Can Art and Practicality Meet?

Last night while lying in bed – exhausted and fuzzy-headed too long a day that had culminated in a few too many drinks at my sister’s party – I almost started crying.

I lay there listening to an earnest and passionate lecture pep talk from my daughter Rosie, 20 years old, about why I should be true to my art with my writing.


As many who are reading this know, Rosie’s been hanging out with a bunch of creative performing artist types while working towards her BFA in Acting at Boston University.

I almost cried because of the conviction that shone in her brown eyes, and at the beauty of her naiveté as she extolled on the power of Art.

How I envy that surety about how the world works. Oh, to be 20 again – consumed with passion and positive in your knowledge of Truth.

“If you are just authentic and real with what you write, everyone will want to read it,” she assured me.

“Really, Mom, if  person is reading someone’s diary and all about their authentic thoughts on their life, will they be bored?”

“No!” She answered herself.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her, that yes, people certainly could be bored reading someone’s  private ramblings – unless they have a personal invested interest in that individual and what they are thinking. After all, I’ve  clicked away from dozens of blog posts, and even emails, that go on and on in this manner.

But, her point is well-taken.

“An artist tells the truth that everyone else is afraid to face,” she declared.

She repeated this so many times during the conversation that I was convinced the words had been uttered by some great actor or thinker. But no, we can attribute that quote to Ms. Rosie O’Leary.

For years, my daughter has encouraged me  to follow through on writing a memoir. “Those stories about your life are so fascinating!”

Again I didn’t have the heart to explain that her interest is based on her own personal history; I’m talking about the events that indirectly shaped who she is today. Of course she finds them fascinating. But would a total stranger feel the same way? I doubt it. Depends on the writing I guess.

“Everyone loves reading your blog!” she assured me. Now, that brought more of a smile to my face.

But really, is this Art? With a capital “A”? Probably not.

It got me thinking though. And almost crying with regret and longing.

Right now I am on this more business-oriented trajectory with my writing – and there’s only so much time in a day. But I sure didn’t like hearing  excuses like, “I need to make some money,” coming out of my mouth.

With great difficulty, I tried to explain to her that I don’t believe I have the qualities of an artist. I’m more of a practical person.

It stings my heart to admit this, but I don’t think I have that brilliant creative genius that burns within the soul of the artist.

Although my imagination ran wild  as a child, I told her, something changed as I approached adulthood. I just don’t have that many ideas of what to write about.

(I didn’t even start to go into my longing to create or perform art in other forms than writing, and my frustration at my utter lack of ability and talent in any artistic forum.)

Her response to my whine:  “That’s because you don’t believe in yourself!”

You ARE a good writer, she proclaimed.. All artists doubt themselves. That part I know is true. But somehow, most manage to still create.

Again, though, her point is well-taken. All my life I’ve longed to write novels and fiction. Unlike Rosie, I basically gave up after my first few tries when things didn’t flow that smoothly. The ideas weren’t coming, I didn’t get oodles of praise and positive feedback  in those first creative writing classes back at UC Santa Cruz. I couldn’t find the self-discipline and focus to sit down and write every day until the ideas did come, and my turns of phrase improved.

Instead, I numbed myself with alcohol and marijuana, immersed my creative energy into social activities (and hours of angst-ridden journal writing wondering what the hell was wrong with me).

At least in those days I journaled nearly every day, but after my mom died, and then Ciel was born I found it hard to keep the journal habit. I’d return and write a few entries and then let months, and later even years go by without any chronicle of my activities much less my feelings or some creative expression.

And those months slipped into years, then decades. Here I am nearly 50 and barely closer to my dream of being a novelist than I was at 20.

I’ve wasted those years, I thought miserably, as Rosie continued to enthuse on the power of connecting with your art. I should have been writing, I should have been teaching, speaking – living up to my potential and talent, following my dream.

I found it ironic that she chose this night for her creative pep talk. I’d spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon finally narrowing down the idea for a new blog and brainstorming titles and taglines. I was feeling motivated, enthusiastic and excited about learning how to create a web site and getting this blog (Wellness Inspirations? Your Natural Well Being?) online.

But this new project, although it will mine my creative writing talents and abilities,  is part of a long-term plan to get an online business off the ground.

Sure, I’ll tell some honest and fun stories to illustrate  tips and thoughts on creating inner and outer wellness. But this new blog I am so excited about is probably not  the place where I will use my most authentic voice and tell the most painfully honest stories.

I don’t think it could be called Art.

Its purpose is to showcase my writing abilities and my knowledge to potential clients (or at least my ability to translate and explain the knowledge of others.)

So, just as I feel some momentum building on this new project – Rosie is reminding me of the clock ticking away while I continue to shelve the real dream. The creative part of me. The aspiring novelist, fiction-writer, memoir writer.

The fact that I never seem to place that artistic aspiration front and center in my life, tells me that I am not a ‘real’ artist or writer, or whatever.

