“Examining The Creative Mind” is a new series on my blog. I’ve asked artists and writers to tell us about their creative processes. Today, Molly Field is answering my questions and providing some insight into what it means to be a writer. She has a blog: Grass Oil by Molly Field. She also writes fiction and is writing a book right now.
The interview with Molly Field:
Can you tells us a little about who you are and the kind of work that you do? Agh, the dreaded, “who are you” question. I have spent more time navel gazing as a result of these types of questions and have never been satisfied with the answer. In short, the who I am is (stalling…) complicated. Perhaps it’s easier stated by telling you who I’m not. I don’t belong to “mommy bloggers” even though I am a mom, and I blog. I like to fancy myself a writer with kids who blogs. Sometimes I write about parenting as a “skill” sometimes I write about parenting as an experience and other times I write about myself and my observations (often flawed) on this planet for the extremely short time (relative to the existence of our planet, 4.5 billion years) I’m here. My existence is meaningful to me, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m like a grain of sand in terms of “universal” worth — and so are you, btw. 🙂 I find that concept humbling and liberating.
What genre do you prefer to write in and why? I write my blog in nonfiction mostly. Autobiographical and third-person narrative. I wouldn’t say I “prefer” it, I would say that’s the way of a blogger. My writing is what I term “creative nonfiction” or “fictionalized memoir” although I am realizing, that with time as my first book is percolating in my head, that I will likely reengineer the entire thing to be a first-person narrative, a story about my survival and recovery from an addiction to chaos due to the childhood I endured. I hate it when people bitch about their parents, and I try not to do that, because we all live the hands we are dealt, but sometimes, we have to go back over the stones we stepped over to make sure we’re headed on the right path. I will add this: I’m funny as hell sometimes. Life isn’t all boo-boo and waah-waah; sooner or later we have to grow up.
How would you describe your work in 3-4 words? Candid, funny, clever, insightful.
Where do you do your writing? Can you describe your workspace? I live in a Washington, D.C. suburb, a bedroom community of the Pentagon. Our house was the builder model back in the late 70s; builder model then does not mean what builder model now means. 1970s builder model means: “do things to this house that aren’t so smart and fix it in later versions.” For example: my house had no silverware drawer or pantry, so in the 70s, I inferred that people ate out a lot. Oh, back to the original question: so my workspace is a converted sales office cum bedroom. My desk is a mess right now, because the bedroom is a mess because it becomes our ersatz dumping ground when we have no where else to put things. I would say this space is an actual usable bedroom 10% of the time. Having company keeps us honest. The walls are coffeehouse brown, the floors are carpeted, the lighting is subdued and dreamy. I have a desk, my laptop, a window on either side, a door behind me and my glorious golden retriever, Murphy, at my feet.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you practice? That depends. I have coffee first thing, just one cup because I will take hostages if I have more — it’s a very fine line for me. When I write fiction and if I’m totally lost, I will say a little prayer to the Archangel Gabriel (the one who delivered the “glad tidings of great joy!” to Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus — fyi: I’m a recovering Catholic, I love the churchy traditions, but hate the politics) because he is a messenger, and I sort of go a little quiet, I do some meditative breathing (I have practiced yoga for 14 years) and then I go. I like to think of myself as just the hands because at times, the writing just flows through me. I also type insanely fast and that helps too. If I didn’t have a family, I’d be here all day. Sometimes stopping to eat is a pain in the ass.
Are you influenced by any other creative mediums such as music, dance, art or film? I am influenced by life. I love movies. One of my favorite cinematic moments was in “American Beauty” when the plastic bag was floating in the wafts of air. Life is a miracle. I absolutely love Saturday Night Live; and I’ve watched every season, but not every episode. Comedy and humor is essential to me and I adore “triple” threats like Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman and any entertainer, frankly, who doesn’t take him or herself too seriously. I have met so many people who take themselves so seriously and it’s such a buzzkill.
Do you have a favorite writer? Hands down my favorite female writer is Charlotte Bronte. My favorite male writer is F. Scott Fitzgerald.
What is it about their work that draws you in? They invite you in, more than anything else. They are on those pages, they give themselves to us and are grateful when we “take” them. They are real and they paint tapestries with words.
As a writer, is there anything specific you hope to accomplish? I used to say that I wanted to be published by a major house. Then I thought about self-publishing, then I thought about ebooks. Now I’m not so sure. I am a bit of a snob — there is so much crap out there now due to self-publishing and so maybe I use the “perfection” ideal as a defense against actually pushing myself, but I don’t think so. Too many people put out cathartic work as their first public novel; we all have stories, and while I know what I just said about my own genre is no different, I promise: It will not be crap when it first publishes. I wish to accomplish contentment with my craft; a sense of satisfaction with it — that is not to suggest that once I “achieve” it, that I will be finished, but rather that I will consider it the beginning of a trend. It’s hard to not be incredibly self-conscious and self-critical when we create. I wish to get to a point where what I do I am so proud of that I want to make it better. Then I will be ready to “sell” it. I recently entered a writing contest — this is something I’d never considered doing and so for me, just doing that was huge. I have a lot to work on internally, rewire my brain so to speak to let lose some entrenched demons, so I know, intuitively (and not unrealistically) that once I do that, I will be really ready to blossom.
