yippie! hissssssss! hooray!

*note: this blog is messed up in Safari—don’t know why!

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing. ~Gertrude Stein

I navigated to my blog from a site about whether shaving makes hair grow back heavier. I had to prove to my husband that it doesn’t, that it’s merely an illusion because the hair becomes blunted at the ends and because it softens as it lengthens.

I spend a lot of time at the computer. Sometimes I’m looking up stupid stuff like that to tell my husband, who, without it, would probably still believe that hair grows faster after you cut it, or I look up lyrics, a news headline, the source of a quote. Other times, I’m writing or processing photos or chatting with friends, as if they are right in the next cubicle. Only I’m not exactly “working.”

I am an artist. Saying that gives me the creeps; it scares me. Because artists, as you know, are unemployable, and it’s sort of why I’m sitting here at the computer at 8:07 a.m. on a Thursday instead of getting ready for work.

In between sending out résumés and CVs for jobs like art director and English professor, which are sparse (which means the space between is long), I make stuff. I flit from the camera to the guitar to the manuscript like a butterfly, lingering a time over each thing until I’m satisfied I’ve sucked it dry, mined it for everything worth taking.

Because my employment frustration could easily occupy my day, I decided to give myself something to do, some artistic diversion to participate in when the laundry was done and the kitchen floor was swept. And that’s how I came to win a photo challenge—Survivor: Flickr Island—with five very different photos. I made the best shots of my life. And when that was over last week, I joined a photo class with weekly assignments. Every day, I work a little more on the chapter for my book proposal. I send queries and write poems and songs. I flit.

Last week, I tapped into my home equity line of credit so that I could buy groceries. Because I am an artist.

Right now, I have nothing to do but write and look for work, yet I feel an overwhelming guilt when I try to fill the day with things other than vacuuming and laundry. I rarely pull out my guitar anymore, even for that quick few minutes in the early morning with my coffee. And when I forget my situation and buy a six-dollar t-shirt at Target, I have a panic attack. But when I use the computer for my avocations, it’s free. And it’s productive. And sometimes it turns into a gig—a photo publication credit in a real magazine (this shot, for the California version of Family), a book review, a portrait job for a friend.

And it feels good. Yesterday, at about 4:30, the wind kicked up outside and began to twirl the rusty pink garden ornament hanging from my Douglas fir. I took 32 stills of it as it swung in the breeze. I stitched them together to make an animated gif and liked it so much that I turned it into a movie. It took two hours, and my husband complained, even though he was gone most of the time, even though I’d stopped while he was walking the dogs to make his dinner salad, cut up veggies for Hendrix the Creature (my daughter’s bearded dragon), and would pick up my daughter from soccer. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, he says. I’m always on the computer.

And I’m sure it’s not good for me. It cuts down on my attention span and makes me agitated when I’m away from it, like an addiction. It makes me sit far too much. It keeps my house dirty. But it’s also just about the only thing I do right now that feels good. I have a sense of accomplishment when I see something through from concept to construct. So even without pay, there’s a reward.

While I was making my video, I added some music. And when it was finished, I decided it needed something else—the sound of wind, some whoooosh to run through it as it faded to black. And that’s when it hit me that I needed some applause. I tacked it on the second half of the video so that it would linger through the fade to black. The applause made me giddy. Every time I hear the audience clapping, I feel as though they are clapping for this thing blowing in the breeze, this thing I made, and, by extension, for me.

My friend Jennifer asked: what if we had this in our heads all the time? Every time we did something right, the applause would start. Every time we did something we shouldn’t—like eat a cookie—the audience would boo. Would it make us think more about the things we do every day?

And what if I’m sitting here on the computer, doing nothing, waiting for the stroke of genius to come? Would they cheer or jeer?

Would they cheer for proving my husband wrong about the hair? Or would they boo, because they thought he was right? Would they clap for me as I sit here this morning, writing an essay in my blog, practicing a craft for which I am sometimes handsomely paid? Or would they blow raspberries at the waste of time?

Would they applaud the laundry and the pile of dog hair swept out the door and the made beds and the chili dinner and the washed dishes but hiss when I pulled out the guitar?

