"Stalk Your Calling"
Working on the margins and trusting your gut
I was an English major in college, but tacked on enough art classes to fulfill a Fine Art minor. I squirreled my way alone in the art house of our university (an old white bungalow on the edge of campus), mixing paints and gluing bits of paper onto canvases and calling them “mixed media.” I didn’t know what I was doing, not really. But I had an art professor who challenged me to always push it a little further.
He would give me two colors to work with for a whole semester. He would make me paint a splash of white against a nearly finished painting. He would ask me to stand in front of one of my pieces and stare at it for an hour without critiquing it and then report back to him about what I saw.
What I learned in that space was to trust my own gut. Now, I didn’t learn it fully (do we ever?), but he was teaching me to work within the constraints given, though not in the spacious bit in the middle. He was teaching me I could trust myself to do my best work on the margins.
Somewhere in this writing career of mine, I’ve been moving more and more toward the middle, the white space, and in some ways the easy space.
I tried to find my people and fit my craft into their circles. I tried to emulate practices and do what worked for everyone else. But in this process I’ve just—honestly—grown bored. Bored of my own self, my own self-made constraints.
My agent, the inimitable John Blase texted me the other day in a middle of one of my despairing meltdowns about how impossible it is to work in this environment right now, and he quoted our friend Annie Dillard:
“We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience-even of silence-by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting.”
Abraham Heschel said, “If you work with your mind, sabbath with your hands and if you work with your hands, sabbath with your mind.” And so one of the practices I picked back up during my Sabbatical was the tactile work of art journaling. Cutting and gluing and taping and ripping and sticking and pressing bits of everything to a page.
I’ve been doing it because I need to remember that my calling is a yielding, not a fighting. That I do my best work on the margins and not in the middles. And that when my hands have found good work to do, my mind follows.
I am called to write and I’m going to stalk that calling, but the most tender and live spot, where the pulse is found, is not in the writing or in the fighting, but in the living and loving and creating on the margins.
If you liked this post, remember, it’s just a freebie. Consider becoming a paid subscriber and all the rest of my posts will be available to you too.