I am, first and foremost, a Creator.

“Do what you love.”

This mantra, instilled in me by my mother, is one of the many reasons I’m grateful for her guidance. She’s said this to me many times over the years, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have chosen to be a writer without her support. Not that doing what you love is easy, but it’s much more fulfilling. I know this because I’ve done things I haven’t loved. No matter how hard it can be to sit down and set my fingers to the keyboard, it always leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished something—the gratification of a creator.

Indeed, creativity breeds inspiration, and vice versa. The creative mind is always at work. Some days, I will sit down to write and not notice the time passing, and I’ll look up and five hours have passed and thousands of words have flown from my fingers. These days are rare, unfortunately. More often I’ll slog through an hour or two and need something to recharge. Sometimes the simple acts of walking the dog or doing the laundry will clear my mind and allow my subconscious to solve the problems of plot or character or dialogue. I have noticed, however, that working on other creative tasks feeds my writer’s mind. And so, in between writing, I create other things.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

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I couldn’t say exactly how this works, or why, I just know that it does. Sometimes I worry that I’m procrastinating. I ask myself: wouldn’t my time be better spent at the computer? But I’ve tried that, too, and you can’t force creation, only encourage it. There’s common advice in the writing world, in which you set aside your work for a given amount of time before going back to revise. Some say a month, some a year. For me the time varies and I always wish it were shorter. One of the things I’m learning as a writer is finding the best ways to encourage my creation.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand. 

Also between writing, I’m still researching away. My phone call with the agent last week went very well—not only did he give me some invaluable advice (formatting is crucial, and the 25-lines per page rule should most definitely be followed, for example), he agreed to read the manuscript. Draft 6 is “done,” and I think I may finally have achieved the triumphant end. Of course, now that I have this opportunity, I feel like I need to revise it at least fifty more times. I have a week and half to nitpick, and then it’s time to take a deep breath and send it off.

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The Emerging Painter

Artist Jourdie Ross at her solo show, I Remember It Like This.

It is my honor to congratulate my sister Jourdie Ross on her first solo show, titled “I Remember It Like This,” where she was a featured artist in this month’s First Thursday at the Santa Barbara Forge and Iron. *See her website, www.jourdieross.com.* I am encompassed by pride.

Growing up, I would look at abstract art in museums and wonder what was so special about it. I would look at a red smear on a canvas and think, can’t anyone do that? The answer is no, anyone can not. I have never been all that good at painting in the abstract, myself. (At my final critique in a painting class at UCLA, I hung the 30 or so paintings I’d done over the quarter. My professor walked along the wall, pointing and commenting, even praising several pieces. He stopped at the one abstract work and said, “What happened here?”)

Treats from The Blue Owl offered at the SB Forge and Iron, made by Blue Owl culinary virtuoso Jacqui Wou Ross, our mother.

Technique. Composition. Ability to work with varying media and combine colors and materials. These are a few of the things an abstract artist must master. Beyond the tangible, abstract art may speak with the emotion from which it is born, and this is one of the things that makes my sister’s work so powerful. Hers is work that moves you, because she has the vulnerability to engage so thoroughly in her own experience and bring it to the canvas in such a way that you are present to your own experiences.

Child interacting with installation piece.

In the words of her artist statement, “My work is about fear, and turning fear on its head. I make art about the parts of ourselves that we marginalize, that we so often hide from ourselves and from each other; our uncertainty, our sadness, our doubt, our longing. My work is pictures of my own experiences with these things, what we so often call negative emotion. With my art, I aim to create a space where turmoil can reside, where we can find beauty and humor in our struggles, and begin to befriend rather than alienate the parts of ourselves that feel pain.”

The sunset view across the street from the gallery.

The Emerging Musician

May I present the hypnotic album, “FARYN,” created by my talented friend, Doron Diamond. He has done almost everything himself, including playing an incredible range of instruments, from guitars and piano to English horn, ukulele, and glockenspiel, not to mention vocals.

I find his music lulling, entrancing, and am only the more entranced knowing his work comes from a place of love and passion. His latest album is worth a listen – check out the tunes and purchase the tracks here. I am deeply honored to have been one of the people who supported him in having this happen, and thrilled to see my name in the acknowledgements section of the page!

Artwork credit: Gina Farkas

What does it mean to emerge? For artists (and this includes all kinds – painters, writers, musicians), there is an elusive turning point at the beginning of our careers at which moment we believe we will no longer be aspiring but will have “made it.” This moment, I fear – in fact, I am pretty sure – does not actually exist.

As a writer I might believe that publishing my first 800-word article in a beautiful, respected, glossy magazine might be it. (Happened – wasn’t it.) I might believe that selling my first short story might be that moment. (Happened. Wasn’t it.) Finishing a first draft of a novel. Nope. Second draft? Third? No and no. So then I might believe that publishing my first novel might be that moment – this hasn’t happened yet, but from what I hear, this won’t be that moment either. You finish one, and then you just ask what is next, and each book is no easier than the first. So when does one call oneself “successful”? At what point has an artist actually “emerged”?