Is it an audience of disappointed, overworked spouses or an audience of artists?

Does the audience have its priorities straight?

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14 Comments

  1. jo(e) September 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    That video is so cool!

    You know, I *do* have an audience in my head. I've always had them. My husband will say to me, "Why are you making hand gestures? Who are you talking to?" and I'll say, "The audience in my head, of course."

    I've always had them. I talk to them constantly. That's who I write for.

    Perhaps this means I'm crazy.

  2. lifeimages04 September 24, 2009 at 2:34 pm #

    All I can add is this, I too spend much to much time in front of the computer, mostly navigiting around in "Flickr" and I can not call myself an artist. So I have no excuse, but I have to say that it does make me feel happy, and pleased. So if it helps us to feel a little better, and we are not hurting anyone, I say go for it.
    PS – my friend you are an artist.

  3. Keri September 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    Damn woman. You really can do it all. I applaud you all of the time. I sit at the computer too much, too. But I don't accomplish like you do. This is so beautiful for an early morning essay.

  4. Kim Hosey September 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    I love you. I mean, seriously. You describe my own time spent/internal conflicts/financial situation with eerie accuracy.

    I think that flitting impulse might be hardwired into a lot of us artsy writerly types. It can be good — sometimes my familiarity with sci-fi fandom, the morning's mucking around outside with a camera and my nature writing coalesce into some cool comparison I might not otherwise have discovered — but mostly it's bad and a huge time waster, at least in my case.

    And I totally, completely am with you (but offer little insight) on the audience of spouses or artists thing. Yesterday we found out we have pretty much no money. I flitted all evening. Checked a few "editor wanted" and "writer opening" listings. Edited pictures. Worked on an adjunct faculty application. Looked at Flickr. Played with my son. Felt guilty about not applying for stuff. Applied for stuff. Felt guilty about not playing with son. Played. Made dinner. Did laundry. Edited some pictures and wrote a little, but had nothing finished by midnight so I crashed, feeling guilty that I wouldn't be awake when my husband got home from a job he doesn't really like.

  5. Leslie F. Miller September 24, 2009 at 3:10 pm #

    Jo(e), actually, me too—when I get undressed, the gasping and booing start. LOL.

    Thank you, Jan and Keri.

    Kim, when I saw your name in my Google comment alert, I said, "Oh, good, Kim; I love her," and then I read your first line and cried. OK, I'm a wimp.

    Maybe if I spent more time with my daughter I could cut back on the guilt. I mean really attentive time, not just time in the same room. *to work on* And you are awesome at photography and writing and mom-ness. I guess the difference is that I finish things, so I don't really have the ADD. :-0

  6. BTscapes September 24, 2009 at 3:15 pm #

    Just STOP!

    You do laundry, make beds, mop, feed your family, chop for the dragon, chauffer, write, shoot, strum, sing, research,
    entertain, nourish and love…and look for another “ job".
    We waste far too much time letting "boos" or "applause" guide us. Eat the damn cookie and smile. Take 2 hours and create a beautiful video that touches …anyone. Shoot a drop-dead portrait.
    We are only here for a short while. Your photos, videos of you pouring out your heart and soul with music, your poetry and crisp humorous words will far out live you Leslie. The dust, debt (who hasn’t tapped into credit lately?) and dog hair are endless, meaningless.
    The life you describe is not uniquely your own. Artists flit. Artists are poor. Artists are tormented. Artists spend hours trying to figure out where to unload the beauty, visions, and thoughts in their heads. As I told you before, it is a club filled with the most amazing, extraordinary people. Revel in your membership. Continue to flit,freely, with the rest of us. It's a gift.

  7. Kim Hosey September 24, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    Awww; thanks, Leslie. That makes my morning. (Well, not the crying part. The I love her part.) Now I'm all mushy feeling. I'm a wimp too.

    Came back to say we have another similarity my husband will crown me for not pointing out. I constantly use the Internet to prove my points about hair/flu shots/which actor was in that one thing/etc.

