I met Crescent when I was singing at a club in Eureka Springs a million years ago. She said she liked my songwriting (If I remember correctly it was the line,”..she put perfume in her hair just to bring her good luck.”) and she asked if would I like to meet her and Ned (her husband) for breakfast the next day. Some friendships just click. This one did and has continued to click through tornados of change in both of our lives. The Dragon has a wild and fluid mind that resists being cornered. Still, I think we both enjoyed this conversation… and here’s a transcript for you to enjoy.
Crow: Well, Dragon, my first question is what drives you toward and away from your projects? What keeps you producing, what keeps you reaching and pushing?
Dragon: Well, you’re, first of all, assuming that I always do reach and push.
Crow: I’ve known you long enough.
Dragon: Well, I don’t always. Let’s see. What keeps me going? All right. Something inside it compels me to do it regardless of whether it’s going to be accepted; it’s going to be paid for. There are things that seem to me to want to be written about. I don’t always know how or in which genre it’s going to be.
An easy example of that is back – many years ago – when we had the inn and restaurant. One day, I heard from some of the morning chefs that there was a bat in the dining room–when they came in the morning. I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it. It was never there when guests were there.
Crow: I remember the story well.
Dragon: One night, I came in late at night. I saw that little shape and was startled. I managed to open the door and get the bat out. It was very emotionally moving to me to open the back door and watch that bat fly out, look up, and see it just for a second, and then it vanished.
The experience just stayed with me. It was the two days of the week that the inn was closed that this had happened. I finally thought, “You just got to write about this. This is too much in your mind.”
At the moment that I sat down and put my fingers on the keyboard, my plan was to write an essay. Everybody has a bat story. Everybody has a bat that got in somewhere. That was my plan to do that. It was not until my fingers were on the board that the children’s book Bat in the Dining Room was given to me.
I am more inner-driven than outer. I don’t think about the market beforehand. I don’t think about what’s “in.” I don’t try to be the next Harry Potter or Stephen King or whoever the flavor of the day is.
It’s a mystery to me.
Crow: What makes you move away from projects?
Dragon: If there’s a project I really want to do, I do. I have the same difficulties that everyone does. I have fear and self-doubt and uncertainty. But because I recognize that those are part of the problem and it’s something I really want to do, I just sit with those feelings of inadequacy or whatever and keep working.
Where people get in trouble is they think that how it feels means something about how it is what would the outcome be. If you’re saying, “God, I don’t know if I can do this. It’s going so slowly. I’m not happy with it,” that’s normal. That’s part of the process.
It’s when people say, “It’s not going anywhere. I don’t feel good about it.” I bet that when Cheryl Strayed sits down, she doesn’t have a problem. John Updike, I bet he just writes something. So when you start pathologizing feelings and thinking that they mean that you won’t get anywhere there.
The other thing that can throw people off – probably not me as much as many just because I’ve been doing this for a while – is they can also read the outcome of, “Oh, it went great. This is the best thing I’ve ever written. I’m sure I’ll get a six-figure advance.” The way you feel, up or down, that’s the outcome. It’s not in your control.
Crow: Exactly. Yes.
Dragon: Whatever pushes me towards and away, I try, at least, to say to all of it, “Thank you,” and just keep working.
Crow: Second question. With both of your parents as exceptional writers, did you consider doing other things? Have you done other things rather than being a writer?
Dragon: I proofread the New York City Telephone Book for a couple of weeks when I was living in the commune in New York. At that point, there were those big thick telephone books. You had little forms to fill out to check the discrepancies between previous years and these years. I lasted two weeks there maybe.
I will say, at that time, I thought, “Well, now, I understand why the New York City phone books are so bad.” Ninety percent of the people there were alternative types. They were just on a break going into the stairwell and smoking pot. Not me among them. But that was a general thing.
Yes. I have done little things like that. I delivered flowers early on. The main other thing I’ve done besides writing is, of course, cooking.
Dragon: I enjoy it. It’s also a nice balance to writing, because it’s sensual. It’s not cerebral. It’s connected. It’s not inward-going. It’s outward-going. It’s generally for other people.
I suspect I was born to be a writer. I would have been a writer no matter what my parents did. But certainly, I was amazed early on when people would say, “Well, aren’t you afraid of being rejected growing up around it?”
