Response from “Upstream” by Mary Oliver


“On any morning or afternoon, serious interruptions to work, therefore, are never inopportune, cheerful, even loving interruptions which come to us from another. Serious interruptions come from the watchful eye we cast upon ourselves. There is the blow that knocks the arrows from its mark! There is a drag we throw over our own intentions. There is the interruption to be feared!

It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

There is no other work of artistic worth that can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

One of my first thoughts, when I read this passage, was, “then what the hell am I doing reading this book, when, I too, should be creating?” This passage is her soapbox moment. She would not be offended if you left in the middle of her talk- because then and only then, she’d know how serious you are as an artist. She sets the stage as to why it’s okay to allow artists to work in the ways that they need to, in order to find their unleashed talent. And more importantly, for them to work without interruptions. She makes no apologies. She is direct. Her simple yet powerful antidotes about mustard, or about a button and bean, allow the reader to understand her world, in this, just a few nouns. She wants the reader to understand the creative mind of an artist, but she wants you personally to understand the regret of not following your artistic ability. Our creative mind cannot be bothered by the mundane aspects of life; we cannot work in those conditions. If anything, they are only stifling. Oliver gives you, the reader, permission to accept this for yourself and allows others to understand this aspect of the creative process.

“Upstream” by Mary Oliver (page 30)



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