In Washington, DC, a tremendous amount of creative thought takes place, but unfortunately none of it occurs in Congress. Or perhaps like striking a match in a cave, there are occasional flashes of innovation, cleverness, and creativity, but they are quickly lost in the black abyss of lawmaking.
Politicians aside, it is the inherent nature of human beings to create. If you consider our basic state upon entering the world, and our origin as a species, we arrived here naked and empty-handed in a world of nature. From that origin, we have created opera halls, helicopters, vaccines, and the all-important cabernet wine.
I think constantly, even obsessively, about creativity. I’m home again in Washington, DC, and one of my goals here is to surround myself, if I can, with other creative people, however that creativity may be expressed.
While I was in Georgia, I walked to an Italian restaurant with a friend who has been a serious fiction writer for years, never giving up, writing novel after novel, trying to publish them. I sat in a bar on New Year’s Eve with a friend who has such an intense passion for painting that he seems to feel all the rest of life is merely in the way (and he’s not the only painter I know who feels that way). I talked with my brother, a musician who feels a growing intensity in his desire to do something with music. I might also cite myself as a writer, walking through the days with the fire of wanting to see words say things that have never been said before.
Creating is human—cooks, gardeners, teachers, plumbers all have their own creation. Most creativity, however, is like Shaker furniture, both creative and functional at the same time. But I’m considering a type of creativity that has no immediately obvious function. We do not need novels or poems to be able to eat. Sculpture does not keep the rain off our heads.
Yet there are people like me or my friends or my brother, driven with intensity and focus and even neglect of other needs to create things that—God knows—do not make money in most cases, and sometimes do not even garner much attention.
Nevertheless, if I can momentarily speak for this tribe trying to shape the world into new worlds, I can say that it is impossible to live without doing these things. My memory of writing goes back to third or fourth grade, when I began to play with short pieces. Next month I will be 60, so I’ve been doing this a long time.
About seven years ago, at a time when life was hard in many ways, I thought about how little success I had had as a writer (only 10 or 12 short stories published), and I concluded that I must have been mistaken in doing this. I decided that I had fooled myself in believing I was a writer, that I had hopelessly spent years pursuing a stupid dream.
So I quit writing. In my head, at that moment, it was truly over. I went on writerless for months, but what had formerly been the purpose of my life, the thing that moved me forward when everything else fell away, disappeared. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, but I was sure I was not a writer.
What I was wrong about was thinking I could stop. Whether writing brings me success or not, it gives me life. When I finally returned to writing, it was now with the clear recognition that this is not what I want to do, it’s what I have to do.
I have never been more engaged with writing than I am now, working on this blog, on a new novel, on an occasional poem, and on a musical with my brother. Because I’m a writer. And there is nothing on the earth that ever has been or ever will be that will stop me.