Channelling Talent

Fresh radishes.

It has never been easy for creative people to channel their talents, let alone make a living from their work product. My reaction to this fact of society was to get a job that pays a salary or wages and create on the side. I don’t know of any other way to finance creativity over the span of a single life.

When I was younger — from high school until finishing military service — I felt I could be anything I wanted to be. Hoo boy! To be that kid again! I bought some time when I returned to Iowa after military service by getting my Masters Degree in May 1981. I then faced the reality of how few jobs existed that provided an inherent ability to create. I worked for the University for a while, got married, and began what would turn into a 25-year stint in transportation and logistics. I created on the side, yet was often too tired after work and on weekends to get anything creative accomplished. There was creative output, but not as much as I wanted.

I tried a lot of creative media when I was young: ceramics, drawing, watercolors, performing music, and writing. Of these, writing is the one that stuck with me. I started a journal after undergraduate commencement, and have continued to write in it until today. Except for the volume stolen from me in Calais, France after crossing the English Channel, I have them all. I sought to get published in the local newspapers by writing letters to the editor beginning in 1974. I continue to write them. Beginning in 2007, I published online blog posts which have accumulated into a substantial body of work. I began with the Google Blogspot platform, then switched to WordPress. I have printed copies of all of these posts in 20 volumes. After trying things in my youth, I ended up using writing as my creative outlet.

Among my favorite writers is William Carlos Williams who made a living as a pediatrician while writing some of the most imaginative verse and prose I’ve read. I could never be like him yet he is a role model for the way he isolated himself from his day job to participate in literary culture of his time. His is a lesson every person seeking an outlet for creative endeavor should seek and likely emulate. While there is no single “literary culture” today, it is important to seek a group of like-minded writers with whom to share ideas and collaborate. For Williams, the literary culture of New York City was near his home in Paterson, New Jersey. One might think I would have something similar by living about ten miles from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, but that hasn’t proven to be the case.

I recently wrote about living on Gilbert Court in Iowa City during my senior year as an undergraduate. It was a significant exposure to a group of poets, prose writers, artists and book publishers who made their own literary movement called “Actualism.” Darrell Gray even wrote about the movement in his book Essays and Dissolutions published in 1977. By that year, I was long gone from Gilbert Court, living in Germany after joining the U.S. Army. We didn’t consider ourselves to be “Actualists” when I was there. Gray and others were working through the idea. Actualism had become more prominent during the years after my graduation.

The realities of needing a job to pay bills has been present since undergraduate school. Since we married, I have been able to carve out a space to get away from daily life to be creative. I have a talent for something, and have done my best to maintain a quality of life that will support my writing as a separate endeavor. Now that I retired and have predictable pension income there is more opportunity to write. Thing is, all that writing since 1974 means something as well.

If I don’t have a firm idea of what I should be doing with my writing and creative endeavor, there is a sense I have a talent for something. For now, the major project of my autobiography takes a lot of creative energy. Between that, this blog, and letters to the editors of newspapers, I find a way to channel my talents. If each person’s journey is different, it is something to recognize where one is going.