I haven’t played my guitar in years. It’s odd, but I haven’t needed to. I used to play it to negotiate my misery. I started when I was 12 and would play for hours every day. I needed it. It was — for a long time — the only voice I had. We listened to Dorothy Allison present her master class and discuss endings on her panel and we wondered, in the audience, if she’s having trouble finishing her book because she’s happy.
I’m not saying that art comes from misery, because it clearly doesn’t. But art is a compulsive expression of our consciousness. Of our seeking. We are attempting to explain the world to ourselves when we write. As Joan Didion says, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”
Can we produce art when we’re happy? Sure we can, but our compulsion and our consciousness have shifted and I think the art comes from somewhere new. It looks different. It feels different. It is different. I think making art when we’re happy is harder. Our focus is broader, our need less keen. I don’t have a stone in my belly that I have to break apart. I don’t have to rend myself. The urgency is still there but the situation is no longer dire. Do you see?
Or maybe I’m talking about something else entirely. Maybe I’m talking about art form, rather than art. Maybe our need shifts form when we’re happy. I find my desire for fiction has exhausted itself and I’ve turned to the mini essay to make sense of my experience. And maybe that’s all I really mean. Maybe we negotiate differently. Change our shape and employ a different way to express ourselves. Maybe we’re just using a different set of muscles.