Category Archives: writing

I, Rima, Am a Creative Genius (Just Kidding)

IMG_1909Once upon a time I became weirdly interested in the blog of a Dutch woman who lived alone, seemed to have few friends or acquaintances, and rarely left her apartment. Yet she wrote, almost daily, about every detail of her waking life. Some days the Dutch woman would opt for English breakfast tea instead of Earl Gray, or notice that the eucalyptus was especially fragrant. The day she decided to re-arrange her living room furniture was like a ratings sweep episode for me.

She never disclosed her name or revealed any truly identifying information, but she did suggest that she was writing the blog as a form of therapy. I don’t know if I was taken with it because it was such an intimate window into a life very different from mine, or if I was just waiting to see if the Dutch woman would eventually leave her apartment. But I do remember being fascinated by her descriptions of the mundane, the way that simply by recording these things, she somehow elevated their importance. One day the blog just disappeared. I worried that something had happened to the Dutch woman and felt badly that I’d never commented. (But if truth be told, I would have not known what to say – just reading her words felt like a sort of intrusion.)

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A few years ago, someone suggested that I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron because it is supposed to be an excellent resource for sparking creativity and at the time I really wanted to write fiction. When I finally looked it up last week on Amazon, I saw that the book had been pretty roundly trashed as a load of new age self-help garbage. I normally love new age self-help garbage, but these reviews made even me, a person who once tried to meditate myself into an out-of-body experience, pretty wary. Plus the cover was brick red and featured a mountain with a line of geese flying in front of it.

I bought it anyway. If you are not a particularly spiritual person, The Artist’s Way will definitely turn you off. The author’s basic premise is that humans, being creations of the Creator, have an innate need to create as well. And that if you recognize that truth and beauty come from a divine source, if you are open to the idea that creating is a way of acknowledging that divinity, it (the Divine) will guide you along a creative path. I don’t think it’s anything new under the sun, but Julia Cameron does have an interesting way of presenting it.

In fact it makes a lot of sense to me. And I really need some guidance along my path because I have a compulsion to create, a crapload of ideas, a smattering of talent, a dearth of self-confidence, and almost no focus. But you can’t just read The Artist’s Way and expect Great Thoughts to float down from the heavens. You have to do actual work, such as making lists and taking yourself out on dates and writing at least three pages of stream of consciousness thoughts first thing in the morning.

And you have to do affirmations, which, as some of you may remember, utterly failed me when I lost the amber brooch my husband gave me. But apparently these affirmations are really instrumental in guiding the arc of the universe in my favor. So I’ve actually used precious minutes of this past week writing sentences like, “I, Rima, am a talented artist” ten times. I follow them up by writing, “Just kidding” ten times after, which is not part of the creative exercise.

Still, I’ve been adhering to Cameron’s course pretty faithfully for eight days now. I don’t even mind the morning pages so much because I do them in the afternoon with a cup of coffee. And I must say that I have in fact experienced a few creative stirrings and moments of serendipity. It might just be what happens when you make something a priority, but it’s also part of what prompted me to start writing again. Julia Cameron is really big on “paying attention to” and delighting in (yeah – delighting) in the world around you as a way to spark creativity, and it seems to me that there is no better way to observe, record, and delight in the mundane than through this here blog.

The Dutch woman was on to something.

So here I am, back at the keyboard, which is very crusty due to the fact that I had pretty much given my laptop over to the children for the past year or so. In that time my eldest changed a lot of settings I don’t know how to undo. For this reason the computer tells me what time it is out loud every fifteen minutes, windows blow up and disappear without warning, and every once in a while a small cartoon animal will scamper across the screen.

I’m not planning making a habit out of telling you what I had for breakfast. But I am ready once again to document the daylights out of life (at least once a week.)

 

P.S. I changed my profile picture to show that I am getting older.

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Genius is a Jerk

Two books that I’ve read in the past few weeks have prompted me to think about the nature of artistic genius. It struck me, after finishing Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife – about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson and Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank – about Frank Lloyd Wright’s extramarital love affair with Maymah Borthwick, that both Hemingway and Wright had immense self-confidence in their artistic vision. Almost to the point of being total assholes.

It was more than just self-assuredness. In the case of Frank Lloyd Wright, especially, it was a sense of being pre-ordained to better the human condition. According to Nancy Horan, Frank believed, for example, that stiffing the working man of his wages was okay in the grand scheme of things because the value of his design work to society as a whole was immeasurable. He left his wife and kids to live in Europe for a year with his muse and mistress, claiming that minds of his ilk cannot live “inauthentically.” He really thought he was a higher order of man than the average human being, and felt that certain things were his due because of it.

Maybe Hemingway was not quite as vain as Frankie. But he still believed enough in his gift to drop it all and move to Europe, surviving hand to mouth and on the generosity of others until his first real breakthrough came. And when his closest friends and mentors tried to warn him against publishing a piece he’d written openly mocking Sherwood Anderson (his first true mentor and champion), instead of considering their advice seriously, he accused them of being humorless and narrow-minded. When he was working, he completely shut out the whole world around him, going so far as to rent a separate garret room to write in even though at the time he lived alone with his wife, no children.

Hemingway and Wright “made it” not on the merit of their God-given talents alone. They believed their work deserved recognition and proceeded to act in a way that eventually accorded it.

Is that what it takes? The gift of talent coupled with a large dose of narcissism and a shot of bullheadedness?

The fame of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway was not achieved without heavy human collateral – broken marriages, neglected children, the loss of lifelong friends. I wonder how many more people with a little bit of talent and a great deal of persistence could achieve “great things” if they could be more selfish. If they could convince themselves that the measure of their gifts to the world is greater than the grief it will cause their loved ones to bear.

