Why Art Shouldn’t Be A Lonely Pursuit

“An ivory tower is a fine place as long as the door is open.”

– Darby Bannard

 

This week I met up with some fellow writers from my writers’ group, The Oslo Writers’ League. We sat in the beautiful green surroundings of Frogner Park. We feasted on strawberries, chocolate truffles, water melons, cheese and crackers, and more picnic goodies. As we relaxed on the lush green grass, we got our creative juices flowing with a micro-fiction exercise where each of us would start a story, pass it on to the person sitting to our right. That person would write a middle for the story and pass it on again. The third person to the right finishes the story. At the end of the exercise, we read out all the stories. We even had hungry seagulls and sparrows as our feathered inspiration! You can read our creations here.

Since I joined this group, I’ve realised what I’ve been missing. This is the first time I’ve ever been part of a writers’ group. The support and encouragement I’ve found in the group is amazing. We have writers of all levels and we inspire and motivate each other. I’ve even got ideas for stories from conversations with other writers in the group. This experience has only reaffirmed my belief that art should not be a lonely pursuit. The image of an artist toiling away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere may sound idyllic. But how long can someone sustain that?

Image of a solitary man sitting with a book with a sculpture behind him
Photo Credit: Nick Kenrick . via Compfight cc

 

“Putting out something that’s new in the world requires temporary removal from it.”

– Sarah Lewis

 

Writing, like most art forms, requires intense concentration and persistence. Writing a novel or a story when you are distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and family commitments can be exhausting and annoying. Just as you lift up your head to answer a spouse’s queries about dinner, you catch a glimpse of the tail-coat or skirt hem of your muse fleeing away from your mundane life. You make a desperate attempt to grab it, but it’s too late. The idea is gone, your spouse is upset because you snapped at them to chase that fleeting idea/muse which they obviously cannot see, and worse, you have to move on to make dinner. Easier to just live in a hermit’s hut you think? Trust me, that doesn’t work.

We humans are social creatures and art is a means of communication and self-expression. So who are we communicating with if we don’t want to be around anyone? Temporary isolation is essential for an artist. But the problem with complete isolation is that we give up on having a support system. Artists are prone to depression, self-doubt and self-loathing because we have been led to believe that we can do our best work only in absolute isolation. Being social does not mean you should stop in between your painting or writing to tweet. You don’t build support systems that way, you only manage to procrastinate. What sustains us are meaningful relationships formed with supportive and encouraging people. The alternative: You run out of ideas, inspiration, and life, while you wait in that idyllic cabin on your own to create that all elusive masterpiece that refuses to happen. And you end up alone, without anyone to listen to you gripe about it.

I’ve found that being a part of lovely group of fellow writers (or artists) has many benefits. You have others who go through similar struggles as you do – trying to find time to write, fixing a plot or characterisation problem, searching for references for a historical or scientific fact that you want to include in your story. They understand, and they generously help and share their wisdom.

It can be terrifying to trust other people who do what you do and open yourself to criticism. I’ve met some artists who avoid talking to other artists because their biggest fear is that someone would steal their ideas. It’s sad that we are constantly told that we live in a competitive world and the only way to “win the game” is to not share what we know with others. Of course, there are people who do steal others’ ideas, who like to put down others to make themselves feel better. But they are not the norm. They don’t realise that it’s much more fun when we share what we know. Sharing knowledge helps us learn from each other, learn from each other’s mistakes.

As a writer, it’s great to have people who can poke holes in a story you’ve written and be objective about it. It’s certainly helps to find problems in your story before you approach an agent or a publisher who really don’t have the time to help you learn. The benefit of having a fellow writer read your writing is that they don’t just read as your audience, they read it as a writer. So they can tell you about ways to improve it and they give you a different perspective, which adds depth to your writing. Since I’ve joined the writers’ group, I’ve had more “Aha! I didn’t think of that” moments than I can count. I get to learn and I get to share what I know. And I’m glad that I have people to help me, and I don’t have to do it alone.

Are you an artist who likes to interact with other artists and how has it helped you? Share your experiences in the comments.

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The Value of Silence

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 

and rightdoing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

 

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.” 