Life happens. You write about it. If not, literally, you are inspired by it to write about it. You put it in words. You send it out. Maybe it gets rejected. Maybe it gets accepted. But you just keep doing.
I never understood rejection to be a rejection of a human being or to mean anything bad other than that piece didn’t fit. . .
Crow: It’s good. Okay. I’m so glad that you’re doing this. Thank you.
Dragon: Conversation is much easier for me. Plus, during times, when I’m writing a lot, I want to save my writing time.
Crow: I got a tough one for the next one.
Crow: How have you regained your footing after devastating low points in your life?
Dragon: Well, if you rule out suicide, you have to get your footing. Sooner or later–
Crow: You got your footing by choosing to survive?
Dragon: I know that technically it’s a choice. But I just felt that at that time, I don’t think I understood depression as well as I do now. I certainly didn’t understand anything about grieving and the difference between grieving and depression. At that time, my understanding of suicide is it is the shittiest possible thing to do to people that love you or look up to you. You can’t. You just can’t morally.
That’s the difference between someone, in a way, who is grieving versus someone who is chronically depressed. They really don’t have a choice, and I think there’s biochemical–
Crow: I could have worded the question differently. But what I really was trying to go for was what was it that let you find your feet?
Dragon: I have very good friends. My mother was then alive. She helped me out financially for a few months when I was really not finding my feet. Plus, the way that my husband died, he was bicycling. In insurance-speak, that made him a pedestrian. That meant there was a twenty-five-thousand-dollar settlement. So I had a little bit of money to live on.
One of the things, people always think I’m very disciplined. This is my work. If Arthur did not feel like he wasn’t inspired to go be a dentist, he went anyway. It was his work. It was how he paid the mortgage.
Crow: That’s true.
Dragon: This is my work. It is my work in the sense of calling. I’m attracted to it. But it’s also how I make my living.
Crow: I understand.
Dragon: How did I? There are certain things I do every day. I do writing practice every day as opposed to real writing. I worked out every day at that time. One of my good friends after Ned died would come over and work out with me. I do the equivalent of meditation every morning.
But I can’t say I did any of those things with feeling. I didn’t. I went through the motions. But guess what? That’s enough sometimes.
Crow: I think you’re right. What are you currently doing that you absolutely love? Do you have a favorite project or practice?
Crow: I ask the easy questions.
Dragon: Well, here’s the thing that happens when you have your life in the pursuit of a particular art, I think. You reach a point where you don’t even like the things that you love. That’s another one of the phases like when you’re filled with self-doubt. You just notice it and keep working.
One of them is most of the projects that I love the most, I hate the most at times because they challenge me. I feel inadequate to do them. I’m forced to learn. I’m forced to throw out things that I thought I knew about writing about the topic, you know?
Dragon: I’m just forced to. Then there’s the breakthrough. But there is nobody that hasn’t had– it’s common to call those things blocks. I don’t really think they’re blocks. Maybe their blocks in the sense that they’re your material like a building block. I don’t really like that word. But certainly, there are times–
Okay. All by way of saying your feelings, in a way, have nothing to do with it. You just keep showing up. It’s not that you don’t have the feelings. It’s like inspiration.
I guess it was Fitzgerald who said, “Of course, I only write when I’m inspired. But I always get inspired at nine in the morning,” which is not true. He didn’t always get this feeling. He ended up drunk and crazy. But the point is that he showed up every time to do it.
I do. Most of us want the results of change and effort. But we don’t want to put it in. You see it in marriages all the time. People want a good marriage. But they’re not willing to go to a therapist. They’re not willing to fight with each other. So they pretend that nothing’s wrong and kick the kitty litter over it.
People don’t want to do the work in its unpleasant phases. But I kind of do. I mean I don’t want to do it. But I do do it.
Crow: That’s interesting because you’re really accepting of all sides of it. You are saying, “This, I love. This, I can’t stand. This, I love.” That’s great.
Dragon: Both of those things are together. Everyone thinks, “If I could just get rid of these emotions and this self-doubt, I could go in. Man, I could write the great American novel. I could write the best seller. I can write the self-help book that would help everybody if only I could get rid of these feelings.”
