Becoming An Erotic Artist

In a world that talks about the tortured artist as if art were the cause of the torture, I believe art is the cure. My purpose in this life is to get out of suffering and the causes of suffering and to help others get out of suffering. Art is what melts us down so we can remember we are both the ocean and the wave—interwoven and interdependent. 

I’m going to tell you a sad story with a happy ending, and the various things I learned along the way to my happy ending. It’s the story of a girl who wanted to be art but that sounded too crazy. She drank espressos in a beret at the Upstart Crow. She dated Shakespearean actors. She wrote day in and day out. She’d recite Sylvia Plath, chapter and verse, and Blake and Rilke. She thought of words as lovers and didn’t have the slightest notion of “viability.” 

What’s the intersection between Eros and art, other than the fact that artists have a lot of sex? When I said I was an Erotic artist, I think a lot of people thought it had something to do with bondage and rope. I think a better explanation comes from Natalie Golberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, and how she described it.

“For fifteen years now, at the beginning of every writing workshop, I have repeated the rules for writing practice. So, I will repeat them again here. And I want to say why I repeat them: Because they are the bottom line, the beginning of all writing, and I would add, of all creativity, the foundation of learning to trust your own mind:

Trusting your own mind is essential for writing. Words come out of the mind.

And I believe in these rules. Perhaps I’m a little fanatical about them. A friend, teasing me, said, ‘You act as if they are the rules to live by, as though they apply to everything.’ I smiled. ‘Okay, let’s try it. Do they apply to sex?’

I stuck up my thumb for rule number one. ‘Keep your hand moving.’ I nodded yes.

Index finger, rule number two. ‘Be specific.’ I let out a yelp of glee. It was working.

Finger number three. ‘Lose control.’ It was clear that sex and writing were the same thing.”

As Jane Hirshfield put it, “If the gods bring to you a strange and frightening creature, accept the gift as if it were one you had chosen.” She’s referring to a pain, a breakup, a job failure, a condition that pulls the rug out. And the promise she makes is one I can attest to—that the “yes,” though it may appear as a frightening creature, and though sometimes it may reveal itself a little late, that gift brings with it benevolent aid. 

I was a young writer, a protégée to someone I considered to be a great writer. It was suggested I had great potential. There was a major poetry contest and even though I could sense my fear of disappointment, I entered. “Grave digger, cave dweller, with your whiskey frozen into cubes about her suicidal and introverted ways and her hidden alcoholism.”—I still love that line. I would win a scholarship with what my mentor called my unbeatable poem. “A shoo-in,” he declared. 

But it was not, it turned out, a shoo-in. I came in second place. That was acceptable. But the poem I lost to, “Eyes,”—a poem that could have easily been lyrics for a Britany Spears song—was too much. I was taken out, and just like everything I do, I went big. 

I went off on a spiritual flight of fancy. I took my first dip into Tibetan Buddhism. I read. I only wore saffron. I wore my hair in a topknot. My Catholic mother, being a mother of a very special ilk, entertained my various explorations like few others. When I decided I was a Hasidic Jew, she took me to American Apparel and bought me all of the turtlenecks and long skirts any woman in South Williamsburg could ever want. My Rabbi had to tell me that because I was not married, I was not obligated to wear a hat at all times. When I decided I would explore Latin America by only dating men who spoke no English, she bought me a Spanish dictionary. I owned every cookbook ever written, including one she put together of all our family recipes because after dining at Chez Panisse, I determined my calling was to become a great chef.  I learn by becoming. 

But at the time, at age 18, I had become a great Tibetan yogi and was reading the book Surfing the Himalayas by Frederick Lenz, a fabulous read. There’s a story in the book where Frederick, a world-class snowboarder, is at the tip of a mountain accompanied by only the glare of white snow in every direction. And then, appearing from nowhere, a monk is standing next to him. And the monk wants to ride his snowboard down the mountain. Since the monk has never snowboarded before, Frederick is thinking this is a bad idea. He does not want to put this kind being’s life in that kind of danger. But they negotiate. The monk mounts the board and surfs down the mountain as if he’d been doing it his whole life. 

