Making Good Art
After I shared the picture above with a friend, she asked, “How much does your mascara cost?”
I replied, “17.50.”
Then she said, “In that case, you can cry as long as you want.”
We both laughed because I needed to laugh.
I cried this year, silent tears and loud tears, in the privacy of my bedroom.
And I nearly gave up, although I had begun the year high on momentum.
In his 2012 keynote address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, author, Neil Gaiman, dispensed advice on a career in the arts. His advice transcends art and spills into life.
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art . . . Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
I cried in January, February, and March. My tears fell from April through September, like the rainy season in Nigeria, a deluge that began without warning. I determined to have an early dry season beginning in October. To ease my weariness, I planned to write short stories, flights of fantasy about love and technology. It worked. October looked promising until the mid-way point.
One Thursday, after a wailing session, I stopped deriving childlike pleasure from tasting the saltiness of tears and runny snot and reminded myself, I had a story to write. I shot an earnest plea to Heaven and brought out the notes I made as a friend recounted her experience on the train. Then I zoned out everything and entered the place where stories come to me.
Before I published Bluetooth Lottery, I gave it to a friend to read. I watched him chuckle while he read and stopped holding my breath. This story, I thought, might resonate with readers. My blog posts that create the most emotional resonance, going by likes and comments, are posts I wrote from places of desperate despair or posts about the tattoos in my soul.
The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.
Are Gaiman’s words about making your art to be taken literally?
I heard someone say that when you speak from your head, you talk to people’s heads, but when you speak from your heart, you talk to people’s hearts. After a writer shared a heartbreaking ordeal with me, I asked her if she was going to write about it.
“No,” she shrugged, “but you know how these things work, right? Our experiences seep into our writing and wet the page.”
Tears became my friend this year and I did not resent her intrusion into small spaces. I realized firstly that the demons that troubled me were not new. They were conquered foes, old fears in shiny wrapping paper. Secondly, to borrow from the title of Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir, one day I will write about this place, this field of tears. I will gather my tears and then I will sit and make good art.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with pools.
– Psalm 84:6
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
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