Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dark Soul of the Night*

*from wikipedia
Dark night of the soul is a metaphor used to describe a phase in a person's spiritual life, marked by a sense of loneliness and desolation

I was there this winter, actually early winter. In November I was feeling the loom of doom. My "career" was going nowhere. Writing was stupid. Why in the world had I wasted so much time? My life!

You can see the thread of despair here. It's probably the same argument most people involved in the arts has at one point or the other. Art at times can be invisible--like air. You work all day on something still unpresentable, left unfinished. And, sometimes, never done. It's a lot like explaining feelings. Harder yet when no one "gets" those feelings.

That's why it is so important to have a support network. For me that translated into starting a critique group. I know it doesn't sound like rocket science, but it is trickier than one thinks. For years I investigated the world of critique groups. At one point I looked into graduate school, getting an MFA at either Northwestern or Roosevelt, Columbia College offers an MFA in Creative Writing, but is very specific. I actually got accepted into a program--only to learn I'd have to ransom my only child to afford the tuition. I was under some kind of illusion that I could get a TA or a scholarship. Nope no funds available. It was then I asked myself, Is $30,000 a year worth it for a critique group? (I know, the programs are MORE than this, but in essence I was looking for a really smart critique group.)

That's when I decided to start my own. I also liked the idea of control. I'd attended a couple groups where attendance was opt in/opt out and they met like 2 times a year. It was ridiculous. I wanted a program where I wrote, vetted a piece, revised, and then submitted. Or else revised some more. I'm a focused writer and individual and I was at the time focused on making writing more than a hobby. I wanted to be a writer.

My group was terrific. I call it the Prairie School of Writing, a nod to F.L. Wright and his style of incorporating nature into design, using one's environment to inform the craft.

We have flucuated between 3 to five of us and give lots of attention to the work when we meet. But more than Marla helping to organize Freeze Dance or Mary Jo saying this needs more work or it's READY, I've come to appreciate the group for their emotional support. In November when I was experiencing my dark night of the soul they were there for me. Claudia, herself a published author with awards and a fledgling second novel ms, told me to apply for grants I listened, and when Mary Jo told me to start a blog, I dutifully acquiesced, though I didn't think the world needed one more blog.

Well all this advise is now paying off. I love my blog. I'm getting visits, and more importantly it is something to put down in my grant applications, which I followed up on and just this week: I got an individual artist grant from the Illinois Arts Council.

I'm grateful for the council's recognition of my work--though the state is broke and I might have to wait for the $$.

So it looks like winter is turning to spring. There have been some rejections--an application to the After School Matters program--and some cool things, like going to New Mexico for the Starry Night Retreat. And now--who knows? I'm vanquishing my dark night of the soul.


Sheila said...

Hi, Jane,

I just read your posts about the retreat and really loved them. My critique group has gone on three retreats; I've attended two. Ours were low key with no leader or instructor. We just wrote, drew, and met for meals and to critique what we were creating. We went to a lovely, inexpensive place that later tore down the section of the huge dormitory where we stayed so we can't go back. This was in north western IL so not far from home. We've tossed around the idea of another retreat at a different location but haven't gotten too far. The group is not all that focused -- just two of us are serious about writing for publication. Still, it's a good support group from an emotional standpoint. I understand about your need for a few writer friends. Thanks for your posts!
Sheila Welch

Jane Hertenstein said...

Thank you! for sharing