After the monk’s successful ride down the mountain, Frederick asks him how he did that. 

The monk replies with something along the lines of “You know one thing, snowboarding.  I know one thing, emptiness. Yours will remain one thing. Mine is everything.”

This becomes an important part of truly understanding art. 

Here’s what I learned:

If you want to become a great artist, you must start now. Immediately. Cut. Cut words and ideas. A preposition here. An adjective there. Cut “a” and “great” for example. For intimacy, the artist’s lifeblood, cut –“ist.” Become. Become art. This is how. This is how you enter the heroic dimension. There cannot be any aim, any contrivance that would cause the ideas to coagulate. To paint, to write, to play about electricity, you must zap and crackle and feel your back arc in the chair. You must fly around your room, a sparking livewire. If you cheat, if you become a spectator to art—like a cold and distant husband who thinks his wife is a madwoman because she is his undoing—you will find yourself in the artistic bed with a frigid tight-lipped art. There is no creative block, there is only a coldness to one’s own well, of tears and fury, of love that freezes passion and douses magic. The yearning is the response. 

You will develop the gaze of a Tibetan monk, focused on what exists behind the screen or the canvas. And if you are good, very good, you will learn to de-exorcise your demons. 

You are turning the noun of you into a verb with art, documenting that process. Life is a story, and it’s a better story when it contains the sacred. 

Not long after your birth, a conveyor belt was installed in your mind. This, and a series of thoughts manufactured by the factory. The same thoughts running through, day in and day out, automated the production process. You scarcely needed to show up for the work of sensing, seeing, touching in with reality. The conveyor belt would just pump out responses. This conveyor belt is called instinct, the instinctual self. 

Perhaps one day, amidst a particularly cranky conversation, the same one you have with your sister every day, or catching a glimpse of a shiny black crow, maybe in a white, gauzy room making love or standing in a doorway, pausing, having signed the divorce papers and making a final exit, something more yourself than yourself, but not altogether familiar, breaks in and says, “I can’t keep doing this.” Or, if, you’re lucky, says after glimpsing beauty, “This, this is how I want to live.” Those flashes can set a course. They are gateways out of the factory where you snooze in the office, waking up only to punch the time clock.  

This is the origin of the creative breakthrough—creativity breaking into the sludge, the stasis we trudge through hoping we have enough energy to make it to our grave. This is the flash of genius, the spark of inspiration, the glimmer of hope. It’s the light breaking through the clouds of the occluded mind. These are flashes from the lighthouse of “home.”

The Kabbalah teaches that life is a creative act, and for those who are called, it becomes great art. I sat listening to a man with pants, a black hat, crumpled white shirt, and black suit explaining how creator, creative art, and sex are one. On the tree of life, Binah is a womb that receives Hockma—our crazy circling thoughts—which are seen as sperm. He said, in all seriousness, “May you all have a good womb.”

The issue with the lightning flash of insight is that it lights up even the dark areas in our lives. First, we see the dazzling light. Next, we see the areas where we’ve secreted away our “don’t want to look at”’s; our illicit desires, our bad behavior moments, the ancient betrayals. It’s the gap, the way organic chemistry is the gap that filters out who’s got the fortitude to make it through med school and who doesn’t. Eighty percent fail. Those who turn back will remain scribblers, now with a grumble and a sign that reads, “Nothing really exists over there,” propagating the idea that artists are crazy, “dreamers,” “loafers.” But do not be fooled. The artist is the most formidable of practitioners. Artists ride a bull through the darkness, hoping to not fall into the abyss of shame when meeting with their own shadow. 

As James Baldwin described it, “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists if they are to survive, are forced, at last to tell the story, to vomit the anguish up.” 