As a writer, how do you define success? Just to continue writing is success. This is hard to do. For me, it can come easily; I will admit that I can bang out 1500 words of fiction and make it all seem effortless in an hour; is it my best? No. Is it really ready for public consumption? I suppose, when I bear in mind that it’s a first draft yet it’s pretty solid, save for some cadence and flow catches.
What does being creative mean to you? — Being creative means making something out of nothing. How do define such a deep and philosophical and subjective concept? Simple: what’s art to me could be junk to you. Few people argue about the Impressionists and how terribly talented they were, because what they portray is so close to how our own eyes and brain process what we see. Picasso’s cubist period? I hate it. I’m not a fan of much of what he does other than his simple single line drawings. It’s all interpretive.
Was there a moment where you realized creating was something you just had to do? Can you describe what that felt like? — It feels like a surge of confidence, that you don’t know where it comes from, and you’re just overwhelmed with a single-minded vision to get it done. It doesn’t go away until you do it. It’s like an itch that you can scratch.
How do you come up with ideas/topics to write about? — I mostly write in the moment, even my fiction, so if it appeals to people, super; if not, no one is ever 100% applicable to everyone. Even Mozart had his lemons.
What do you think is your biggest strength? — Humor and resilience; they’re almost one in the same for me.
What is your biggest weakness? — The trap of the ego and thinking that social media / popularity defines my value. I took 6 weeks off from Facebook and most social media for Lent a few weeks ago and it was amazing what I learned about myself. I’m almost a rebellious social media user now; I don’t much care for it. It’s not real connection, it’s all (even for me): “look at what I think is clever or interesting and tell me you Like it” — so I have to be real careful about how I engage it. I tend to be mostly an uploader / sharer of content anyway, so that hasn’t changed. But I try not to engage so much anymore. Some people are too defensive and angry. Awareness of my feelings when I am on it is so important. The moment I feel down (jealous, sad, nervous, confused, misunderstood, defensive) about it is when I must unplug. Within three days of my being back on Facebook, I felt that way about 10 times. It’s toxic for me. I really couldn’t care less about Facebook or Twitter any more.
What are you hoping to communicate through your writing? — That we are all here for a limited time and while many of us think we might have nothing to say or nothing to share that someone else hasn’t shared before, I offer this: yes, your story is unique so share it in a way that is universal. I think that some people are too generous with their personal stories, I am at fault of that occasionally, but sometimes, we just have to let things out. I don’t judge, but I do think we have to be careful; we can’t just point fingers and run.
Do you approach your work within a framework of rules or moral code? — Interesting that I ended the last answer how I did without knowing about this question until now! Yes, I do. I grew up in a really dysfunctional system. I wasn’t chained to a pole in the basement or made to eat dog food or burned with cigarettes or raped, but I suffered. I believe that when we decide to share our stories about good and bad times, that we remember our responsibility to appropriating the content to where it belongs. We don’t get to rant about our parents without showing growth and restraint somehow — here’s where I’m at: I’m not dead. So they (or the fates) did something right. I have been spared death (or, depending on how you look at it — punished to live longer) for a reason. Discovering that reason is my responsibility and I take it seriously. I can’t just complain about my past without looking forward. So I must be careful about HOW I share the stories — what’s mine in the story, versus what’s say, my mother’s or my father’s. I can’t say (total off-the-cuff fabrication to provide an example): “My father was a ruthless dog breeder whose taste for vengeance knew no bounds. His own parents made him walk on coal-heated shards of cut glass and steel as he recited bible verses in the stench of the Louisiana Bayou …” That’s not mine; what’s mine would be “I grew up in a tin shack on the banks of the Mississippi beneath weeping willows draped in Spanish moss. My father’s ability to endure pain crossed over to me as an example of manhood. When I turned 10 I caught my first cottonmouth snake and…”
What is the most important idea, belief, or dilemma you hope to address through your work? — Wow. That no one is correct all the time. That personal interpretation is the nexus of our experience and that we absolutely MUST give others the benefit of a different perspective; for me personally, where I am in my “place” at the moment, this is my Work.
Is there a theme at the core of the work you do? Yes: Presence, honesty and responsibility.
If you would like to read more about Molly Field’s life or read some of her fiction please visit her blog Grass Oil by Molly Field.