Thursday, June 18, 2015

Plodding, Obdurate Effort

I'm in the middle of Sally Mann's unexpectedly good autobiography, Hold Still. I say "unexpectedly" because, while I knew she was a stunningly gifted photographer, I had no idea she was also such a gifted writer.

Her story itself is gripping. But I'm also finding her observations about her art, and about her creative process, deeply reassuring. Especially this:

Art is seldom the result of true genius; rather, it is the product of hard work and skills learned and tenaciously practiced by regular people. In my case, I practice my skills despite repeated failures and self-doubt so profound it can masquerade outwardly as conceit. It's not heroic in any way. To the contrary, it's plodding, obdurate effort. I make bad picture after bad picture week after week until the relief comes: the good new picture that offers benediction.

She touches the profoundly unglamorous truth of it all: the plodding, obdurate effort of making art. For me, it's writing. 

These days I feel like we're trained to focus on the end results, on the shiny cover, the hyperbole-laden press release, the accolades and lists. We're expected to maintain a beautiful lie across all social media outlets, a lie that suggests this life is easy, that these books were birthed fully formed with nary a moment's gestation. Because the truth is far less glamorous. 

The tenacious practice of your skills, that plodding and obdurate effort, they really are at the very heart of what writing is. The showing up day after day to work against odds that would make any sane person walk away. I'm comforted to know someone of Mann's caliber agrees. 

Clearly I am not sane, because I'm still here. How I crave those brief moments when I feel like I've actually created something beautiful, when I get a hit of what Mann calls, quite simply, "the relief." I've been doing a lot of plodding, obdurate effort lately--more than ever before--and I've also been catching a few exquisite hits of the relief. I still have a way to go, but those transcendent moments make it all worthwhile.


sandi said...

Thank you for sharing this. And thank you for persisting when it all becomes a slog. When your efforts pay off, you enrich my life and bring joy to many.

Sue Woo said...

Thank you. Thank you. I've been trying to get my feet back underneath me. Your post made it occur to me hat my skill set is fighting the good fight. I'll take today and get back to it.

Michele in Maine said...

Thank you for this. You can't know how timely it is.
(p.s. the Claramels were awesome!) Bordhi said...

What you have written here is a benediction and a relief...lifting the cover to reveal what is true for all of us. Thank you, my friend.

Crow Johnson Evans said...

This is exactly what and how I needed to be reminded. Grateful hugs and wishes to you on your journey. I heard myself saying yesterday "nothing is working, why am I even trying to write and weave in this life dance?"
It is exactly as you describe it.

The moments of relief are otherworldly.

Dana Whitney said...

I need to run into this idea daily. I'm working on grit, engagement, and meaning.

CPAKnit said...

Thank you, Clara- For the book recommendation and for being you!