Zoe Whitall suggested, “I wish authors could get three close friends to blurb their books, ‘She was very depressed when she wrote this but she did it!’ ‘We’re very proud. She has no other skills so we worry.’ ‘Please buy this book so she’ll stop talking to us about it.’” 

Whatever the way, artists have dual citizenship above and below, for that is the underworld from whence art issues. And beneath this lies the “Love Dog” yearning. Art, love, the sacred, and sex are the response. The artist must be both wave and ocean. 

But to be seen in that light, by one’s own eyes, requires a great unflinching heart, courage from the French coeur. This, more than any medium, is what we are tasked to do. This is the preparation stage.  

David Lynch is much better at public relations than I am. He goes straight to what lies beneath the sludge, the shimmering illumination. A tablespoon of that illumination would light up the night sky and contain with it enough vision to fill every gallery on the globe, and run every country. But we discover we are fortunate if we make it back with a single gold speck. He talks about the place you land, what J.K. Rowling could only describe by conflating two metaphors: hitting bottom that becomes bedrock. The flow researcher Mihaly Czichenmihaly explained that this is why artists are both unreasonably confident and humble. Confidence is a result of touching the ground of vision, the humbling result of having seen yourself stark naked with belly rolls of pride and the emaciated cheeks of control. It’s why Tibetan Buddhists say those of high birth are called to either teach or become artists. 

You may have always felt different. You may have a sideways-thinking mind that sees differently. What others point to as the things wrong with you may be exactly what’s right with you.  

I want to say that to the girl I was. I want that voice to be heard in the world. And, I want to say, have compassion for the workers of the factory mind and its antics that tell each of us to turn back when, like Hansel and Gretel, we come to the edge of the dark forest. The issue is, those who enter can scarcely speak about what happens. But those who turn back have plenty to say as the great ego fallacy is threatened; because it knows it’s just pumping out shitty preservatives and empty calories, keeping the mind too fat to just walk out of that gig. 

It’s a big channel to swim this becoming art; from here to the ethereal floating island where art aims to bring us. But this is the way. You swim and swim. You fear drowning. You swallow salt water that is most likely your tears. You get tangled in seaweed. The whole 9 yards. But “you” falls away in the process. And look, there is one island but it has many entry points: it might be meditation, it might be psychedelics, it might be art. You can’t glimpse it from this shore and get it. You learn the water by getting wet. Eventually, you become the water itself. Or, as my Drupon says: You remember you are not just the wave, you are the whole ocean. Remember this, it’s important. 

As a wave, you think yourself separate. These factory workers think themselves separate in exchange for the siren’s offering; they get to be arbiter, pontificator, critic. They’re the ones who will critique your breaststroke while you’re in the deep end, guzzling plankton. 

But we haven’t made it to that point yet. You’re likely still kicking the tires and looking for a better deal. I should warn you the channels are too narrow for anything other than a body. And even then you’ll have to winnow your way through. So give that one up. 

But there are still things you might want to do on dry land. I mean, you never married or went to Paris and tried the camembert on a fresh warm baguette. You didn’t do ayahuasca or live in a yurt. I’ll say what I’ve said for 30 years, something my teachers might not love, but a statement I feel obligated to make: If you can escape the lure of the water, do! It’s not a journey one makes half-heartedly. Even with a healthy heart, you will endure daily heart-attack-like symptoms. If anything, I want to dissuade you, not persuade you. And if my metaphors don’t, try this: The fear that lurks in the back of every sane person’s mind—that you will lose your sanity—is a possibility, because the mind as you’ve known it will be lost. This is why mystical traditions and art alike always have the madman as a totem—from Lama Drukpa Kunley to Rumi, Bukowski to Trungpa. The difference lies in the luminosity of the madness. The mere madman exists in a dark dream. The mystic in the light aspires to become the lighthouse itself. 

Now that we’ve done a little basic housecleaning, prepare to meet your daimon, what the Romans consider the divine attendant to your creative force, and what the Greeks call the Genii, a nickname, I suppose, for genius. A sprightly little force charged with overseeing all the things that are necessary to take you out of control: Sex, Eros, Power, Rage, and Art. 

