Trudy Hale, editor of Streetlight magazine, and owner of The Porches writing retreat, has talked in previous segments of this interview about her love affair with the retreat house and the writing life. In this segment we continue the conversation about the compulsions of writing and the forms it takes in her life. And we come back to something dear to this site as well – the importance of place.
So, you’ve got that quote on your welcome sheet from Martha Graham. That’s one of my favorite quotes, and I saw it for the first time on your sheet. That last line: “There’s only a clear, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching, and makes us more alive than the others.” You know, the fidelity to that process. I know why that speaks to me. Why does it speak to you?
It goes back to that idea that if you’ve been given a gift–the writing. It’s like the biblical thing, the person with talent. We all have different degrees of talent, but if you don’t use that talent in some way, you’re not going to feel fulfillment. There’s some dis-ease; something’s not right.
But there’s another part of the quote that I really like: “It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions.” There’s always going to be others writers infinitely more brilliant, and you can’t get in there and do these comparisons. It’s your job to let your expression come out, and that’s your purpose. You’re always going to feel as an artist, that gift, and it gnaws if it’s neglected–it’s kind of that thing. It’s a gift, but also somewhat of a curse; you can’t just sit around and not use it. You’re troubled by not using it.
It’s the fire in your bones.
Yeah. It’s gonna give you unrest. It’s a gift, but it’s gonna…what is it? Prickle, and poke, and holler at you if you’re neglecting it for too long. And [the quote] also gives you permission to express, to have your expression, and not– There’s something writers have, that overly self-critical voice.
Their editor comes in before you’ve allowed the expression to get out on the page. You can always go back and make it better. That’s why I love that Annie Lamott quote: you just gotta get it down. It’s so easy to get discouraged. A writer once told me, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”
It’s so easy to get discouraged. A writer once told me, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”
The whole thing about honoring the time, too. The thing I fight in myself is the feeling that, “Oh, well, that’s the frivolous side. That’s the frivolous thing to do.” Rather than see it as the most essential thing to do.
That’s exactly it. That’s another thought–“I’m wasting my time.” Those are little demons, you know? You gotta shut them up. But that’s that voice, that self-condemnation that’s trying to prevent you from expressing yourself and getting the work done.
There’s nothing like tapping into the creative. William Blake wrote a lot about the creative and the artist, and that artistic expression and that act of creation, no matter what medium or form, is the closest that we get to the divine.
So, all those little thoughts like, “Oh, I’m wasting my time,” I’ve had–everyone has that, like, “Oh, what’s the point?” And that’s a little demon. You gotta chase that one out with a broom.
Absolutely. And then, seven more will come in, right?
I know. It can happen. You’ve written a scene and it’s not alive in some way. It’s flat on the page. And just to think, “Okay, I’m just going to keep working on it,” and not pass any judgment on it, and not beat yourself up. There’s a lot of interior work that has to be done in the writing and the process of creation.
A lot of times in my writing, I would seek distraction, and not sit down and do it; something to distract me from writing. We do something else, and we try to feel virtuous. You sit down and write, and you go, “Oh, I’m wasting my time.” But then, I’ll get up and make up a bed and feel like I’m virtuous. But I’m not fooling myself. I know what I’m doing.
You sit down and write, and you go, “Oh, I’m wasting my time.” But then, I’ll get up and make up a bed and feel like I’m virtuous. But I’m not fooling myself. I know what I’m doing.
That’s right. Wherever you go, there you are. So, how does Streetlight fit into all this for you?
When I first moved to Charlottesville, I met a writer who was involved with Streetlight, a literature and arts journal, and they needed an editor. At the time, it was a hard copy magazine Then, in 2008 with the crash, the printer who was donating fell through. For a while, we went on a hiatus.
Then, (and this is where the old house once again came to the rescue), I had a writer in residency at Porches who was a web designer. I said, “Hey, I’ll trade you some time at The Porches if you can set Streetlight up on a digital platform.” So, that’s how the magazine was able to reinvent itself.
Then, our editor-in-chief moved out of town and I was asked to step into the position. “Temporarily,” I said. Well, cut to three/four years later, I’m still the editor-in-chief and loving it. We have a talented, dedicated volunteer staff. Just recently we’ve added podcasts and we’re publishing an anthology of 2016. You’ll be able to download it as an ebook or a hard copy.
The magazine, I realize, shares a similarity to what we’ve been talking about with the retreat. And to Heartlands. It’s about place. The power of place. The magazine especially likes pieces that have a strong sense of place. We are excited by writing with an emphasis on the interaction of place and one’s personal relationship to it.
This same idea is what I try to keep reminding myself in the writing of my memoir. When I describe the three flights of steep stairs, the rattling hand-blown glass in the windows, the groans of the heart-pine floors, I struggle to make it like the material equivalent of my inner being, and how fixing what’s broken in the house, fixes what’s broken in me.