Do the fruits of genius ever outweigh the human toll they reap? And what if you sacrifice your personal relationships for the sake of your art and die with nothing to show for it, anyway?

This has been deep thoughts with Rima Tessman.

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It’s the End of RimaRama As We Know It

It’s difficult to write a blog post after you’ve been truant for going on two months. I don’t have a particularly good reason for my absence, only that life got busy and I became preoccupied with other pursuits. I started this blog five years ago when I was home alone with two very small children most of the day. It was a way to exercise one of my favorite muscles (the writing muscle) and to document the life of my young family with all of its joys, humor and frustrations.

You know where this is going, right?

My children are older, sentient beings now, and it doesn’t feel right to write about them with wild abandon like I used to. (And that leaves me with only the P-Dawg for potential writing fodder.) Meanwhile, my interests and those things that I always thought defined me have changed. For as long as I can remember, I thought the only thing I was ever good at, that I ever really wanted to do, was to write. This blog – and all of your kind words of encouragement – gave me self-confidence in that regard. Showing up here every week opened doors for me and eventually led me to do something I never thought I had it in me to do: to write a book.

I wrote a humorous, RimaRama style memoir (that’s “mem-wah”) about my experience growing up American, but mired deeply in the culture of my immigrant family. I wrote it with the intention of kindofsortofmaybe trying to get it published, as all good bloggers-turned-memoirists do. I wrote and edited and re-wrote and re-edited for upwards of a year. I asked a few trusted people to read it and give me feedback, and when I felt that I couldn’t make my book any better, I started querying literary agents, hoping with my entire heart and fearing with my entire soul that someone would ask to have a look.

And someone did. A few agents asked for the first few chapters, and then for the entire manuscript. For several weeks I waited with bated breath, cautiously optimistic that someone might bite. As the weeks turned to months, I re-negotiated my feelings on the whole endeavor and thought that even if no one offered me representation, I’d at least get constructive feedback on the manuscript.

That was back in September. I haven’t heard back from any of the agents who have my full, from which I’ve drawn the natural conclusion that my book was such a disappointment to those few brave souls who agreed to have a look, that they are too disgusted even to respond with a friendly “no thanks.”

But Dear Readers, I am not bitter. Really, I’m not. See, the cheesy beauty of it all (a realization at which I’ll admit it took me awhile to arrive) is that writing that book was worth it because through it, I wrote myself. It seems simplistic to say that writing the story of one’s life illuminates and solidifies one’s true self, but there it is. And here’s the other thing: maybe not every Tom, Dick and Harry or book club in America needs to read it.

While clinging to the dream of life as a published writer like a cat in an inspirational poster, I discovered that I really like art. Not just looking at it, but making it myself. And the urgent need I used to feel to sit in front of a computer daily and bleed words was replaced, bit by bit, with an all-consuming desire to create visual beauty rather than written truth.

That’s where I am now. Forgive me for being so long-winded about it all, but what I want to tell you, since many of you have been reading my words for several years now, it not that I want to stop writing altogether, but that I want to allow myself the freedom to write differently, and about different things. I’d like to turn this space into a place to document my creative projects and pursuits. And I’d like the freedom of a blog where sometimes, I just “call it in.

That’s not to say I won’t post the occasional story or anecdote, but I’d also like, on occasion, to simply upload a photograph or two and be done with it. It won’t be the RimaRama you’re used to. (But it probably won’t totally suck.)

Still, I feel that I owe you, my faithful readers, a warning that I’m about to change direction.

I’m going to follow my bliss, and I’d love it if you stayed, but I’ll understand if you go.

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I Heart Art

I made a little mermaid.

When I was working on my Masters degree in Adult Education, I had to take a class in the Psychology of aging and one of the things that stuck with me most was Erik Erikson’s observation that as humans age, they have an increasing need to create and nurture things that will outlast them. I’m definitely at that stage, and I recognize it not only in my concern for raising my children to be good people, but also in my pressing need to write for posterity and to create things of physical beauty.

A few months ago, I registered for an online fiction writing course through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Then I forgot all about it and developed an obsession with printmaking, spending all my free time hacking away at linoleum blocks and reading up about different techniques. And I discovered that when I was doing this, I had no need for writing. I started reading books about printmaking and took a renewed interest in the Japanese prints that the P-Dawg’s been collecting. While at the Cleveland Museum of Art last weekend, I found myself studying the themes and composition of the paintings instead of just viewing them from a purely aesthetic standpoint, as I always used to. Now that the online fiction course has finally started, I’m up to my eyeballs in writing assignments and all I want to do is carve linoleum.

What is happening to me?

I’m guessing, “mid-life crisis.” I suddenly feel as though I have no time to waste in trying my hand at all the things that interest me, of which, it turns out, there are many. But with each passing year I fear more that I’m doomed to be a Jack of all trades and master of none. It’s possible that my interest in printmaking is just a phase like so many others before it, but it’s like I said to my mom the other day when we were looking at some photos of the Lithuanian countryside, “I cannot help now but to see the world though the eyes of an artist.”

And my mom was like, “That’s great, but don’t quit your day job.” By which I can only assume she meant sporadic, not-for-profit blogging.

In the age of social media, I’ve noticed that more and more, with each online profile we fill out, we’re required to define ourselves succinctly. I’ve narrowed most of my bios down to “writer,” “wife,” and “mother,” but I still don’t have a published body of work to show for that first moniker. (I did complete my memoir about growing up as the daughter of immigrants stuck between two cultures. I just don’t know if it ever will – or even should be – read by a wide audience.)

And now I’m left wondering if there’s ever a definitive point when a person’s authentic self emerges, or if it’s okay to bluster around for a lifetime searching for it.

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