Just after I got my first art studio in a large old Massachusetts factory with 190 other artists, they posted the above postcard. They were having a Dirty, Smelly, Noisy show. Only 24 hours were left to submit art.
I remember standing for whole minutes at a bulletin board staring at the postcard and the printout calling for art submissions. I stared a long time. I stood there with my mouth open until flies flew in.
Whe I was little, I was always too dirty, too smelly, too noisy. I was too wild, too much. My parents and teachers thought so, at least. I loved nothing more than to run through the woods, and lay down in the dirt. I used to do this thing where I’d put my body in the dirt next to the pond, and flip my hair up so it floated in the water. I could lay this way for hours. To this day, I’m happiest when I’ve been outdoors camping for five days with no shower, body and hair covered in dirt. It makes me belly laugh. I loved being smelly as a kid, but felt a lot of pressure not to be. I felt so much pressure, I gave up that side of me for years. I gave up (he)art for years.
Then there I was at the age of 44, and not only had I just gotten my first art studio, but I was being ASKED to be dirty, to be smelly, to be noisy. Apparently, some local organization had said that the old factory, its broken down fences, and lots of abandoned cars was too dirty, smelly and noisy for the community. They were doing the art show as a way to own that “insult”, to turn it into art.
What a miracle, I thought. All those years of fearing being myself, terrified of being messy. All those years of thinking I was wrong. All those years of being so deeply scared of doing art lest it bring out the smelly beast within.
What a chance to heal! I’ll tell you, you cannot do good art if you’re scared of being messy or loud. We need the freedom to cause a mess.
Still, I didn’t have anything to submit for the show. I had paintings of nudes. I had photos of European statues. I was so shut down around this dirty side, I had no edgy art to show. Frantic because I so desperately needed to be in this show, I grabbed my camera and just started walking around the old factory. I took pictures of ketchup wrappers in the dirt, of dirt, of broken windows, of shattered pounded bumpers.
I printed the pictures, and decided they were good. They’d work just fine. I submitted them, and they were accepted. As I concentrated on the framing — I had just 12 hours left — I got a call.
The administrator of the studios called to tell me the local newspaper had chosen one of my photos for its article on the show. Tears sprung hard and fast. I had received offical approval. I wasn’t just dirty and smelly, I was good at being dirty and smelly. Man, was that healing.
How can you be dirty and smelly in your writing? Where are you pulling the punches, cleaning it up too much? What smelly visceral details can you add to existing characters? Dirty toenails, grimy clothes, the smell of urine? Where do you feel the urge to go too far, to be base, to create a wildchild character? Go for it! It’s the juice that makes a good novel.
What block is the universe trying to help you with right now? I believe the universe provides healing for artists and writers all the time. Pay attention. Watch what’s on offer. Watch what’s being said to you. The universe reaches down and hands you a gift. Take it. Accept it. Watch how it opens you up for years to come.
I have a different studio now. I’ve put tarps on the floor. I had to because I make a seriously awful mess!
I’m a writing coach and offer a free initial consultation, http://www.artofstorytellingonline.com.