if there’s a recipe

The First Stroke: is this paywalled? probably. try your library’s digital resources.

My morning routine, these days, seems deliciously? flabbily? long and drawn-out compared to what it was when I worked full time for pay, or when my girls were young. There’s waking to news on the radio, then breakfast and “the newspaper,” now via tablet. “Breakfast” itself has become elastic, not just what I eat but cups of coffee combined with time (and the paper) until it feels like enough, or too much, at which point I dress and start work.

The New York Times isn’t part of “the paper” on weekdays — that’s one of my holdovers, that there’s such a thing as a weekend, and that’s when adding two more news outlets belongs, along with additional coffee. But today “the paper” has ended up including Austin Kleon’s weekly freebie Substack, “10 Things,” and the above was/is part of the 10.

In this component (“The First Stroke”) of an expansive NYTStyle issue (Beginners), the novelist Clarice Lispector is quoted:

Writing was always difficult for me, even though I had begun with what is known as vocation. Vocation is different from talent. One can have vocation and not talent; one can be called and not know how to go.

I’ve been thinking about artworks, because: school/work, and I intermittently think about artists, because: poet,

and this quote wormed its way into me.

Yes, there’s talent, which is helpful but not, it’s been demonstrated, necessary.

There is vocation which, for those who connect with the Divine, is central in either taking up or continuing in a way of living that is prone to existential ennui. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, comments first on the freedom of being a writer (in her case) and then says: “The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever” (11). Without the deep “this is who I am” quality that vocation can offer, it’s hard to keep making “worthless” stuff.

And then, sipping my coffee (with oatmilk and a half-demitasse of sugar), I thought —

There’s also skill. One can feel called, one can have talent, but if that is all that’s needful we would all consume more artworks by five-year-olds. Works which I find charming, but not usually meaty, or transporting, or able to be revisited (see Paul Ricoeur’s ‘surplus of meaning’). And while simple repetition of making over time will take one part of the way, education across all the aspects of one’s form will take one even further in, at minimum, making something that one reviews and says: that’s finished -and- that’s what it’s supposed to be.

And there’s also persistence. Even given the spur of vocation, one might not have enough persistence to keep making, work after work year after year. Much less putting those works in front of others (also from this article: “To be an artist is not a private act but a public one.”). In my first year of what I call(ed) writing primary, I dared myself into a practice of sending *at least one poem to *at least one place *each month. That was in 2013, and my streak has continued unbroken. I admire this persistence of mine, while at the same time thinking it’s small potatoes… still, it’s an effort I’ve proven I can sustain. My five-day-a-week blogging practice (and its one-day-a-week successor), on the other hand, dissolved soon after I began this arc of graduate school. To persist, I suspect, is more central than the level at which one keeps on keeping on.

So if there’s a recipe for “the creative life,” I say it is vocation, skill, talent, and persistence.

That’s not a recipe for anything beyond living. But overall I think living is enough.

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