A longtime Newnan resident, Susie Berta enjoys many creative pursuits including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife”. She can be contacted at [email protected]
Rilke or Rumi, Steinbeck or Hemingway, all great writers had, and have, the physical capacity and the emotional aptitude for quiet solitude.
Getting to grips with your own emotions alone in a quiet room, inviting introspection and self-examination isn’t all that makes a writer great. But I really don’t think you can be a great writer without them.
However, one of Ken Burns’ ubiquitous biopics presented Hemingway as a writer among the best of the best, but his capacity for self-awareness was totally lacking. He was a tortured and narcissistic man who could be thoughtless and cruel. But sweet Elvis, could this man write. He had an inner voice that only he could bring to a page. So what do I know? I know Hemingway did his best as a writer, while failing miserably in other ways as a human. So there is this.
When I write, whether it’s this weekly column or my book, now published, I value and demand quiet time in my home; a soothing and restorative silence without the grandchildren – whom I love very much, of course – asking me once again to refill their glass of juice. The quiet house where, for a time, I am alone and can create freely without interruption. The peaceful house when everyone is sleeping and the only sound is quiet, the calm air, the dull hum of the fridge, the keys on my keyboard clattering and the thoughts in my head trying to get out and get organized on the page.
Paul Simon wrote the haunting song he and Art Garfunkel sang together and made famous in the ’60s: “The Sound of Silence.” Simon wrote this song alone in the quiet of his bathroom, the water tap running and the lights turned off as he worked to harness his talent and create magic. It took him months after that to finish polishing the lyrics. Look no further for an example of the constant effort required to allow creative genius to materialize and be a remarkable work of art.
All great writers care enough to try and try again to improve their skills and do their best, which stems from a deep personal commitment to spirit and vulnerability. Of course, perfection is a mythical madness, a unicorn. But we can get close.
That said, there is still no guarantee of success for any creative endeavor, no matter how well-intentioned and sincere. Singing just isn’t in the cards for everyone. Writing is not everyone’s happiness. Some people are talented dancers, circus artists, master chefs, welders or philanthropists. But if one has the possessions and does not honor them, refine them and share them, then trust them.
Mediocrity is not a sin, but it can be, if we are satisfied with it.
I sang for many years in Atlanta under the tutelage of a great choir director, Robert Shaw, who at every rehearsal railed against every vocal flaw. He insisted that his choir revisit every phrase, dynamic, pitch or tempo over and over again until we served the composer and his music at the highest level, the best that we humanly could manage.
This process could be very frustrating, I admit. There were times early on when I sat furiously in the middle of the Alto section as he admonished us all for the umpteenth time. “People, you’re so close to singing the right tune, you might as well sing it!” or “People! It’s a lullaby! You put the baby to bed with a hammer ag**-**mn!!
I remember thinking, “I drove over an hour in traffic to get here and washed the dishes, cleaned the house, fed the babies, changed diapers and worked all day. I pay a babysitter that I can’t afford to put my kids to bed because I won’t be home until late. I really do my best.
Then he would tell us again what he expected of us and we would try again. And even.
Then we were encouraged by each incremental improvement. Like a surprised baby discovering their toes for the first time, we were thrilled and inspired to keep exploring.
Finally, we understood what Shaw was talking about. He taught us not to settle down; don’t give up before the miracle. He knew what we were capable of.
But we had to care enough to open up, to dig deep to find it, to share it in solidarity with each other, and to carry a unified voice. That’s when we produced what he wanted, and that’s what we had worked so hard for: our best.
And it was good. Very well.
Plumbing the depths of our vulnerability – in whatever creative pursuit we attempt – is a deeply personal, courageous and frightening prospect. Also necessary.
This also goes for living your best life, in case you’ve decided you don’t have a talented bone in your body. Whore. Simply living a mindful, productive, regular life is no small feat. It’s an art if you do it that way.
We can settle for less, or not. It’s a choice. Keep trying means not giving up before the miracle. What a pity it would be to miss that.
A longtime Newnan resident, Susie Berta enjoys many creative pursuits including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife”. It can be attached to the s[email protected].