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by Catherine Owen

Sacrifice. What does this mean in the context of an artist’s life. I don’t think we ponder this question much anymore, finding it absurdly self-aggrandizing, or moot. It’s definitely out of fashion, this word or concept, like soul, beauty, truth. If one thinks of a writer’s path these days, thoughts will circle mostly around the writer as teacher, taking it almost for granted that the path of being an artist will be much less awkward than that of a serial killer or chronic seducer, ie. there will only be this dirty little secret of wanting to write to hide, or to translate into more acceptable forms (a paycheque, a blockbuster novel), but not much else in the way of suffering. Perhaps notions of a kind of martyrdom for art swirl in my head due to the fact I was raised on tales of the Catholic saints, who were always becoming disfigured, or flagellating themselves or being otherwise tortured for a higher ideal. My ideal has just always been making beauty from language, sometimes musical notes or other more tangible materials, than any god. What have I sacrificed to continue to write, tour books, be held captive by muses in this society that so devalues art? I don’t really want to talk about this. Suffice to say it has been material, emotional, psychological and status-based. No one asked me to do this, no. I was driven; I am driven. I never questioned my pursuit of poetry then and now when I do, it is too late. My life is too  utterly in its grip, or embrace if you prefer. Still, choosing a way of being in the world doesn’t eradicate the necessity of sacrifice, of determining to turn from one entity or system of beliefs in order to create one’s “higher offering”. And this is not to glorify the artist. To be honest, at times the sacrifices just make us dirtier, lonelier, more foolish. Still, creating art is a sacred calling. I will never cease believing that. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a deep sorrow at the core that there has been hurt, desertion, pain, loss, death along this way. Would these things have happened if I wasn’t a writer? So much is impossible to answer. The guilt has made it difficult on the human, but the art goes on. And in the end, as the title of Lynn Crosbie’s book reminds us, “Life is about Losing Everything” anyway. Thus, to “thine own self be true.” Or else to say (exhaustingly) forgive me, forgive me, forgive me over and over again for what makes me breathe.