Thursday, March 24, 2011

Follow Your Passion

            Consumers of art respond to the maker's passion.  That is why there are books, poems, songs, and paintings that take on a life of their own, outside of discovery by critics that deem a work "good."  Because I am also a writer, I know things about books that many do not, that, for instance, a best seller is a best seller before it's even written.  The reason that is so is because publishers budget advertising and promotion to back the author's work.  Alas, the average books sells 2,500 copies.  Publishers make money on their bestsellers.  Readers on the other hand know what they like and if they read something original and fresh, they recommend it to their reading friends.  No matter how many books are published, readers are always looking for something good to read. What I love about the digital age is that the old gates and doors that gave entry to writers, painters, poets, singers, and dancers can now be opened by anyone with a computer. 
            Now back to passion.  I am passionate about art.  What I usually say is that I love making art but that is shorthand for I am passionate about art.  I sleep, drink, eat, and think about art, literature, poetry, painting, and even music, although I have not a drop of musical talent.  I see around me thousands of ideas to make into paintings and poems.  I've learned to be selective, that I can't make them all, or write them all.  I select ideas I feel an artistic urgency to create. 
            About five years ago, I saw a description for a poetry contest that had as its theme "anything about a car."  Out of my subconscious came a first line, "My '63 Plymouth Belvidere was already old but it ran".  It was not just a thought but a driving need to write that line down and see the poetry that followed.  I sat down at my computer and a few minutes later I had a poem called "My '63 Plymouth Belvidere".  There were decades of pent-up passion in that poem.  Even though I'd written a ground-breaking book on healing from domestic violence (Healing Your Life:  Recovery from Domestic Abuse), that sold thousands and thousands of copies in every U.S. state and several foreign countries, there was much I'd left unsaid.  I rewrote the poem, but not much.  I had been given the poem in one piece.  When I submitted it to the contest, I won.  Someone who read it and liked it included my poem in an essay about poetry being relevant.  Before I knew it, the poem was popping up all over, including a website for a publisher specializing in books on abuse.  My poem, so close to the bone, so authentic, so passionate, took on a life of its own.  I couldn't call it back, only follow it on its journey.  Ultimately I ended up reading it to an audience of more than five hundred in Madison, WI.  After the first line, the audience became so still I could have heard a pin drop.  As I read the poem, and looked into the audience, I understood for the first time how powerful words are but not just words, passionate words.
            Whatever your medium, art, poetry, music, architecture, or fashion design, aim to tap into your passion.  Don't second guess what people will buy.  Tap into your feelings and dig down into your emotions and create something that funnels those out into the world.  That is the key that unlocks your artistry for the rest of the world to enjoy.  Sooner or later, that artistry will be discovered and appreciated. 
            Before I leave you, I'll give you the poem I discussed in this blog posting.

My ’63 Plymouth Belvidere

Candace A. Hennekens

In 1978, that ’63 Plymouth Belvidere
was already old but it ran.  Your mother
had gifted the car to me on her death bed.
Two years later, I drove away, the back seat
piled with clothes, our daughter in her car seat.
I forgot shoes, winter coats.
You mailed those and anything else
you could find that was mine
in an enormous box--my grandmother’s wall vase,

college papers, cut crystal, all mixed up.
I vomited in my mother’s basement toilet,
knowing you had touched all my things.
The night we escaped, I decapitated a goose
on some dark country road; the state patrol
ticketed me for speeding.  I pulled into my
mother’s driveway, my eyes dilated, panting,
reeling, like a prisoner released after a long sentence.
My mother touched your hand prints on my neck

and wept.  The Belvidere had a 318 engine.
I knew how to change oil, replace spark plugs.
I pushed buttons on the dash to make her go.
Painted bright yellow I never drove anonymously.
Sometimes I search for that car in the classifieds.
If I find her, I’ll buy her back, restore her
to mint condition, and keep her as a memorial
to my freedom that all these years later
is still precious, a gift from your mother to me.

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