I have been thinking about energy and stamina, and the difference between the two, and how they relate to creative practice. The word “energy” conjures up, for me, vigor and forcefulness, vitality, strength–a sort of bustling intensity, the kind my son exhibited when he was five years old, for example. I have never considered myself a particularly high-energy person.
Think of the cat. A cat is capable of intense bursts of energy but will also husband that energy until the moment it’s needed. The cat will also sleep most of the day, storing up energy for the necessary predatory expenditures of strength. The feline form of energy use does not suit me very well, though I am partial to naps.
Stamina, however–stamina I have possessed. Stamina is also strength, also energy, but it is of a different nature. Plodding sometimes, headlong other times, but steady in the main. The sort of focus and determination a person needs to get through the long haul strikes me as stamina. Stamina is the energy to endure.
We have the mayfly and the bee, always buzzing actively, bursting with lively energy. Or the cat, conserving and then pulsing with strength and force. And we have the snail, constant and enduring, slowly edging its way toward its object.
My writing practice requires endurance, because I only occasionally get flashes of inspiration or insight and rarely feel surges of creative energy. Nonetheless, I have been told I am a “prolific” writer (by whose standards, I always wonder; compared to Georges Simenon and Alexandre Dumas, I am a piker). I think the reason is that I keep on. Everyone experiences setbacks, rejection, dry spells, discouragement, dull days. How we choose to deal with those situations becomes part of our practice of the discipline of art, and many approaches “work.” Whenever I read biographies of artists of any kind, or interviews with poets and writers and choreographers and composers, I recognize that (despite post-modernist critique) the life, in terms of personality and approach, does to some degree influence the art.
But the results are impossible to stereotype. A talkative, energetic artist may produce quiescent, meditative art. A dour personality can produce hopeful poetry, a still and soft-spoken person may create fierce, kinetic work.
A highly energetic person like Rimbaud can “burn out” on a major art form rapidly (though his busily-spinning, adventurous life kept going). And then there are the energetic sorts who just keep making work with boundless, apparently inexhaustible fire (see Simenon). One method or personality is not better nor more suited to art than another.
This is my minuscule revelation for the day: The one time I visited a shaman, I was told that my totem animal is the snail. The idea gave me a moment’s pause, but then seemed somehow very apt.
Except I was a little queasy about the slime trail.
I decided I can reframe the fact of slime once I recognize its purpose. It is not merely a lubricant, helping the gastropod to glide along, but also a glue that enables the creature to climb difficult surfaces, walls, and even ceilings. The layer of mucous also acts to protect the snail from dehydrating.
There must be a metaphor there somewhere. Poetry as…snail slime?
Time to keep plugging away, I think.
Love the discussion on how bursts come…I often find one just after my lowest point of wondering if I will yet again find ANYTHING to write about at all…thanks for sharing.
In a sense quantity is quality: to go on, step by step, in one’s own speed – like a snail.
Try reading ‘The sound of a wild snail eating’ by Elizabeth Tova Bailey, you will never see snails in quite the same way again.
thanks for sharing
Actually, I have read that book! And it was sort of in the back of my mind when I wrote this. I am also reminded of John Cage’s restatement (in regards to viewing minimalist art) of D. T. Suzuki’s suggestion that when something appears boring after looking at it for two minutes, try looking at it for four minutes, and then eight minutes, and then sixteen minutes. At some point it will become fascinating.
Here’s a link to the Bailey book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1565126068/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=24592247395&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=9657301921387290753&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&ref=pd_sl_3vufauqd6a_b