Melissa Studdard in conversation with Koketso Marishane
1. Living in the digital era as we’re already, please do enlighten us on the following based on your experiences:
(a) What is your artistic philosophy and how do you maintain it?
Art is about discovery and sharing. Inside each of us, crashing against the shore of ego, are waves of truth trying to push their way onto land. And though ego may be a fomidable boundary, through creativity, we can row into this source and tap all the prenatal treasures of being. Formless, we can restructure perception. Mute, we can reinvent language. Blind, we can reimagine light, color, and shadow; homeless, we rediscover spirit. Then, we return to the land of self with magic. Our inner creative source is neverending, connected, and generous, and it’s one of the greatest gifts available to us as human beings. We all have access to it, and I’d like to see more people aware of this birthright. What a great thing it would be if people spent more time creating and less time consuming.
Regarding maintenance, I simply do what I love: I make my own voyages into that great sea, try not to get lost, and bring back what I can. To encourage others, I write, edit, teach, and host a radio show about creativity.
(b) As a writer, what do you mostly thrive on and why?
Art by others—poems, paintings, songs, films, all the ways of making—nothing inspires me more towoards the page than engaging with the brilliance of someone else’s mind and passions.
(c) Given the choices you have for publishing your work, which one is your preferred format and why?
I actually do not have a preferred format. The more the better. As far as I’m concerned, any way of sharing art, literature, and ideas is good.
(d) Provided the platforms you’ve already exploited to execute your work, which one do you most enjoy in working at and why?
Oh! I hope my platforms don’t feel exploited. ;) But I must admit, I’m a platform omnivore, and I find more and more that it’s all of a piece. I’ll wake up with lines in my head, write them in my journal, then move them to the computer, where they may become poems, stories, novel kernels, essays, blog posts, Facebook status updates, tweets, answers to interview questions, or any combination of the above—and who knows what else. Fluidity is key. It’s easy to move text around these days, so why not let the writing be alive and unfettered? Why limit the platform, even for a single piece? I find that if I write what comes to me, without concern as to what it’s going to be, the right vessels appear.
(e) How important is your name?
I don’t really know, but something interesting happened the other day. My eight-year-old niece typed her name into a Safari search, and several images of my book covers and author photos popped up, so she typed in my name and came up with pages and pages of articles, images, reviews, a Wikipedia page, poems, stories, posts, and so forth by or about me. She was excited. If my name can entertain and delight my eight-year-old niece on the Internet, then as far as I’m concerned it’s a good name to have.
2. Based on the notion that we’re all passers-bye, in one sentence, what will your eulogy be?
Melissa Studdard was a dapple of sun on the tree of life.
3. As a certified professional artist, please do enlighten us on the following based on your experiences:
(a) How do you maintain the balance between working to live and living to work?
Such an important question! I forgot to live for a few years, and the people who care about me are currently nursing me back to life. From being a single mother to working in all the different capacities that demand me, I forgot to just sit down and look at the sunset from time to time, or to sleep, or to eat regularly. I think I was afraid if I sat down and relaxed for a few minutes, I wouldn’t get back up. But here I am now, working and relaxing—finding balance finally. I think ultimately it comes down to trust—trusting that you can soften into life and not lose the energy that animates your passions.
(b) What’s the biggest mistake you’ve done in your life and how did you handle the situation?
What I mentioned above—the gruesome, sustained mistake of living to work and forgetting that I’m also working to live. I think when someone’s work is a life’s work, rather than just a job, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are other desirable states besides full throttle. For our work to serve the world and ourselves in the best way possible, it should take place within the wider context of a life well-lived.
(c) What value does the title of ‘Prof’ add in both your personal and professional life?
I don’t use it much in my personal life, but I love knowing it’s there. It carries a certain gentle authority that makes people listen with respect.
4. In your professional line of work, what do you anticipate to be your greatest impact to your fellows and what would be the greatest reward from them?
In everything I do—writing, teaching, mothering, editing, and hosting the radio show—I hope to illiuminate for people how important their lives and actions are and to help them move towards truth, understanding, and meaning. The greatest reward would be knowing they are living intentional, fulfilling lives. That would be the cake. The icing would be knowing they are helping others towards meaningful lives too.
5. Based on your life’s experiences, do enlighten us on the following:
(a) The most needed fundamental tools to becoming a success in your field of work:
You just made me realize something interesting. The many jobs I do require the same basic skill set—facility with language both verbal and written, unabashed creativity, strong analytical skills, the ability to research quickly and thoroughly and then implement the research effectively, the agility to multitask regularly, and the capacity to focus so deeply that you can create even as your life spins in chaos around you.
(b) Your one most favourite writer, dead or living, in each continent on planet earth?
I don’t think I can answer this exactly as you want. I have too many favorites, but I’ll narrow it as much as I can.
North America: Emily Dickinson, Toni Morrison
Europe: William Shakespeare, Italo Calvino
Africa: Naguib Mahfouz
South America: César Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges
Asia: Rabindranath Tagore, Rumi
Antartica: It doesn’t have indigenous writers, but it has certainly proved fertile to the imaginations of many authors, especially sci-fi writers like Ursula Le Guin and Madeleine L’Engle, both of whom I like very much.
Australia: Thea Astley
(c) Advice to people aspiring to your accolades, to literary patrons and the general public?
It’s quite simple to say but not always so easy to do: Recognize, accept, and honor your own gifts. Share.
You were wondering what your purpose is? It is this. I assure you. It is this.