View out my writing window, frozen river.
My artist friend Deb Dixon and I barca on a regular basis. We’ve set up two barca loungers outside my studio – Deb calls it my front porch. We hold regular sessions in the barcas, dynamic conversations on the state of the world, the state of women artists and the state of art itself. Because of these passionate dialogues, Deb has decided, “Barca is a verb.”
To barca. Barca-ing. We barca. She barcas. They barca.
Last Sunday night, we set up a feast in front of the barca loungers, pulled the knobs on our cushioned seats to recline them, sat back and began working on solving the world’s problems. In front of us on a paint spattered coffee table sat pasta, baked chicken, thai food, beer, a bottle of sake.
Deb spoke passionately about how lucky she feels in her life, how she can get up every day and do her art. She asked how it could be that she would have the life she has while so many people are suffering.
I understood. There’s a sort of guilt that comes with owning our lives as artists. Maybe we should be helping more people instead of glorying in our own self expression. Who are we to think we can luxuriate in our own creativity?
I told Deb that for years, I wouldn’t allow myself to live in this culture because it was so arrogant and dominating of other cultures. For years, I wouldn’t allow myself to make much money because who am I to live that cushy American life, when so many people in the world suffered war, famine, tragedy. Part of all of this is healthy. As a child, I could never understand Capitalism. How could a person own a tree? How could whole nations fight over the ownership of a land that no one really owns? None of it ever made any sense to me. I traveled the world to see if I could undersand it all. I know my traveling to understand has made me a more aware person.
When I talk about world poverty, I’m not talking hypothetically, I’m not talking about seeing an ad for the Christian Children’s Fund on TV. I traveled through Asia for a year, traveled in Central America, traveled in post-Soviet countries. I’ve seen developing countries. I’ve seen a level of poverty, of starvation unheard of in this country. I’ve helped a family living in a trash dumpster, a woman with leprosy whose nose was eaten away. I’ve SEEN it all firsthand, and you’d have to be an insensitive oaf to not have that level of world poverty affect you.
How dare I make money and live a comfortable life in such an arrogant country as the US? How dare I? I told Deb this. How I struggled with living here. I told her that I was ranting about it to a therapist, month after month, when finally the therapist said: “Maybe it’s your karma to live in a dominant culture.”
My karma? To live in a dominant culture? Wow. I’d never thought of that. Maybe it was my karma to understand what it meant to live in the equivalent of the Roman Empire. Wow. Her statement changed my life.
Maybe it’s my karma to be a successful, well-paid artist and writer in the dominant culture. Maybe this lifetime, I’m supposed to have the free time and intellectual space that women are offered here in America. Wow. Maybe all this guilt was getting in the way of me really getting my voice seen and heard.
If you’re a woman and a writer, maybe it’s your karma to focus on writing. Maybe you can stop worrying so much about all the pain in the world. Maybe it’s our duty to focus on our writing to the exclusion of everything else. Maybe it’s our spiritual mandate to be the best writer we can be.
How do we do this? By exploring our fears about being in our power, by taking a risk even if it alienates a boyfriend or a husband, by being in our power fully so we can blaze the trail for other women artists who are scared to own their power. By owning that maybe we feel guilty, but every day we do the work anyway.
I’m a writing coach. www.artofstorytellingonline.com