Actually, I can't help myself. Here it is:
"If I say art doesn't come from the mind, it comes from the place where you dream, you may say, 'Well, I wake up screaming in the night. I don't want to go into my dreams, thank you very much. I don't want to go into that white-hot center; I've spent my life staying out of there. That's why I'm sitting in this classroom, why I was able to draw a comb through my hair this morning. Because I haven't gone there, I don't go there. I've got lots of ways of staying out of there.' And you know what? You still need those ways twenty-one or twenty-two hours a day. But this is the tough part: for those two hours a day when you write, you cannot flinch."*
I think writers can fairly be described as morose. We spend great chunks of our lives thinking of ways to make our characters miserable, and still more time getting into, really into what miserable feels like so we can describe it to our readers. Healthy minds don't do this.
Just this afternoon, an upbeat conversation with my husband ducked into a dark alley and transmogrified into a discussion of one of the saddest episodes of my life. Then, just as I began to explore and map out the source of my tears - to a writer, everything is material - my husband wisely suggested a drive in the Miata.
The Miata is a joy machine: wind and sunlight and wide open skies.
Within moments, we pulled from our driveway and wound through the the neighborhood, waving at the lady in the BMW Z3 convertible who obviously had the same idea.
We stopped at the MacDonald's drive-through to get our soft-serve ice cream cones, and then soared off down country roads, with James Taylor singing from the speakers behind our ears: "Hard Times Come Again No More."
I know, the lyrics for the song are not cheery:
" Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;"
But James Baby sang them so sweetly, and for just that moment, we didn't pause in life's pleasures. We accelerated.
I am getting to the point. It has to do with another favorite quote from Butler's book:
"What I want to nurture in you is the impulse: 'I'm ravished by sensual experience. I yearn to take life in. My God! I've got this sense that the world has meaning. Things roil around in my dream space, and I've got to figure out how to make art objects of them.'"Isn't that... joy?
Think about it: Isn't it joy, even if you're describing misery? Doesn't it ultimately source itself from the very Christian assurance that the essence of the universe is a loving, dancing triune God who works all things together for good?
But what if that inner joy, that thing that makes you an artist, is describing wind and sunlight and wide open skies? Can you get into, really into that as well?
Writers, tell the truth. The whole truth, with all your heart and soul and mind. Make your darkness dark, but make your brightness bright as well.
Here are some of my favorite examples:
"i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes"'
-- e.e. cummings
"My beloved speaks and says to me: 'Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come...'"
-- Song of Solomon 2:10-12
He woke in morning-light, whistled like a starling,
sang, 'Come, derry-dol, merry-dol, my darling!'
He clapped on his battered hat, boots, and coat and feather;
opened the window wide to the sunny weather.
-- J.R.R. Tolkien
Now you give me some of your favorite joy passages. Or better yet, write one.
We love to read what you have to say.
"Come, derry-dol, merry-dol, my darling!"
*Dana Gioia put it this way in a recent, wonderful Kindlings Muse podcast: "I try to write so truthfully, that someone who knew everything about me would not find any cheating, any prevarication, any sloppiness in it."