Tonya is four years younger than me, and, clearly, infinitely more talented. She makes these portraits with found art photographs for the sketches, and drier lint for the finished product. While at Art Fest I sat and watched her nervously say hello, unless someone directly asked her about her work. In which case her eyes would light up and she’d launch into long explanations of what she was doing and how she did it. And the whole time, with a spare canvas and basket of lint at her lap.
Her mother tells me she does this all day. While watching TV. While on the phone. She loves what she does, and it shows. And watching her, it hit me like a kick in the stomach. So do I.
That’s scary, learning that. But what’s even scarier, is how now that I don’t hate it anymore, now that something has happened internally to make me not hate it, I don’t know how to take it. Hence my last post. But watching my cousin work, and doing a lot of thinking, I think I have worked that out too.
In my family, you don’t enjoy your job. You just do it. You don’t hate it, or at least, my mother doesn’t hate her job, and my sister had a job she loved and would only consider going back to work for that job. But we were not raised to follow a passion so much as we were raised to do a good job at something. It’s difficult to live under that when you’re really only good at one thing, and even then, it’s a long shot. So for a large chunk of my life, I’ve been taking myself too seriously as a writer. I’ve been trying to make it work, more than I’ve been trying to make it work. I somehow got it in my head that if I wanted to be treated like a writer, I had to treat it like a job. And so I did. And, like any person with two jobs, I hated every second of it. Especially the fact that my hard work never seemed to pay off, and that just made me want to slack off more.
I remember when I was thirteen and fourteen years old, waking up at seven every morning on summer vacation to get those five pages, because I was only allowed an hour a day with the computer, and five pages took me 90 minutes, but I knew my brothers wouldn’t get up before eight thirty. I remember coming home from college and living for weeks off lunches of peanut butter sandwiches or dinners of a mix of rice and Clamato Juice, which my housemates referred to as pink rice. I didn’t do it because I was poor. I did it because it could be cooked and eaten in under an hour, and I needed time to write. It was such a well-known phenomenon, in fact, that two years ago, when working on a particularly good chunk of The Damn Vampires, I called a friend to tell her I was feeling ill, and she responded with, “are you eating food? Because you did say the writing was going good.” Somehow, I had forgotten all that.
Lately, I’ve been writing more like myself. More like the person I am. I set aside a couple hours each day and write until a chapter ends, or until I get to the end of a scene, and then brainstorm a bit, or work on something else until the timer runs out. Then I gripe and groan about the assignments that need doing, and clean the house and take the dogs for their walk and wish I was still writing. I miss it when I’m not doing it. I resent the intake of food. And watching my cousin work this weekend, I realized that is the way it’s supposed to feel, and that is what I have been missing, not just for the last four months, but for the last year or longer, as I tried to make myself into a writer that I really am not. I’m not a workerbee. I am an artist, and that’s what I want to be. I’m not someone who needs to be reminded you can’t only write when inspiration hits. Inspiration hits every two days or so. My job is to stem the tides, and wait out the initial jolt of excitement, and put one foot in front of the other. And I have, miracle of miracles, actually been doing that.
I still feel about eight years behind, because of what happened, and because of everything it has brought me since. But I wrote my first novel at 14, and my first screenplay at 12. Maybe eight years was just enough time for everyone else to catch up?
It’s good to be back.
Tonya Corkey makes found art portraits with dryer lint. Her current collection "See You In The Future" is visible on her website, which unfortunately does not do it justice. But you should check it out anyway.