In this interview with Elisabeth Donato, we learn more about how someone can have a creative life even if s/he doesn’t identify as an “artist” in any particular way. Useful lesson, I think.
Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?
My name is Elisabeth Donato; I was born in northern France, on September 4, 1952, but I have lived in the United States since 1975. I worked in business for 14 years, and then decided to switch careers, and got a PhD in French Literature. I am now an Associate Professor of French at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?
I do not define myself at all as a writer, even though I have been writing “creative” pieces (short poems and essays) for the past 10 years or so. I kept a blog, which I took very seriously, from June 2004, to July 2010. I do not have a “writing routine.” I usually get cracking on the spur of the moment on a new creative piece, and it may take me months to complete it, because my job takes up most of my free time during the academic year.
What I have learned from writing creatively is that it is very difficult and requires a lot of discipline, quiet time, and concentration. I have also learned that it is extremely cathartic but also dangerous. Words have the power to heal but also to hurt people very deeply. One also learns tons about oneself through writing creatively. Finally, I have learned to fear the trappings of narcissism – I tend to write way too much about myself, and I really want to move away from that.
I also learned that my relationships with writing in French and writing in English are very different – and my writing “voice” is not the same in French as it is in English (I write mostly in English.)
Where do you find inspiration?
By paying attention to what goes on around me, by observing people and my environment. I also read a lot, both books (I prefer non-fiction) and articles and essays online.
How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?
I remove myself from the piece that I was trying to write, leave it aside for a while, or throw it away altogether. I spend a lot of time cogitating about my creative writing, most often in bed, at night. I also keep a small Moleskine notebook in which I constantly take notes about what I observe, and jot down ideas for essays or poems, so as to keep the creative juices flowing.
How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?
Because writing is not my primary avocation – it is more of a “hobby” for me, I never really feel “artistically depleted.” However, I’d like to create a new blog that wouldn’t be a “personal” one, and I have found myself unable to come up with a decent concept for it. Maybe this is a symptom of artistic depletion…
What does success look like to you?
Well, the ultimate success related to my writing would be to have a collection of my essays published. But the first success on that front would be to complete a collection of essays, of course! It would also be nice if it were somewhat successful commercially.
What do you want people to know about you and your work?
Most of my relatives, friends, colleagues, and students do not know that I write, and I’d like them to be aware of that aspect of my life. I had a few pieces published, over the years, in my university’s literary journal, and it was nice to get some recognition that way. I’d like people to discover, through my creative work, my perspective on the world, on life and times, and to realize that I have some writing talent and a decent sense of humor.