I used to have a wooden telephone. I made it out of scrap wood my dad gave me when I was maybe seven years old. I used my wooden phone to play a game I never bothered to name. Recently, I wished to have that phone back.
Here’s how it worked. One of us called the phone–this was the client. The other answered the phone–this was the artist. The client would order a picture. Once the call concluded, the one playing “client” changed roles and joined as artist and we worked diligently to complete the picture just ordered.
Lucky for us, clients trended heavily toward cats and rainbows.
I want this phone back, along with the pretend client and the not-so-pretend assignment and deadline (Clients always demanded their rainbows immediately!). I want the pretend phone to ring; I want to answer it, and I want to be told what to write (or draw) today (and every day) because I’m really good at coming up with ideas for stories and articles, making lists of ideas, tucking notes in the margins along these ideas. But I somehow rarely manage to choose one of those ideas and begin to bring it out on the page, never mind actually finish it, and heaven forbid I send it out for possible publication.
I used to wonder why.
Thanks to Ann Patchett, now I know:
“Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.”
Not that it breaks my heart, but it IS disheartening when glittering (and admittedly vague but full-of-potential) ideas must start with one sentence, and then another, until it’s a flat, simplistic scaffolding of the multidimensional Thing in my imagination.
So, I want my wooden phone back. I want the demanding clients who just happened to need exactly what I liked to create. And I want my hop-to-it creative self to return.
“Hello, Trista’s writing and drawing services, how may I help you?”
“I need an essay. About box turtles. 500 words. By tomorrow.”
“That will be 25¢.”
“Illustrated by Monday.”
“Not a problem. Good bye; I must get to work now.”
Patchett’s insight comes from her essay collection This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.