 No, not demon. The Christians go a little hellfire and brimstone at the suggestion of  a divine attendant, a primordial energy that would offer free access to an otherwise costly consciousness. I love Christians (I’d lose my Sicilian Catholic badge if I did not), but their determination to corner the market by taking out the competition isn’t a good look. Lord knows there’s room for all of us; it’s not like there’s a shortage of suffering to minister to. 

The daimon knows the backroads to the vast open space that is your birthright. Considered by the Greeks to be a provider of good fortune and destinies. He’s like a sherpa who carries the heavy burden of genius. Good work, bad work—your ego doesn’t have to fret; it’s the work of the daimon. You can hang the blame and fame on him and get on with your business. 

I believe that Seren Bertrand may be familiar as she writes: “I have decided to see this time of chaos and constriction as not a fall from spiritual grace, but as the next level. The power of limits, edges, testing, initiation. What the Saturnian Angel ladies unleash when they think you’re ready for the strong stuff. Feminine Chaos Magic. Now that is how real grace is forged.” Indeed, that is why psychedelics work so well. They disrupt,  taking you into chaos realms, where green snakes talk to you, and your senses are overwhelmed. 

In other words, you’re going to feel foolish so just embrace it. A teacher once told me our greatest fear is feeling either that we’ve been made fools of or that we’ve been taken advantage of. The daimon, capricious, fleeting, trickster, bandit will provide you with a surplus of these experiences. That teacher also said if you can learn to laugh, that’s half the battle. 

Ginsberg knew. He went on William F. Buckley’s talk show called “Firing Line” and sang a Hare Krishna song with his harmonium. When he got back to New York, all his intelligentsia friends said, “Don’t you know that everyone thinks you’re an idiot, the whole country is making fun of you.” And Ginsberg said, “That’s my job, I’m a poet and I am going to play the fool. Most people have to work all day long and they come home and they fight with their spouse and they turn on the boob tube. And somebody tries to sell them something. And I just screwed all that up. I went on and I sang about Krishna and now they are lying in bed saying, ‘Who is this stupid poet?’ and they can’t fall asleep.”

The other half of working with the daimon is contending with unorthodox methods—a state of seizure or possession that is the calling card of all great art. The restless, aimless hours of living on call, never sure when your inspiration beeper is going to go off. 

Every human being needs an interior room of their own. It needs to be designed precisely according to how you’d like it because if you’re going to make art, you’ll spend a lot of time inside that room. Your physical room is virtually irrelevant because you aren’t in it.

To get into my interior room, I descend in and melt everything I possibly can. Everything that’s collected inside of me and whatever is churning comes together and expresses in whatever form it wants to. My task is to be a good dance partner with this very formidable creative force—to move with it and to let it determine what wants to be created.

I’ll be in the shower and hear, “I didn’t mean to love you.” Or, “The sea of yellow flowers faded into the horizon and it was unclear as to whether or not it was sun or flower.” In those moments, I am receiving a key. If I listen with great care and great precision, if I move with it like a skillful dancer, if I attend to it like a lover, then it continues to offer. But, until I’m given the key, I make no art. I’ll wash dishes, I’ll take a bath, I’ll take a walk, but I do not come until I’m called. And when I am called, I follow with absolute fidelity. It is the daimon that issues that key and the daimon is nothing if not devious; it must be to get around the Buckingham Palace sentries who guard the ego. The daimon calls in the ancient yearning to be possessed—to be taken over by something that feels larger and more powerful than yourself. 

Sexually, it is the longing to submit, to be held down and split open by our own lust that won’t take No for an answer. Spiritually, it is the longing to prostrate before the throne of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. These days, this spiritual longing is every bit as disreputable as the sexual one. The politically correct longing doesn’t rattle the heavens with a voice of thunder or require you to get down on your knees. The politically correct and prim deities, like the politically correct man, are nice—so lame with niceness that our longing for possession needs to turn to less savory endeavors. But the longing itself, the love dog, will not take No for an answer. If it can’t submit to God or to lover or art, it will find something less scrupulous to enforce its surrender. It will turn to the Sirens. And we all know how that turns out. 

