This week, Jack Straw published a podcast interview conversation between me and University of Washington professor and novelist Shawn Wong, who curated the Jack Straw Writers Program the year I participated. It felt like a homecoming to sit across the table from Shawn in the same studio in which we recorded an interview about my then-current project, a collection of essays titled Hidden City Diaries, which this blog is named after. This time, we discussed UGLY ME, my recent installation at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery.
What a difference three years makes, and yet, a common thread runs through it all. At the end of my Jack Straw year in 2012, I had completed a collection of essays only to conclude that my work was too personal and probably best kept to myself, at least in its present form. It didn’t go to waste, though.
Last November, I used those essays as source material to write a novel called The Year of the Tiger during NaNoWriMo, a feat I attempted to complete in public via a large screen set up at Seattle’s Central Library. By month’s end, I had written over 70,000 words — a full first draft of my first-ever novel. A few weeks ago, Linda Johns, one of the librarians who advocated for my project, wrote about A Novel Performance in Alki, the Washington Library Association Journal. Linda’s words took me back to that feeling of fear and exhilaration I experienced each day when I came to the library to write, knowing that strangers would be standing just a few feet away, watching as I fixed random words from my brain and experiences from those essays into something legible, tangible and –I dare say– real.
Now we just had to convince Frank that a high-traffic area in a public library was the place for her to bare her writing soul.
Each day when I plugged in my computer and began to type, I had a flash of remembering; I felt the same butterflies when I got on stage to perform my work during my Jack Straw year. Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen, who gave us performance training, had taught us to greet that feeling with a sense of welcome, acknowledging that the butterflies and elevated heartbeat were signs that we were ready to perform.
As 2015 comes to a close and I begin dreaming about my next project, I’m grateful to have a break in which to reflect on the work that has come before and see how the pieces weave together. As I do so, I sense that feeling again — the shaky anticipation of stumbling onto something new. I find myself craving it. Each initiative, whether pure writing or experiential installation, is a progression in a growing body of work that I couldn’t anticipate just a few years ago. It’s is what gets me up every day: the chance to experiment on my own terms and, hopefully, make something that touches others on an emotional level.
As someone who did not grow up knowing professional artists or writers, this understanding of how an art practice begins and develops, or how obsessions can feed and expand a person’s work, is all new to me. Coming into this knowledge, hands out fumbling like a person in the dark, makes me look at other artists’ work from a different perspective. For the first time, I’m beginning to feel into what’s next for my own work with more intentionality and become excited about the unknown, the process.
In one way, it never feels like there is enough time to do any of it –to dream, think, brainstorm, create, write, build, promote, reflect, conclude, report– but when I look back and see what determination (and obsession) make possible, I have no doubt that another link in the chain is not far off. Making art is like exercise; you need alternating periods of exertion and recovery. This is recovery. Exertion lays in wait.
For now, winter approaches and it’s time to hunker down, rest and enjoy catching up on what everyone else is putting into the world. I hope you’re able to do the same.
Raft of the Medusa (Part 1) by Frank Stella
on show at The Whitney Museum of American Art.