― Rumi

We live in a world of noise, of constant chatter. Everyone has something to say and everyone wants to be heard. If you were to stand in a crowded market and everyone talked at the same time, would you be able to hear anything that made sense? But, if you were silent and you tried to listen, you might catch glimpses of conversations, meaningful words that convey someone’s thoughts and feelings. Silence is probably the most underrated thing in our world. We confuse silence with lack of voice. We think being silent is the same as not speaking up. But that’s not the case. Silence, in the right context, is more powerful than the loudest voice.

 

Image of a man walking in silence along a lake and mountains
© Srividya Sridharan

 

When we shout at someone with anger asking them to “Shut Up”, what we are really saying is that we don’t feel heard and we just want that person to listen. Listening requires silence.

When we say we want some peace and quiet, all we want is some space to ourselves so we can shut out all outside noise and listen to the inner voice within that tells us what to do.

We feel peaceful listening to waves or watching the sunrise because those are the times we are quiet and we hear nature at its best. We lose the sense of “I” and become a part of nature and we communicate with it in silence.

When we sit in a corner by ourselves and read a book, we see other worlds and other lives. We give ourselves the chance to see beyond ourselves and silence is the only way to immerse ourselves completely in that experience.

When we are silent, we listen. When we listen, we understand. Understanding leads to acceptance.

 

 “Who tells a finer tale than any of us. Silence does.”

— Isak Dinesen

There is a reason why some of the best writers and artists in the world work in silence. If we are too busy listening to all the voices around us, how can we hear the voice within, the muse that prompts us to write, paint, sculpt or sing? When we peep into the creative pool within, silence eliminates the ripples and we get to see our clear reflection, our true self, which gets lost in the endless chaos that surrounds our everyday life.

Beliefs are important. But when we refuse to be silent for a while and listen to other perspectives, we put ourselves in a cage of rigid beliefs and deny ourselves the freedom to grow and learn, to know ourselves and become better people.

 

“We sit silently and watch the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.” 

― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

The true measure of a relationship between two people is not how much they can talk. It is how long they can sit in comfortable silence, without feeling the need to use words to communicate their love and understanding.

When someone is silent while we throw our words at them, we usually assume that they do not care or do not want to talk to us. Their silence might just be their way of trying to understand how they feel or an attempt to stop themselves from saying something that might hurt our feelings.

Silence does not mean we don’t speak up for causes or beliefs that deserve a voice. Silence is not submission and it’s certainly not a weakness. It’s about listening, and expanding our minds and keeping it open. It’s about making space for other voices that help us learn and understand our world and ourselves better.

What does silence mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

18 Reasons #YesAllWomen Must Keep Going

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 
― Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Someone online wrote that #YesAllWomen is dying out because “people are running out of creative stories to tell in support of it”. Well, here are 18 reasons why #YesAllWomen must keep going.

Image that says thinks women as people
Photo Credit: sajbrfem via Compfight cc

1. Because when I was in college, two men on a motorbike thought it would be fun to race past me really close when I was riding a scooter. They hit my scooter, and it and I went skidding across a busy bridge. I had a broken ankle, several bloody wounds, and was just lucky not to be run over by another vehicle approaching behind me. When people found out, this is what they had to say:

‘You came back late to the hostel the previous night. Those men must have followed you. That’s why the accident happened.’

‘Where were you going? To a play rehearsal? Girls from good families don’t act in plays.’

‘Why were you out in the first place? You should have just stayed in your hostel and studied like a “good girl”.’

It took me six months to walk normally again. The scars from the wounds are still visible on my arms and legs. If not for the helmet I always wore, my jaw and head would have been smashed  – my helmet got several dents from my fall. There was no police report and they were never caught, because no one noticed them. No, it was no accident. They tried to run me off the road because it was fun for them to intimidate a woman. And no, none of it was my fault.

2. Because no woman deserves to live in fear or die because she uses her right to say no.

3. Because the other day I was watching Sherlock Holmes on BBC and a woman was the “fetcher”. She fetches files, stands by looking pretty in a business suit and fetches the coat for the man. Why are women always the “fetcher” in most media representations? She fetches food, she fetches clothes, she fetches papers, her only role to serve others. What’s worse is that it’s so common, we hardly notice it or take offence to it. I’m sick of it. Aren’t you?