This is why I suggest we fortify our art with an attendant practice. Bikram used to say you have a heart attack inside the yoga room so you won’t have one outside the room. I say meditate outside your studio so you can find peace when the creative forces are wreaking havoc. 

Liz Gilbert tells a story of Tom Waits, who, for most of his life, was pretty much the mascot of the tormented contemporary modern artist, trying to control and manage and dominate these sorts of uncontrollable creative impulses that were totally internalized. But then he aged, and something of a peace set in. One day, as he was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles, he learned the trick that works with the trickster creative force. He’s speeding along, and all of a sudden, he hears this little fragment of melody come into his head, as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalizing, and he wants it. It’s gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it. 

He doesn’t have a piece of paper, a pencil, or a tape recorder. So, he starts to feel all of that old anxiety rise in him, “I’m going to lose this thing and I’ll be haunted by this song forever. I’m not good enough, and I can’t do it.” And instead of panicking, he just stops. He just stops that whole mental process and does something completely novel. He looks up at the sky, and he says, “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen.”

And his whole work process changed after that. Not the work, which was oftentimes as dark as ever. But the process, and the heavy anxiety around it was released when he took the genie, the genius out of him where it was causing nothing but trouble, and released it back where it came from. The wave became water and realized ir didn’t have to be this internalized, tormented thing. It could be this peculiar, wondrous, bizarre collaborative kind of conversation between Tom and the strange, external thing that was not quite Tom.  

You’re negotiating endless, nearly imperceptible doorways as you are inside of the motion and the unmovable that lies behind activity. You will need to develop an alternate perceptual faculty.  

In shikantaza, the form of Zen meditation practiced by Dogen, a person’s eyes are neither fully closed nor fully open; they are held in a state of betweenness. A similar gaze, lowered yet present, is called by Catholic monastics “keeping custody of the eyes.” Neither escape, disregard, nor avoidance, his careful balancing of attention’s direction reflects an altered expectation of what is being looked for. The desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary by changing not the world but the eyes that look.

We know this from studies of the congenitally blind: after surgery makes possible the physical capacity to see, there remains a lag in cognition, in the ability to parse images from sensory data. One eight-year-old boy, operated on in the early 1900s for cataracts, was asked, when his bandages were first removed, what he could see. “I don’t know,” he answered. The surgeon moved his hand in front of the boy, who still could “see” nothing. Only after the boy touched the moving hand with his own did he begin to recognize the shifting patterns of light and dark before him for what they were.

You get to determine the eyes you see through, like the old joke, where Holmes and Watson wake up in the middle of the night and Holmes says, “Watson, what do the stars make you think of?” “Well, Holmes, I suppose I think of infinity, of the mysterious beauty of the universe, and of how much there is to discover. What do they make you think of?” “Well, Watson, they make me think that someone has stolen our tent.” Here, Sherlock well represents the factory worker and Watson the artist, the dreamer too taken by the moment to worry about the question of how it came to be.

People will think you foolish, unruly, rebellious, childish, indulgent as they march to their factory job with all seriousness. There’s a reason the conductor plays with their back to the audience. And quite possibly why Beethoven chose to go deaf. Never let anyone tell you what you can do with your art. Just think of the old joke: Everyone told Beethoven he couldn’t be a musician just because he was deaf. Did he listen? —Be like Beethoven. 

In a dysfunctional world obsessed with function, cancel it out and be dysfunctional. Frida Kahlo, Dali, Van Gogh—they make the most interesting biopics. Kahlo painted this when Diego Rivera slept with her sister, causing her to divorce, take on lovers, and return to him a year later. The man about whom she wrote “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the streetcar, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” And, “Diego = my husband / Diego = my friend / Diego = my mother / Diego = my father / Diego = my son / Diego = me / Diego = Universe.” This is not a woman who found non-attachment in love. Her passion was her currency.  Your obsession is what keeps you unbound and unwound, safe from the enemy of art, security. 

