Today it is our great pleasure to welcome Rosemary Starace to our series of creativity interviews.
Welcome, Rosemary! What drives your creative work?
It just seems to be my nature. It’s mysterious to me. It is simply something I want to do.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
I would say, “This is your nature, you can trust it.”
How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
In a certain sense art and life are always difficult! And so, the answer to this question would be, “Accept the difficulty!” When I was young, I confided to an advisor that I found it very hard to get to my studio and start working. I was asking him how I could change that; he asked me to ponder how I would deal with it if it never changed.
This is a tricky question in another way, too. Its wording implies that it is better to keep creating amidst difficulty than not. I don’t think that is necessarily so, though I can certainly find myself feeling that way. But our culture has an unstated prejudice toward productivity. What’s actually true is that fallow periods are part of, not separate from, the creative process. And deep creative work can be going on internally even when it seems like nothing is happening.
Taking this one step further, what if it were OK to spend our lives being, not doing—or certainly, to spend our lives not worrying about doing? In life and art, we can show up, be open and curious, and see what happens.
I live in these questions all the time!
How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
My creative work gives me practice in paying attention. Paying attention is itself a creative act, maybe the basic one. It is a state of being simultaneously directed and diffuse, active and receptive. The poet Novalis said, “Perceptibility is a kind of attentiveness.” One way to understand this would be to say that when we give attention to something, whether it be a person or a rock or a situation, it actually comes forward, reveals itself more fully, becomes more perceptible. This can be verified by experience. I find that my life benefits from the quality of attention I give to whatever is going on. When I pay attention to my life, it opens itself to me.
What is it like to send your work out into the world?
I used to feel it was like sending a message in a bottle, an almost futile act. And I had great reserve about it: fear of rejection and ridicule, and fear of experiencing the world’s indifference. The logistics involved in submitting work and keeping track were also hard for me. I eventually came to see sending my work out as an act of participation and self-support. It’s still hard for me, decades into it. But it makes me so happy now, after the struggles I’ve had, to merely be able to send my work out with some consistency and ease. That freedom and the sense of caring for my work is almost enough in itself. Yet to get a positive response, or any real response, is so affirming! And it’s not “extra,” and it’s not merely ego gratification, but answers, too, an impersonal demand of art to be given and received.
What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
I’ve received several communications that, if they were not precisely advice, have been formative and directive.
The first was from an art teacher I adored and studied with extensively. She told me, at the end of my studies with her, “Rosemary, you have ‘it.’”
The second was discovering that Art comes from a deep impersonal source, but through the person that I actually am.
Then there was the advisor I already spoke of, who said, “What if it’s always difficult?”
And the beloved poet who told me, in terms of my work, that I could and should “nail it.”
And last, was the call to pay attention to what I actually want, to pay attention to my deep needs. I’ve resisted this because it sounds selfish, but it’s not.
All of these advisories are connected. Though some of them appear to be personally about me, I think they all speak to something true about everyone.
What helps you to pay attention to the world?
Ah, I talked so much about attention in earlier answers without realizing there was going to be a whole question about it! What helps me to pay attention is knowing what astounding, tender, and terrible things come to me as a result. And also, of course—and fundamentally: the world helps me pay attention to it because it is just so interesting.
Rosemary Starace, originally from New York City, now lives in the Berkshires, a hilly, forested place in western Massachusetts, USA. She concentrates on writing, but is also a visual artist. She is author of the chapbook, Requitements (Elephant Tree House, 2010), and co-editor, with Moira Richards and Lesley Wheeler, of Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv (Red Hen Press, 2008). Individual poems have appeared in Orion, qarrtsiluni, Lake: A Journal of Arts and Environment, Studio, and other venues. She’s on Facebook, and her poetry and visual art can be seen on her website.
Artwork: 16 circles by Rosemary Starace.