“The consolation, the dignity, the joy of life are that discouragement and lapses, depressions and darknesses, come to one only as one stands without — I mean without the luminous paradise of art. As soon as I really reenter it — cross the loved threshold — stand in the high chamber and the gardens divine — the whole realm widens out again before me and around me — the air of life fills my lungs — the light of achievement flushes all over the place, and I believe, I see, I do.”
“The luminous paradise of art” — love this, don’t you? That’s the creative field we all play in when we’re in the zone, when our work is going well. And when it’s not…well, probably no one knows how tough things can be better than our boy Henry. When he penned the uplifting words above, he was going through a rough patch in his writing career: His novels were selling badly and so he began working on a play that he hoped would be his ticket to financial and literary fortune. Instead, the play was a big fat flop. At its London premiere, the audience hurled vegetables onto the stage.
But the morning after his huge failure, here’s what heroic Henry wrote in his journal: “Produce; produce again; produce again better than ever and all will be well.” Now that’s what I call writing dangerously!
Today, it’s another story: Henry James — revered by writers like Cynthia Ozick and James Baldwin — is known as “The Master” of language and story. And yet, for years, he had a rough go of it. He suffered from bad reviews and struggled to make ends meet so that he could keep writing.
But here’s the thing we need to remember: In spite of it all, Henry kept writing! His response to the scorn and indifference of the world wasn’t to shrivel up and retreat in defeat, it was to “produce” and “produce again!” His “consolation” was to go back to the page, to “cross the loved threshold” and re-enter “the luminous paradise of art” where he could breathe again and be free.
Like Henry, it’s likely that we’re going to endure our share of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” People will question what we’re doing, magazines will turn down our stories, reviewers will be unkind or indifferent. But none of this can stop us from going on, from devoting ourselves to our work, from improving in our craft, from reveling in the “gardens divine” of our creative spirits. No one can stop us from creating but ourselves. So let’s hang with Henry and write on!