  8. Aunt Teena September 24, 2009 at 4:58 pm #

    Well, I spend all my time in front of the computer. I'm not an artist. I can't even write as eloquently as your other commentors. I'm retired. I don't clean my house. I don't cook. I don't take care of children. Uh oh! I'm starting to feel extremely guilty about myself. Starting? Continuing.

    You are an artist. You do very creative things. You cook and keep house and bring up a fabulous daughter. What is the job of an artist? To make art. You make art. Whether you make money at it is not relevant. It's good to make money, but it doesn't diminish your art.

    I earn more money doing nothing than I did when I worked, but that does not make me feel good about myself.

    Listen. For my sake, give yourself the credit you are due. Otherwise, what am I to think about myself. If I could do, or even try to do, what you do, I think I'd be so proud of myself, my head wouldn't fit through the door.

    Sorry for going on so long.

  9. Cybergabi September 24, 2009 at 5:30 pm #

    I applaud you. As always.

  10. leedav September 24, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    I heard a report the other day about treatment for internet addiction and I thought, "Uh oh. It's not just a joke anymore." I spend waaaaayyy too much time on the computer and when there's nothing left to look at (ha!) I get this sinking feeling. Like, oh crap, time to go back to my boring life where I have to actually do things. And my life isn't boring and I like what I do. It's just escapism, pure and simple.

  11. Belinda September 25, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    You see it took me 24 hours to get here! Because, though I'm an internet addict too, and I really enjoy (certain people's) blogs, I avoid them, for two reasons:
    1)I always want to respond, and I get totally tangled up trying to either sign in, or more often – remember my password ( just took me about 10 minutes – already had an Identity on this site, but damn if I could find it…!) ( and I talk way too much and write too much and hog up people's response columns…) and
    2)more importantly..I'm afraid I will get even MORE hooked, and here's one more way I will be spending even WAY more time than I should on the computer – your partial theme of the day! But here I am, sucked in, the needle in my arm!

    I of course hadn't seen this when I commented on your video yesterday- it seems I was channeling your thoughts! Or your video really made the case, without words, for everything you are saying here: it was your Artist's Statement.

    And you are an artist in a very true sense in the way you see /respond to the world, assimilate all of these various 'flittings', and what pours out as a result. (writing, music, things, photos – all very passionately immediate….)

    I have thought of myself as an artist since I have had a memory and could hold a pencil, I always knew it's what I wanted to "Do", and I Did, and made decent money for years as a graphic designer/illustrator/ Art Director, but then cashed it in willingly to be a stay-at home mom, (and that's when we got way poorer…in those limited term$, but of course richer in the more important sense) and now have returned in another incarnation/career – landscape design – in which I make, alternately, next-to-nothing-money at my Regular job at a nursery, and occasionally very good money in free lance gigs… but… and your point: it's not about money. Easy to say, hard to Live sometimes, but face it, it's true. And you don't have a choice, it's who you Are, and really, would you have it any other way??? A Blessing and a Curse? No, just a blessing, I think.

  12. Richard September 25, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    What a gorgeous post, embodying the fruit of your artistry in yet another medium.

  13. ODG September 26, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    Dear Leslie,

    Someone quite witty and wonderful said this once: "We create because we are compelled. We choose our subjects because they fascinate us. We share because we don't want to feel alone." There you go; you are what you are and "an artist" falls nicely into that.

    If you took the time that you question and doubt and worry and then doubt some more, you'd have oodles of time for those mundane things that get in the way of your creativity. Took me forever to learn that and I have to kick myself in the ass every once in awhile to remind me of its value.

    Embrace your successes, challenge yourself to overcome your failures, show someone you love them without saying a word. That should be enough and I think you will find that it will be.

    Your friend.

  14. Gamma Infinity September 26, 2009 at 10:06 pm #

    I've been trying to get my life more out from behind the computer. It was fun for about 10 years but now it's taking its toll in a variety of ways.

    I completely relate to your thoughts on the predicament of the artist. I had to give up any idea of making a lot of money too. However, had I not made my choice, I'd have been forever unhappy and probably died young.

    For the rest of this, let's have Hugh give Hugh a break, and Leslie give Leslie a break. In other words, take a hike, Suck Voice.