out loud to my husband tonight, proud that I know you!

  2. Deidra Riggs says:

    “…brown paper stories filled with sparkling words…” You sound exactly like a writer.

  3. Clearly, you understand what it is to be an artist, what that means deep in the core of your being. But, oh, such a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about artists on general. Tattoos? Drug habits? What? Most of us are just like you, living normal lives, doing a variety of things to make ends meet (including, yes, professional careers and raising kids) and not giving a hoot about “the look of an artist”.

    Though I will admit to paint on my elbows. Sometimes.

    • You are so right! Sometimes I tend to bend toward hyperbole to make a point. Our pastor’s wife is a brilliant artist, and she has neither tattoos nor drug habits! Keep on painting, Frances, and getting that paint all over your elbows. 🙂

  4. kimberlycoyle says:

    I’m paying attention! Your writing carries me to a deeper place, so keep ignoring that crazy little voice.
    As for the artist thing, this has been one of the hardest things for me to embrace. It feels presumptuous, and shaking the idea that a true artist has a degree of eccentricity I don’t possess has been difficult. I sometimes wonder if I’m too normal;) But ‘a heart ravenous with emotion’? I’ve got one of those too, and it will make an artist out of me yet.

  5. bellaverita says:

    Wow, Amanda. “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.” Such powerful words. As someone who also loves to create with words, this post really resonates with me. I love that you are continuing to create. In my own limited experience, it seems to me that God’s timing and mine are rarely the same. But, I’m always so grateful & delighted when He moves. Almost always, it is in ways I never even anticipated. Keep creating! So blessed to have read this today.

    BTW, appreciate your kind words on my blog today. Thanks!

  6. Amanda, you have no idea how close this hits to home. I JUST finished a newspaper column (haven’t even turned it in yet) yesterday titled, “What I’ve Learned from NOT Publishing.” It’s so hard, isn’t it? I pray a lot. I wonder a lot. And second-guess myself. Thank you so much for writing this beautiful piece. It helps so much to know I’m not alone in this.

  7. I have learned that artists look like everyone! (especially the over-sized T-shirts and peanut butter) This post touches my heart as an artist no longer practicing my craft. Why? Because if I’m going to dance and choreograph, I should be getting paid, I have always thought. But this year, the thought of dancing for (gasp!) joy is creeping into my consciousness. I miss it because it IS how I express God. When you talk about the joy of singing, that’s how I feel when dancing. Yoga just doesn’t cut it in the creative way, although each of my postures are certainly an offering. Thanks for sharing your insight into this part of being a frustrated artist and a mother. You WILL be published when the time is right. And until then, this corner of your audience is reveling in your work.

  8. Roberta says:

    I like your words of I create for the joy of creating… No one has to like what I do but as long as it brings me joy and satisfaction and my Father says to me way to go..after all He is the master creator..

  9. Amber C. says:

    Oh Amanda… these words are just what I needed to hear. Thank you for sharing them. I wrote a little tribute post today, they impacted me so much.

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