On Facebook, a friend posted an article, but the link didn’t work for me. Very much wanted to read it for personal reasons, but instead I’ll have to write it. Or at least what comes floating to the top. The topic: what makes aged artists keep doing it? Clearly, it concerns me, as I’m one of those people behaving in a most irrational way.
Or maybe not. My grandfather was a farmer and continued active work into his 90s. So maybe it’s artists and farmers. True, we both grow things that are subject to varying tastes: some people don’t like my plays, others don’t like Grandpa’s beef. And I’ve never ventured to stage a Brussels sprout.
I’m treading water here. It’s hard to face this question. My work has been for the stage, lesser for radio, now pretty much prose fiction. I’ve done good work in all, have received awards and praise, have a resume ten miles long, and am utterly unknown. I doubt I could be hired to stage a dog-and-pony show.
And I’m 81. I spent the morning writing on the second draft of a novel (our tenth) and will start tomorrow on the layout of my third chapbook. Last night I dreamt of designing a set (I know not for what) and setting up chairs for an outdoor clown show. The urge persists.
The subhead of the article I couldn’t read maybe says it all: it’s the work. You don’t have money or fame to propel you, you’ve fallen off the list of people-who-matter, your friends and colleagues are preceding you out the door—but you have a craft, so you do it.
It’s probably spurred by survival instinct. You won’t live forever, of course, and expecting the work to survive is a bit like the guy we met once—custodian in a college dorm—whose numerologist told him he’d soon write a best-seller. He’d never written a thing, had no intention even of making the effort, but the numbers never lied. Sure, it could happen. I might win the Lottery tomorrow, even without playing it.
But there’s a deep joy in the sweat of the brain. I don’t mean pleasure: I love a good meal or a romp in bed—that’s pleasure—but struggling over a second draft when you know there’s going to be a third or a fourth… Better just pet the cat. Joy can be pleasure, and pleasure joy, but they’re not the same. Joy for me is doing what I feel I’m meant to do. For me, that’s giving birth.
Giving birth to MICA. Giving birth to DESSIE. Giving birth to MATCHBOOKS. Manifesting whatever’s next in line. Those who achieve fame or fortune or immortality, those who find a vast audience—well, more power to you. I do what I do, and I’ll do it as long as I can.