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The Making of a Public Spectacle

Photo credit: David Gallagher via photopin cc

Photo credit: David Gallagher via photopin cc

 

‘Art is a lie that makes us realize truth’ (Pablo Picasso, 1923)

For me, when I break it down, I think writing is a meta thing.

I write, I am slowly beginning to realize, to figure out why I write. Not to re-present a life, but to seek to expose Life. The search for some kind of Platonic essence that transcends existence by its very existence-ness. A sort of philosophizing from first principals without the requisite guise of academic convention.

Maybe creating all art is like this. I dunno. All I know is writing and architecture. What you might consider the “slow-burn” arts. Where the practice of the visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture) or music (singing or playing a instrument) is concerned, on the other hand,— those forms of artistic expression with substantially more inherent immediacy — I draw a blank. Nada. I’ve a huge appreciation, certainly. But insight or ability? Not so much.

And that gets me into trouble sometimes — ‘cause I get jealous.  Jealous because the painter or singer can make an instant, visceral connection with an audience in a way a writer — at least a writer of anything longer than a haiku or short poem — simply cannot. Plus, once they reach a minimal level of competence in their field (not always an easy thing, I grant you that at least), they can generate and be out there flogging their latest still life or love song in little or not time at all. As competent as I become, however, it takes me a long time to write and publish that novel. And if it doesn’t quite take off, well, that’s years of my life I can’t get back.

In just under two weeks from now my writing group is undertaking a public reading of some of our work at a local library. I was instrumental in backing the group into this particular corner because early in the new year I kept on at them about how frustrated I was that yet another local artist was having a lovely showing of their watercolours or oils in the library foyer. Or I had been to a benefit concert where the singers and musicians had those in attendance tapping their feet, clapping their hands, and hooting with appreciation. Meanwhile, all we did was meet sheepishly once a month and read passages of our latest work to one another. But damn it, I challenged (pleaded?), we were artists as well! Weren’t we? (The answer, of course, was “yes,” but, as our intrepid facilitator Tom pointed out, apparently some of us “artists” needed a little more external validation than others!)

God only knows how the evening is going to turn out. We’ve put posters up, and are trying to get the word out with PSA’s and news releases, but, in my mind’s eye, I can already see the assembly in front of me as I stand at the lectern about to get underway. The first row comprised of a handful of spouses and / or significant others (who, by now, have probably heard the material enough times to be thoroughly bored with it already) and a few really close friends who feel obliged to attend though, if truth be told, they’d probably be having more fun at home watching the Stanley Cup playoffs with a cold beer in hand. Then, behind them, a veritable sea of empty seats. Empty until you come to the last row that is. The last row is packed — populated entirely by a gaggle of hobos and rubbies, whose “Free Admission” has gained them unimpeded access to the “Light Refreshments” advertised in our promotional material.

I wish I had some clever McLuhan-esque interpretation of how this should go down. Or, at least, some explanation of why we’re not going to pull in the same droves of people we would if we were, say, an amateur jazz quartet instead of just four writers. Something about how the medium relates to the message. Because as engaging as the various snippets of our stories might turn out be, ultimately we’ll be nothing more than talking heads. Nobody’s going to be stomping their feet or singing along with abandon.

Maybe these reading things only work when the author is already well known and the event is more about simply being in the same room with such an accomplished wordsmith than it is about listening to what he or she has to read. Maybe, until you’ve already made a mark of some sort, you should simply be satisfied if every now and then someone curls up alone in a corner somewhere and dives into something you’ve written. Maybe, in the final analysis, that remains the best way for writers to communicate with their “audience” — not with them sitting in front of you, but, instead, with them in that place where they truly have the time and freedom to embrace the work, to sit and think with the author’s mind.

The disconnect I suppose I’m stumbling over here is that writers aren’t typically performers in the same way as, well, performers, are. (Traditional storytellers might be, but that’s a different blog altogether). If you’ve got a half-way decent voice and can play your own guitar accompaniment, hell, you can busk on the street — singing somebody else’s songs — and people will typically throw at least some coinage in your direction. I wonder how much money I’d make standing there reading somebody else’s book out loud? Ironically, it’d probably be about the same amount I’d make standing there reading my own work — zilch!