Since there is no actual moment, no single event by which to claim before and after, we must be proud of each success, and have faith that the harder and longer we work, the more success we’ll have, and there will be some magical moment so many successes down the line where we will look back and suddenly realize that not only have we emerged, but our emergence is past, and it has all been worth it.

The Passion of Asher Lev

Quite a few months back, my mentor suggested I read Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev, and I finally read it last week. The novel tells the story of a young man torn between his religion, Hasidic Judaism, and his art. Asher Lev’s dedication to his craft was more than passion. It was like breathing, or a heartbeat – without it, he could not survive.
From the beginning of the novel, discord grows between the protagonist and his father. Asher’s father wants him to give up drawing and study Torah, but Asher is incapable of abandoning his art. His passion is such that at moments, he will make a drawing and not remember having done it. [**Spoiler Alert!!**] Ultimately Asher must choose his community or his art. By the end, Asher has been expelled from the community, and he hurts his parents deeply. He sacrifices his relationship with the two people he loves most for the sake of his painting.
I am lucky that I do not have to make this choice. I am lucky to have the support of my parents. For my father’s 65th birthday in April, I went with him and my mother to the Lang-Lang concert at the Granada Theater. Classical music gives you a lot of time to think, and during intermission, my mother said, “I’ve been thinking about what I can do to support you.” She was thinking about the way that she was raised, and how she has realized her passions later in life than I. I am blessed to have the emotional, and fiscal, support of my parents. I would not be where I am without them. They make the way for me to follow my dreams.
I do not have to make Asher Lev’s choice. I wonder if I could – I don’t think so. But I also do not think I would die if I could not write. I have received several responses to this. My boyfriend jokingly accused, “That means you are not a real writer!” As an artist himself, he is familiar with the self-questioning we creative types daily face. My writers’ group in Santa Barbara suggested several things: 1) it is unlikely that I would ever not be able to write, given the society in which we live, 2) not being able to write and not being able to create at all are different things, and 3) not writing may not inspire a literal death, but a figurative one. A mature, female artist friend said, “To die if you cannot create? That is how it is for all true artists.” 
Professional writers write all the time, on everything. They keep notepads in their shirt pockets and scribble on napkins, in lipstick on car windows. At a UCLA panel last year, Kate Milliken said – “Writers write. If I am not writing, I do not consider myself a writer.” My passion is strong but not that strong. I am no Asher Lev. I think about his character, his story, and I am both grateful and jealous. What would life be like, if I truly could not go a day without writing? Of course, it is not something I would like to test. The more I think about it, the less I like how my life might look with such a ban. Can Asher Lev’s type of passion be cultivated? I think I shall try.

Naming My Passion

I hesitate to call it “discovering” my passion, since I have always loved to write. When my sister and I used to have sleepovers at my aunt’s house, she gave us a marker and pencil set and two notebooks. Blank pages – those lacking lines – are usually used for drawing, and I had a pretty good collection of pictures. But in amongst the images was a story about a caterpillar that I had written in kindergarten. I have been writing stories since I knew how to write.
My mom used to force me to write journals, particularly when we traveled. I have a fantastic pocket-sized book full of ranting about my sister when we were in China. Opening the book today, the scent of the pages brings back my feelings of vexation. At fourteen, I finally started journaling for myself, using the technique of “freewriting,” which I hated when it was introduced to me in a middle school English class. English classes, of course, were always my strength, and I eventually became an English major. There was nothing else I wanted to spend that much time on, and nothing else I was as good at. Going through my closet the other day, I discovered several issues of my high school newspaper, and more articles than I realized I’d written. My sophomore semester on the editing team of the literary magazine was one of the best I can remember – and my introduction to creative writing workshops.
Often through my life, I’ve wished I’d known what I wanted to be when I grew up. I envied my father, who got an undergraduate degree in architecture, a graduate degree in architecture, and then became, yes, an architect. I think about all the things I might have done, had I known. Yet I can look back and see that I have always been a writer.
So, rather than saying I’ve “discovered” my passion, I will call it “naming” my passion. There is, however, a lot to be said for naming one’s passion. It gave me a path to follow, steps to take. I connected with a former English teacher of my sister’s who became my writing mentor. I took creative writing courses, and developed writing groups out of them. I decided to apply for graduate school, for a Creative Writing MFA, and I then applied, to 11 schools – writing the personal statement is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I got not one but two internships, at CASA Magazine and Santa Barbara Magazine . I began reading short stories in The New Yorker , I read novels on writing (John Gardner, Stephen King), I became addicted to the “Visual Bookshelf” app on Facebook. And – I wrote.