4. Because it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, whether you are a celebrity or an ordinary person, what race you belong to, what’s the colour of your skin, whether or not you are “pretty”, what clothes you wear or which country you live in, if you are a woman, you have experienced harassment or abuse in some form. What does that say about the world we live in?

Proof: When Kate Middleton’s skirt flies up because of the wind, the paparazzi, waiting like vultures, snap a photo of her bare bottom, and sell the picture. Magazines print it “because people want to see it and it sells”.  So how is this different from porn?  It’s just as exploitative. Selling parts of a woman’s body as if that’s all she is – a sum of parts with nothing more to her. And some woman actually wrote an article online, suggesting Kate Middleton should change her wardrobe choices so this doesn’t happen again! Blaming the woman’s clothes for opportunistic, soulless people taking advantage of her vulnerable situation – sounds oddly familiar doesn’t it? And she is the wife of the future King of a not so insignificant country.  #YesAllWomen.

5. Because every woman is constantly compared to other women in magazines, in video games, in films, on TV, in ads, and every form of media, as though the only way we can prove our worth is if we are better than someone else. We are enough as we are and we don’t need anybody’s permission to be so. We are in no way obliged to meet the standards set by a male-centric society.

6. Because advertisers spend billions every year to tell us what to think and how, and more often than not, they tell us to think of women as sexual objects.

7. Because people keep saying in a matter-of-fact way that it’s difficult to be a woman in this world, because women have to live in fear of being abused, harassed, raped or killed. How can you be calm when you say that, instead of fighting it? That’s just not acceptable.

8. Because when people know a woman suffering in an abusive relationship, they ask her why she’s still in the relationship. But when they know a man who abuses a woman, why don’t they tell the man to stop abusing?

9. Because when a woman says no, it’s not a negotiation or “playing hard to get”.

10. Because misogyny is so well hidden in our society that even men, who normally consider themselves liberal and would not just watch a woman being ill-treated, don’t always understand how and why some of their actions are a result of misogyny.

11. Because even women themselves don’t realise that when they are bringing up a son, they need to teach him to respect women, treat women as equals, and not look at them as the “inferior or weaker” sex.

12. Because even today when parents have a boy and a girl, they tell the boy not to play with dolls or take interest in “girly” things, like dance, arts or cooking, while they tell the girl to “stop climbing trees and behave like a girl”.

13. Because women are expected to learn to cook, take care of the house and take their husband’s name when they get married. How many men learn to cook because they are about to get married? Because it’s the woman’s job to make sure her family eats healthy food? Because men aren’t smart enough to learn or care about health? Men are never even asked about taking their wife’s name after marriage. Women aren’t sheep to be owned or herded.

14. Because the arguments against abortion are invariably made by men who want to control women’s bodies and paint women as a “child killer”. I read a news story where a 10-year old girl in Senegal was raped and forced to give birth to a set of twins as a result of the rape. When asked what she wanted, she said she wanted the man who raped her to be killed; because  of him, she can’t go to school anymore. Her innocence was killed and nothing was done to help her because of Senegal’s anti-abortion laws.

15. Because when the female half of the world population has to live in fear of the male half, even though they came wailing from the female half, it’s just sad.

16. Because it’s true #NotAllMen are abusers or rapists. We need men to openly declare that they truly believe that all women deserve respect. We need men to become more aware and speak up for all the women. This is not an issue we can afford to be divided on. A woman does not have to be related to you for you to care whether or not she is treated with respect. In fact, when men stand up to their fellow men and tell them to stop abusing women, that sets a powerful example. #YesAllWomen is a call to action to all those men who do care and respect women.

17. Because the point of #YesAllWomen is that we want a world where women are not abused anymore and don’t have to be afraid when they walk down the road alone, a world where women can live without fear. Too many people are dying waiting for that day and we are tired of it. We can’t wait any longer.

18. Because equal respect, equal rights, equal worth and equal share of this world is not a privilege. It’s a right. It’s a right every woman deserves. It’s a right every person deserves.

So to all those people who don’t take this seriously, who make jokes about this, who feel threatened by this, who want this “to stop already” – go on, fix these issues, then we’ll stop.  #YesAllWomen