Lisa Brown talks about moving images from her head/negotiating solitude

Nola Studiola: How do you feel when you start a new project? When are you afraid? How does it feel  different from being in the midst of a project, and at the end of a finished project?

I LOVE the beginning of a new project. I love the brainstorming and the researching and the figuring out how I’m gonna approach things. And then, when I have to actually start doing it, I either freeze up in fear or wallow in the frustration of not being able to move the image in my head onto my paper. Once I’ve hit my rhythm, it’s fun again. And then when I’m finished, I’m in love with my own work for about an hour, after which time I am once again filled with self-criticism and despair.

Nola Studiola: Do you have a physical space and routine that helps you create? How has your creating schedule (time of day, whether you need to be naked, talismans, etc.) changed over the course of your career? Also: would you rather have the ability to be invisible, or the ability to fly? And, do you have an amulet/talisman? 

I know this is actually 4 questions in one. Pick what you want to talk about and see what happens.

I used to work in stolen moments: from schoolwork, work work, at night, on weekends. Once I was lucky enough to quit my day job I felt paralyzed by all those great long stretches of time with which I had to contend. I’ve never quite made peace with them. I tend to put off my work until all the stupid boring easily accomplished things I also have to do get done: doing dishes, wiping counters, paying bills, alphabetizing shit and putting things in neat rows. It’s like my work is a treat that I only get to savor once I’ve finished my vegetables.

Now that I have a kid, I work out of the house, in a studio apartment in my neighborhood. I adore the solitude, and now I relish the long stretches of time, though they still intimidate me; it takes me a while to get going. I often pick up steam about an hour before I know I have to finish up. It’s perverse. I need to get better at working more intensely and in smaller spurts of activity.

When I get cabin fever, I walk to a nearby café and work there. I’m rarely bothered by the noise (see bonus question) and get inspired by things happening around me. Also, I am completely and unapologetically addicted to coffee, so I need constant infusions of the stuff.

AB: It’s so cool to hear a working artist talk about negotiating solitude in a way I recognize and relate to. It’s very helpful to hear that this is a negotiation that might never end, too. I have had the most ridiculous-feeling ups and downs with my luxurious stretch of solitude this summer, and I can count on one hand the times I have felt truly free and not worried or busying my mind or body with tasks or small punitive activities. I spoke with my friend Bs today. She is a yoga teacher in the desert. She honed right in and reminded me about perfection not being attainable. Isn’t it crazy that I’m still trying to “pass” for fill in the blank when I’m alone?

I have decided to make peace with my coffee addiction for now, too. It’s just a thing, and sometimes it happens at night. Maybe it’s my talisman.

I had a couple of moments this summer when I was doing something I liked and I wanted to run around saying, “hey, look! I’m doing it, I did it, it’s happening!” and then I maybe started to, or just turned on Clarence Carter’s “Strokin'” (one of the few songs that will ALWAYS cheer me up no matter what sort of funk I’m in, or if I’m happy it will keep me that way) and danced around giving some imaginary enemy the finger. (The wily mistress of arts?) Very strange. Maybe I shouldn’t have shared.

I sometimes HAVE to do certain things before I can write. I think it’s part of letting some non-linear part of my brain and heart re-fill the well of inspiration, or it’s like writing substitute teacher plans when you are a teacher and you have to be out of the classroom–like we need to get the conscious world ready for our leaving into art.

Today, in a different sort of pre-writing labor, I suddenly had to toil over a 75 item list of truthful things about The Way I Think Things Should Be. It’s kind of like building a nest for the fantasy world of writing I want to enter. Like practicing strengthening the gangplank from Real world to Create world, or practicing the action of believing in your unknown.

Like, with Ms. Brown’s wiping of the counters, maybe it’s making sure before you leave this world, you have done what you could to leave it orderly and in working order, like we’re responsible for being in the “real” world and contributing to it, so we have to do certain tasks to ready the Real world for our temporary (but frightening) departure into the unknown a.k.a. Time Alone to Create.

Tonight I drink coffee, and will only eat things I don’t have to cook, in honor of Lisa Brown, who does not suggest cooking. Oh, and I just want you to know, Lisa Brown, that today I sang a song all about coffee’s beauty and power.

About alison barker