Okay, the pity party’s almost over. As convoluted as my ravings have become at this point, I think what I’m trying to say — with a tip of the hat to Tolstoy — is that though the creative process seems strangely similar from individual to individual, different types of artistic endeavours are difficult in different ways. I think one of the reasons writing is so hard is because people think it’s so easy. Most folks would admit freely that they can’t paint, or sculpt, or play the oboe or piano, but I imagine many of them think they could write something, in one form or another, if called upon to do so. They can speak after all, and writing’s just an extension of that, right? This has the tendency, as you might imagine, of de-valuing the writer’s currency. Of placing our work in the realm of the potentially “do-able” for most folks, rather than the realm of truly inspired creativity like, say, writing a pop song!

For me writing’s hard. Like pulling a full-grown elephant out of my butt hard. Then again, maybe I’m just a poor writer.

Painting (and Life), Not Exactly as Advertised

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No time for my usual full-fledged, navel-gazing missive this week, I’m afraid. I’ve just been too busy. Not finishing the floor tile in the back hall as you might expect after last week’s post, but painting the master bedroom instead.

I truly like painting. I kinda get a zen thing going on when I’m in the “paint zone.” Painting takes your mind off things, especially once you get a good, steady rhythm going. It’s not particularly taxing, but, like driving, it still requires your undivided — if only partially conscious — attention to keep from having an accident.

What makes me crazy about painting, however, is that is doesn’t involve as much, well, painting, as one would hope. Advertising, DIY flyers, and every damn RomCom that has ever sought to depict an attractive couple painting a room, are, not to mince words, full to the brim with crap!

Check out these morons from the Women’s Day decorating site, for example: http://www.womansday.com/home/decorating-ideas/blue-walls#slide-4. They’ve obviously just got their requisite bout of pre-painting playfulness out of the way by having an exuberant, romantic paint fight. But staged paint fights are as phony as Hollywood fist fights — no furniture or flooring ever gets ruined in the case of the former, and nobody ever seems to lose a tooth in the latter. In real life, things — and teeth — get damaged.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that they’ve rolled out a giant island of paint onto the middle of the wall with nary an attempt to first cut-in their surrounding interior corners or maintain a proper “wet edge” necessary for recommended coverage as one moves neatly from one end of the wall to the other.

Rolling the paint on the wall is the best part of painting, but actually undertaking to paint a room requires more than simply showing up with your roller and some product from Benjamin Moore. It’s like . . . well, in many ways it’s not unlike sex, I guess. You don’t just get to jump right in. It requires a reasonable investment of time and no small amount of effort dedicated to “prep” work in one form or another. When all is said and done, you’re pretty much committed to at least a minimal level of, shall we say, foreplay, if you’re to have any hope of real success.

For the five minutes it might take me to smoothly roll out 100 square feet of wall, it’s taken me ten times that amount of time to move the furniture out of the way, cover it, repair any damage to the surface that is about to be painted, sand the wall and trim to better accept the new paint, repaint or mask off the affected trim, tape off the heaters, remove the electrical plug and light switch covers, take down the draperies, and complete the “cutting in” on all the interior corners and trim on the wall which I’m about to paint. (The related parallelism of the afore-mentioned sexual metaphor, I’ll leave with you to explore on your own time…)

Everything other than the actual “rolling” out of the wall with paint, I don’t particularly enjoy. But it’s a means to an end. And I enjoy the “end” enough that I just kinda put my head down and muddle through the “means” part as necessary. Which, I suppose, encapsulates so much of what we find ourselves doing in our day-to-day lives. Working 50ish weeks a year to get two or three off for holiday. Paying down a mortgage for most of our lives in order to enjoy true home “ownership” for at least a few years before we die.

And this certainly seems to hold true for writing as well. The actual joy of sitting down and having the opportunity to compose something — unencumbered by anything else for even the briefest of moments — is the sweet spot of the whole process. But it’s the tip of the iceberg. So much of the real work of writing — research, editing, marketing, networking, publishing, and generally finding the motivation to  drag your ass to your desk every day — lies below the water. Where it’s dark. And murky. And cold.

Still, the “prep work” is simply too significant a portion of any endeavour — of our existence — not to try to figure out a way of attempting to enjoy it, of embracing it, as an integral part of the process. (Crap, that sounds a lot like that cloying “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” refrain, doesn’t it. Sorry. But shut up — mine’s better.)

Maybe the answer is simply more foreplay. What was the question again?

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisjohnbeckett/2468154839/