One day when I was studying Orgasmic Meditation (OM), I was having a particularly difficult time. At its essence, OM is learning to pay attention to the specific stroke, following the moving finger, but more than anything it’s about letting go of control; that is how you gain entry.  

It’s fairly simple actually. Simple but not easy. Your psyche will get the equivalent of writer’s block if you don’t let go of control. I did not want anyone to know my propensity for obsession, mania, and occasional dips into dark wells so I held on. Tight. My stroker was not exactly thrilled with watching me fake surrender yet again. It was a certain kind of art, I mean I was definitely an actress. I went for a walk. I stopped off to, of all things, talk to the goats that lived on the property. I heard a hammering in the garage next to the pen. I wandered over and the main teacher was there, alone. When you are in that state of non-surrender, you are nothing if not self-conscious.  I tried to sneak away when I heard my name.

“Hey Nikki.” He called me Nikki because I was so serious they thought it might lighten me up. It did not. 

I turned back, “Oh, hey.”

He asked me what was up. I knew the drill–accentuate the positive, everything’s great–but I could not manage it. I just plunked myself down in vulnerability. 

“I can’t…get it. I just can’t. Everyone else does. I don’t.” 

He kept his head down looking at the table he was making, but eyes on me, and he said, “Oh you get it alright, but you’re doing something deeper. You’re a writer, right?”

“Not really… I mean.”

“I’ve read your practice journals, you’re a writer, you’re just gathering the material to write about. You’re having the human experience. And part of that, a big part of that is not being able to have it all figured out. You’ll write, but when you do, you’ll have something to write about and the passion of someone who has let go of control and been carried. It won’t be Reader’s Digest, I’ll tell you that.”

In other words the aim is not to turn passion into milky virtue, and neither to remain separate from it with control or flail, which Alan Watts reminds us is the cause of drowning. To be still in the waves, allows us to float. 

Ask yourself, “Is that really who I want to be?” Do you want people to say you were a fine actuary with your love and never took too many risks?

Steven Zweig writes that the hero, in this case the artist, “becomes the daimon’s master instead of the daimon’s thrall.” This is because there are many encounters with the maras, the sirens, the distractions sent in to get you back on dry land. Like my teacher said, embrace them, laugh, and they disappear. As Caesar A. Cruz, poet and academic says, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” including you. 

This is not to say, “May I never find peace.” That is the crux of the artist’s way, to find peace not in spite of the disturbances but with them. To earn an adamantine peace. And art will teach you peace and enforce patience. Eggs opened from the outside, kill what is inside. You have to break out. Flowers forced to open die. You have to unfurl. 

Here’s a parable about reading spiritual canons that could apply to art. A man is standing outside the window of a woman. For days. People think he’s lost his marbles. Then in one moment, the curtain pulls back and a woman appears, only to disappear again. This is how the poet describes the experience of apprehending a glimpse of sacred understanding. Nothing, nothing, nothing. And then flash, that which you’ve waited for. 

Stand outside the window of your art. Feel the tiny vibrations of the nervous system so generously surfacing. Learn slowly so you can learn deeply. And remember that we come out of a womb. So does our creativity. Which would suggest it’s feminine and likes to be courted. Even if it’s not giving up the goods. 

One of the alternative courses I took in protest to “The Great Poetry Contest Debacle” was Greek mythology. One story, in particular, functioned as a lighthouse, the story of the Muse. 