Because, if I was I’d be doing it.

And that thought made the tears really flow.

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Showing 10 comments
  • Charlotte Tarrant

    Great piece Sarah – you’re a fantastic writer.

  • Kathleen

    There is Art in the Kitchen
    Art in any Life Lived with Passion
    Art in Love, in the Garden, in the Barn.
    The Art of holding a Friend Dear
    Being There in Times of Need.
    Art in the Tea leaves in your cup.
    Fame, Acceptance do not make art.
    They make Ego.
    Is it Art you seek, or Connection?
    Blessed Be those who are allowed to live their Art Larger than Life.
    Blessed Be those in the Kitchen.
    Sadness and Regret are always waiting to Pounce.
    Which way are you looking?

    • Sarah

      Love the poem Kathleen! You are a living example for me of art shining through in daily life. Thank you for the inspiration.

      • Kathleen

        Sarah, Dear, Just don’t want you beating yourself up about it!!!! You ARE writing, you WILL write more.

  • Jennifer Savage

    Sarah! I totally hear you! But I completely disagree! (Please enjoy overabundance of exclamation points!!!)

    Look, yes, certainly successful writers attain that success because they put writing first. At some point that has to happen. But it’s also scary, and you’ve always had other people depending on you. You’ve had to be practical to ensure your responsibilities to your children have been met – and you are a wonderful mom. (Look at the confidence and passion with which Rosie argues! I hear echoes of Sarah in there, for sure.)

    About the scary part: Writing is scary! Creating and sharing makes a person vulnerable. Part of the reason we procrastinate, shy away from doing it despite our longing to engage, is because some part of our brain knows all kinds of wild things can happen once the writing starts. We risk criticism. We risk failure. We risk encountering emotions we weren’t prepared for. We risk having to decide between being true to ourselves and beholden to others. We risk changing our entire lives. We risk risking.

    (Ironically – and I think I use it correctly – I left bed early to write, but find myself here instead, writing at you about writing! HA!)

    So keep making your practical business plans, but show up for writers’ group, too. Scratch down sentences or ideas that pop into your head. A small fire will burn a long time if carefully tended. And before you know it, you’ll find yourself warm and confident and um… losing my ability to make this metaphor work… um… point is, being a Writer, practicing Art, doesn’t belong only to those who exude Genius in the most obvious of ways. In fact, mostly artists are just people who figured out how to do what they love and at some point, the world responded.

    You are a good writer. You will continue to write. It’ll be great. Love you.

    • Sarah

      Thank you Jen! Your talent, determination and success has motivated me deeply. I’m not 20, and somewhere in my mature self I understand that art and making a living don’t have to be mutually exclusive….but sometimes I just wish I found myself more often in the ‘zone’ of creativity where all other concerns and cares disappear.
      Thanks for the encouragement. I will keep on writing. And maybe someday even take a painting class.

    • Robert Wall

      There’s very much a yin/yang to this.

      For art to really be art, it really needs to be authentic. But when you’re talking about writing, it also needs to be authentic work that people want to read – at least if you expect them to pay you for it!

      The real questions are things like

      What can I say that other people don’t, can’t, or won’t?
      What unique perspectives do I bring to the table?
      What sorts of people need or want to hear what I have to say?

      The difference is between being fake to hit a target market, and being authentic for a market that (ultimately) targets you.

      I wrote an article a couple of days ago. It was good writing (in my opinion), but the more I read it the more I thought, “this doesn’t really belong on my blog”.

      So I e-mailed it to a friend of mine, who’s happy to have it for her blog. I didn’t change it; I didn’t “compromise my artistic integrity” – I just re-targeted the authentic writing I’d already done so that the right people (in my opinion, anyway) would appreciate it.

      That’s the key. And now that I look back at this comment, I’m going to go expand these thoughts into a blog post. 😀

      Thanks Sarah!

      • Sarah

        Glad that this post gave you a little inspiration Robert. I’ll look forward to checking out your post. Thanks for visiting.

  • debi


    I think Jennifer is right when she says, “So keep making your practical business plans, but show up for writers’ group, too…”
    Don’t close any doors, but we have to continue living in this world.

    I went back and read your “Catholic School” booth submission again that you had sent me a year ago. I see your talent here in your blog constantly, but it extends past just this; you have a delightful ability to weave a tale.

    One day at a time, one step after another; if we just prepare, things often fall into place and we don’t need to suffer anxiety to get there.


  • peri

    This was powerful writing, Sarah. I’ve had the same voices in my head, asked myself the same questions. I cannot get over the fact that someone as accomplished as you, could have the same insecurities as me. Wasn’t that you who started her own Moonrise all those years ago? Wasn’t that you who went off to be an intern at The Nation in New York City? I seem to remember you blogging your way through Thailand and Bali. I’m pretty sure that was you riding that elephant, anyway!
    You have inspired me since the day I met you, Sarah. I have always thought of you as an artistic person. I love you AND your writing voice.

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