What do you pursue?

Earlier this month I picked up Shady Grove by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, a 13-track compilation of acoustic folk songs and ballads that Jerry and David did between 1990 and 1995. A few days ago, I heard Jerry and David do “Bag’s Groove, Take 1” on the Dead channel on Sirius Radio, and they took me to new levels with a certain spirit and soul that seeped through the speakers and spoke to me. There was a real depth to what they were doing, and I could sense that their playing was something more than two guys getting together to strum guitars and banjos and mandolins. A purpose existed for this music.

I was right. When I bought Shady Grove, I immediately turned to the liner notes, and John Cohen, one of the original members of the New Lost City Ramblers, wrote poignantly about the passion each had for the ballad, the folk song that captured a deeper, more genuine spirit of the traditions of American music. On separate coasts in the early sixties, Jerry and David pursued relentlessly that soul of America.

This got me thinking. What do I pursue?

Some of us pursue the origins of our ancestry; others pursue our collections, ranging from Dead concerts to stamps to first editions; still others pursue that return to innocence, our spiritual births, our origins of balance. More than a few psychologists have professed that we live our adult lives striving to return to our Querencia, or home, the place that brings us complete and unconditional comfort and the feeling of invincibility.

I wonder if Thoreau had this last group in mind when he wrote about the “masses of men leading lives of quiet desperation” in “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” from his Walden collection of essays.

I can probably say that any one of these (except for the collecting of stamps) fits me to some extent, at various times in my life/year/month/day/moment. But that’s just the problem. I flit back and forth between them so frequently that none of them get the attention necessary to sustain momentum, growth, progress toward that specific pursuit.

That’s why I feel pretty good about the choices I’ve made this new year. I’m pursuing the yoga and the walking with an ever-strong pace that is strengthening with each passing day, where I can say I was committed to this small choice. And there’s this virtual walk I’m planning for this spring/summer; that will be fun.

But is that enough? Maybe I am the desperate man Thoreau speaks of when I believe that I should be pursuing something greater, something nobler.

I dig deep, deep down inside of me to see what I pursue. . . .

Remove the road blocks, the obstacles, the lesson plans and endless (but wonderful) family commitments, and I’m left with this:

I pursue the absolute, pure expression, through writing and various art media, of who I am as an artist, as an individual, so that I may leave my mark on the world as I witnessed it, lived it, wished it to be.

I write this with confidence because I had a piece of writing rejected recently, and at first, I was upset about the rejection. The feedback was that the work of fiction “crossed over” into the nonfiction genre and made it too essay-ish. Initially, I thought about how I might change it, what I might do to make it more amenable to this specific audience. In other words: what can I do to satisfy my audience?

I’ve written previously that the good writer is sensitive to her audience and needs to consider what is expected of the piece. But we can’t apply that general statement to all writing. In my work with developing the concept of the metalogical writer, I’ve created a graphic where the focus of the piece can shift to the author, the audience, or the piece itself. As authors, we decide what is best for our piece.

If you were to graph out all of my published works, I am sure you’ll find that the large majority of them were for somebody else, some audience I whored myself to with my writing. Very, very few of the pieces I’ve had published were Pure Rus: uncensored, with a focus on me and a style that I wanted for that particular piece for my particular reasons. These are the pieces that were written with what I would call “artistic intent,” where the artist knows her voice so well that she isn’t afraid to use it, even if it goes against the mainstream genres. When we do this with intent–use our voice and select our form–we need to make critical decisions about how far we will compromise our gift to give the masses what they say they want.

This rejection made me smile. I write for me first now. There was undeniable “artistic intent” when I wrote that piece, simply because that is the style I chose to connect with my readers. So now, I’m going back to Cold Rock and a few other pieces, revise the parts that I think need work, and then publish it. I’m no longer compromising who I am as an artist for the sake of giving the masses more of what they are already getting.

If I can’t pursue my individuality in this fog of conformity, then what’s the sense of writing anything at all? If I can’t claim my voice, my soul in my work, what’s the difference between these pieces and the work I’ve whored in the past?

Really, folks. Pursue you. Whether it’s in your photography, your yoga, your writing, your anything: pursue you fully in all that you do. It’s the only way to let the world know that you were really here at all.

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3 thoughts on “What do you pursue?

  1. First of all, I think that even if you never publish anything, you have left your mark on the world by teaching. Your former students would agree with that I’m sure.
    As far as the writing goes, this piece makes me think of Ken Follett’s introduction to The Pillars of the Earth. He talks about how he was a successful suspense/thriller writer and his publishers wanted him to keep writing those kinds of books. When he wanted to focus on writing a book about how cathedrals were built in the middle ages, he got quite a lot of flack from his publishers. However, he stuck to it because it had been this nagging fascination of his…. and let’s face it, because he could afford to indulge his fantasies and suffer a possible failure at this point in his career. Still, he knew if it flopped, it would be a huge public humiliation. So, despite the risk, he committed himself to writing what HE wanted to write in spite of his publishers. Now when he looks back, that book has sold MORE than any of his other books and he’s just published a sequel. And now that Oprah has chosen it, it’s sure to be even bigger than it already was.
    Which just goes to prove that you should write what you want to write, what you feel destined to write, in spite of public fashion at the time. How many great writers were destitute and unrecognized during their lifetime because their writing wasn’t “popular” at the time? Too many. Thank god they remained true to themselves.

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  2. Fantastic post!

    I think writing probably depends on what a person is pursuing with their writing. There certainly has to be the balance of looking at what the market is accepting if a person wants to be published, but I think this side of things is important as well. Good stuff!

    I certainly pursue things concrete and spiritual as well. I collect many things, especially books, and am always in pursuit of the next thing in the collection as well as the high and the comfort those things bring. I also am frequently in pursuit of the joy I get from looking at the stars or taking a walk in the woods, etc. as well as the pursuit of my relationship with God and spiritual growth.

    This is a terrific post for the start of a new year, really gets me thinking. Well done!

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  3. I have some new persuits in the New Year myself. It has been a rocky start but I am sticking with it.

    I persue simplicity in my life and authenticity to myself.

    I persue more time to write and a stronger commitment to do so.

    I persue books (always have and always will) and more time to read them.

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