No. Whatever you bring into the office or studio, that’s part of what you have to work through.
Dragon: That’s what I think. What would you write about if you had no conflict and ambivalence about it? Where would the exploration be? When you go to draw a picture of somebody, you have some idea of how to do it. But once you get in it, it proves elusive. That’s where the action happens. It’s just people get stopped when they don’t know how to do something or when any of that stuff comes up.
Crow: That’s the good part about getting older. Because I’m this old, I don’t have time to get stopped.
Dragon: Yes. No. I get it. Exactly.
Crow: What was the question that I didn’t ask you that you wish I’d asked?
Dragon: There is none, really.
Dragon: I just have a conversational conversation. That’s another reason why I don’t like to fill out things, because in all conversations, the fun part is people say things, and you go, “Hmm.” Then you bounce off of that.
Crow: There isn’t something that you want to talk about–
Crow: — other than your private life.
Dragon: No. I will say one of my keen beliefs is that we each have two hands: one with which to receive and one with which to give. At any given time, I’m teaching writing, and I’m also taking classes and reading things that other people wrote. I work hard at this.
Mark, my spouse said, “You’ve given yourself kind of a graduate degree and memoir.” Really, in three years, I’ve read dozens and dozens and dozens, perhaps a hundred memoirs reading them analytically. I continually read books about structure and forms. I keep working.
I think that’s one reason why I do explore new genres. When I was working on that play, somebody from Artist 360 said, “In essence, you’re old. You’re already successful. Why do you want to start something new and a new genre?”
Because there’s nothing scarier or more interesting or more fountain of youth-y for that matter than being a beginner and being kind of clueless and having to figure it out as you know because you just keep doing things that are radical. I’m in a different genre. You’re in an entirely different medium.
Crow: What seems to be the creative process is an ageless thing. It has nothing to do with your age. For me– (oh, now, I’m interviewing me. )No. It has to do with being present. It takes all of the other temporal stuff away. It is an adventure. Yes.
I love talking with you. We should do this every week.
Dragon: When you said, “Now, I’m interviewing myself,” I think that is the nature of conversations and why another reason, on an interview, I would rather do it like this, because stuff comes up. The person interviewing you brings their responses and thoughts and emotions and feelings. Things synergize off of each other.
Crow: I have to add one last thing from my experience. You may not remember this. The night that you wrote the Bat in the Dining Room, you telephoned me.
Dragon: I remember you’re the one–
Crow: You read it to me.
Dragon: I don’t remember it being that night. But I remember you’re telling me that you were very concerned that she was going to pick up the bat because bats are very rabid.
Crow: I forgot that part.
Dragon: I remember that.
Crow: It was the most wonderful phone call, because it was like, “Oh, I’ve got to read this to you. I’ve got to read this to you.” That joy and sharing and creating is timeless. It’s great.
Dragon: You know that moment when you’re a conduit, and it comes through you. Truly, that was not what I sat down to write. But there it was. That’s one of my favorite of my own books. So far, I’ve not succeeded in talking anybody else into reissuing it. It’s under discussion. But who knows?
Again, some of the things a person likes best may not be commercially successful.
Crow: That’s not our job.
Dragon: No. It’s not. It’s not. I agree.
Crow: Thank you.
Dragon: You’re so welcome, my darling. Have fun with it.
Crow: Well, I won’t call you back and ask you to do it again.
Dragon: You know when there was that fire in my house in Vermont? They ask you questions to go over what happened every day. You get asked by your insurance agency and the plumbing and heating company, the state fire marshal. Four people ask you to tell the story. They’re probably not very accustomed to interviewing writers. They are professional observers.
By the time we got to number four, number four had the nerve to get me to tell it. Then he said, “Okay. Now, we’re going to do it again and tape-record it.” He made me do it twice.
Crow: He really did?
Dragon: He said to me at the end, “Ma’am, you have a hell of a memory.” “Oh, honey. You have no idea.” Oh, God.
Crow: Da da da da da da.
Dragon: There we have it. Great fun. Thank you.
Crow: Love you. Thank you very much.
Dragon: Thank you for not being put off by my reluctance.
Crow: Interview? that’s hard….. But I can sit and talk with you. That’s different. Thank you.