In Greek mythology we rely on the muses, goddesses known for their divine beauty, poise, and allure that arouse in us the inspiration that is lifeblood for artists. These aren’t just sexy ladies who drink too much wine, inhale Gitanne cigarettes, and reject the artists’ advances—these are forms, more light than flesh, the embodiment of inspiration itself. The former might play hard to get but the latter, once you’ve had one taste, nothing else will do and you will do anything to have another. Sure, you will stay up until 3:00 a.m. with eyes bleary, your sixth cup of Earl Gray, matted hair, and a guardian at your mind blocking out the distractions of daily life, like earning a proper living. The art is the medium through which you access her. You will refine your art, your being, your psyche, adjust your expectations simply to have a drop of that pure inspiration. But your art is your prostration to her, that you might have one more moment in that luminosity. She’s molding you to create artifacts that might draw others to her. 

The story goes: The muses are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Zeus is that lightning bolt which powers the creation, but it is memory that brings forth inspiration and creativity. We might ask ourselves what recollection has to do with great art. What are we remembering?

Pegasus, the winged horse, the symbol for immortality, flew down and stamped his foot. Instantaneously, four sacred springs arose. From these springs, these ethereal goddesses were born with the power to bestow harmony, eloquence, wisdom, and understanding. 

Can you imagine it? You’re out for a walk and this flying horse shoots down, carrying eternity itself. The horse lands, stamps its foot, and from it springs forth four geysers that transform into what look like women. But these are no average women, these are embodiments of the most noble within human beings: the highest echelons of consciousness, the most poignant harmonies, wisdom, and the eloquence to express.  But, they bestow these gifts only on those they deem worthy.

How then might we prove ourselves worthy? For this we might look to the dark side of the muse, the punishment she issues to those who would rival her power. See, there’s an imposter, the sirens, those who lured sailors to their death on the rocky coasts where they dwelled. The sirens challenged the muses to a contest of musical skill. The song of the sirens, deceptive and false, was enough to lure the wayward sailor but fell flat compared to the music of the spheres that issued from the muses. As a result, the muses plucked out the sirens’ feathers and from that made crowns. 

There’s a clue here then as to what we might remember: The muse is water itself, the sirens remain on the rocks surrounding the water. 

Or, in my drupon’s terms, remember that you are not just the separate wave but the ocean itself. This is the Mnemosyne, the memory that if held well will cause inexhaustible inspiration to spring forth so you can say to others: Dive in, the water is fine. As a matter of fact, it’s who you are. 

It’s been 30 years since the poetry contest where the sirens of my ego tried to lure my creative being to its death. However, many years later, I have written enough to have people, in a surprised tone say, “Hey, you’re a good writer.” I kept my Great Poetry Contest Debacle story under wraps. I did not, however, abandon the practice of being art. I took the long route, the route perhaps akin to the monk rather than the snowboarder. 

When I published my first book, I would write pieces and use a ghostwriter to put it all together. It was not particularly artful but it did the job. One of the publishing houses that was interested in the book had an editor that my agent referred to as the best in the field. There was an eerie feeling that she would be instrumental in my life. I didn’t go for that publishing house but never forgot her. 

Years later, exhausted, wanting something to emerge, I was going through my scrapbook. I found a letter from that college mentor. I remembered a phrase he’d written to explain what I now understood to be the creative force alive in me and why the judges went with the Briney poem, “You were born with an extra but invisible sideways-thinking brain which sees chaos for what it is: unity—but it’s so occupied perceiving unity it doesn’t have time to explain connections, just to point them out, which would seem enough, except that readers, mired in chaos, need those connections and believe that two-brained, sideways-thinking poets can help make them.”

So on behalf of all those mired folks, I urge you not to continue to not write! 

I stood there reading it and had one of those flashes. I knew to go! Now! Jump in the water. Immediately. I sat down to write. I wrote and wrote and stalked that editor. I wanted to know if she saw something similar; if not, I might take up snowboarding. 

The years of swimming, though, gave me the muscle that could hold the weight to accept the gift that had chosen me as if I’d chosen it. The teacher was right, I now had something to write about. It takes time for the seed to gestate in the womb. 

The editor wrote back, “This is good. We can work with this.”

After 30 years of teaching, I changed my title to Erotic Artist, my personal declaration to become water. Become inspiration. May we all enjoy the swim.

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