Wednesday, October 28, 2015

ARTIST CHRONICLES: From Darkness to Inspiration

In moments of self-doubt, I have often spoken of being in a rut and needing to find my way to the light of creating art. As a writer, there have been times when I have fallen into a personal black hole and my projects lagged. In these moments I have struggled and still struggle with working every day to deepen my art practice and to move my projects closer to completion. I have been known to chastise myself because I was once told, if you are a writer and not writing every day, then you are not a writer.  As I begin to sink into the black hole, I can feel myself caving to the day to day bullshit and my own anxiety. I can be so distracted by life. Self-loathing then ensues. Even as I write this blog, I am keenly aware that I am not developing my short story turned novel, AUNT MAGGIE’S MOJO or The Devil in Angel Brown. This story will appear in a book of shorts entitled, Stories from Cool Lane. The collection captures the colorful people who live in the Cool Lane neighborhood. AUNT MAGGIE'S MOJO tells the story of three generations of women who live in the neighborhood who possess clairvoyant gifts and are bound by family secrets. At the center of the story are Aunt Maggie, who heals with her special soups and her niece Angel Brown, who has the blessing and curse of physically touch. I have been developing AUNT MAGGIE’S MOJO for more than five years. But even with knowing the story from beginning to end, I have been stalled on its progression.  Eventually, I recognized that there was a much broader story brewing  in me. This realization was as overwhelming as Angel's gift. I told myself I should be dumping what’s in my brain on paper and moving the story and this collection forward, but the truth of the matter is I had lost focus. I was in a dark hole! It took some time for me to develop an awareness and  to acknowledge that my stimulus is the world around me and much of my ability to practice my art is informed by the very same stimuli that undermines my progress.  I can tell you these moments are brutal for most artists. We need the world around us. The people we love, the places we enjoy and the things we do, contribute to our work, but is often a challenge to navigate. I find there is a contradiction here.  I need the stimulation, but it can be overwhelming and impede my ability to produce. I have often thought if I could master the ability to take those moments and infuse the emotion and experiences into my art, all would be well. But the truth of the matter is, these interludes are paralyzing. 

Throw Me a 'Bloody Steak'!

In the last year or so, I have learned that while I thought these moments interfere with my practice, they actually figure prominently in my process. Yet I can’t help but have paralyzing fear. Am I creating viable art? Who will value my work? Is it interesting and engaging? All of these questions make me crazy. I am reminded of when two of my neighbor’s pit bulls crashed the invisible fencing and circled me as I tried to get my mail from the box at the end of the driveway. As they circled me growling, I knew if I made a move I would be attacked. It is this type of paralyzing fear that invades my mind and forces the previous questions that stop the motion of my work. When this happens, I need something to help me to transcend this fear. I need a bloody steak thrown to entice the pit bulls to run away, thus freeing me from fear and paralysis.  The steak is the writing release I need and may be thrown by my professor, a colleague, friend or family member.  

Thoughts Need to Simmer...

My Professor Pete Hocking insists that these moments are a necessary part of my process. However, in the last couple of weeks, he gently mentioned he wanted to ‘push’ me a bit to get back to work while expressing his understanding of what I am going through. I heard him, but this was not enough of a bloody steak to motivate me. I soon realized that the impetus and motivation for me to return to AUNT MAGGIE’S MOJO and The Devil in Angel Brown would come from an object, a reflection, a place, a photo, or a conversation that did not initially appear to be connected to anything. Yet everything is really connected. My graduate school advisers have reminded me numerous times that when I think I am not creating, like the soup Aunt Maggie cooks to soothe in AUNT MAGGIE’S MOJO, my thoughts are simmering.

Inspiration Will Always Bring You Back! 

My enthusiasm to emerge from my black hole and return to AUNT MAGGIE’S MOJO came when I visited ‘Cool Lane’. I had not been back to this street or neighborhood in more than 15 years. While working as an assistant manager at a convenient store in the area, I was inspired by this all-black neighborhood that is steeped in history.  I had not been there in more than 20 years, but the moment I turned onto Cool Lane, I was instantly transported back to what I remembered about the neighborhood and the colorful stories it nourished. I begin to envision a community that was once vibrant with people who had deep family ties and care about their neighborhood. And although my stories are fictional and set in this real place, I am weaving in stories of my own family and the community that nurtured me. Today the neighborhood school is populated by less than 5% of the young people who live there. I would imagine that much of the tradition has been lost. But as I stood in front of Armstrong High School on Cool Lane, I begin to recreate the neighborhood in my mind. This was the 'bloody steak' I needed. Visiting this place was the light that illuminated and renewed my interest in moving AUNT MAGGIE’S MOJO and The Devil in Angel Brown to the next stage of development. I reconnected with how important it is to tell the stories of this community. Without seeking specific stimuli, I found the light. I will remember this moment when the next eclipse appears. I will recognize that moment of inertia and relax in the knowing that I will always find my way back to my stories.

To read more about AUNT MAGGIE'S MOJO OR The Devil in Angel Brown and other works in process, please visit

Patricia R. Corbett is a MFA student at Goddard College in Plainfield,Vermont, studying Interdisciplinary Arts.She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA. Patricia is a artist, storyteller, professional writer, published author, womanist, educator, and motivational speaker.  She utilizes storytelling, writing, speaking and networking to create paradigm shifts in education, business and the community. Patricia's writing and artwork takes a critical view of social, political and cultural issues through storytelling. She self-identifies as a queer black woman whose projects challenge systemic societal problems, stereotypes, conventional thought/wisdom, religion and values. Patricia's quest is to expose and uplift the stories of marginalized populations while redefining what is aesthetically beautiful.

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Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
James Baldwin