Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why I Do What I Do Do Do

My friend Julie emailed me yesterday, asking me if I had seen a specific show on TV this past week-end. One feature on the show dealt with known writers who are also competent (if unknown) as artists, and showed several of their quite respectable paintings and drawings.

Since Julie is skilled as both a writer and an artist, she simply asked for my reaction to the feature. I answered by saying that an artist is an artist, and that just because we are drawn to one form doesn’t at all mean we have any less interest in others. The direction we take is largely determined by the talent we (think we) have.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

No it doesn’t. It sounds adequate, at best. Lame and insensitive.

So lets take a look at this thing. Maybe together we can figure it out.

First there’s the all-consuming (and pretentious) question – why do we write? With an expression bordering on constipation, some will answer, “because I have to write. (This is usually followed by a sigh and/or some degree of heavy breathing.) The other extreme is to say we write for money. This is at least honest. But if we were truly honest here, we’d add that our fondest desires are to (1) have the opportunity to be benevolent and magnanimous, showing all our former friends that we haven’t really changed, or (2) to flee – as quickly as is possible – from the social and economic situations that made us interesting as writers in the first place.

But there’s a third answer, and if we’re going to be worth anything, this is the only one that counts. “I saw something. I felt something. It touched me. It changed me – it changed me.”

So … where does all this artist stuff come in? (And you thought I’d forgotten that part, didn’t you?)

A famous sculptor – can’t remember who – was once asked how he could create such fine carvings from an ordinary piece of marble. Without hesitation the man replied, “I see the statue in there and just chip away the stuff that isn’t part of it.” And then there’s the Art school – “Introduction To Drawing 101. Teaching the hand to draw what the eye sees.” Laughter from one of the associates. “Teaching the hand to draw what the mind sees,” he corrected.

Do you get it yet? Do you understand?

One more piece of meat to drop in the stew, seemingly unrelated. About, oh I don’t know, maybe a year ago, I was taking a break with a co-worker while she was talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone. The conversation was heated, and I was growing less and less interested until she challenged him with, “do you know the real difference between men and women?!”

Suddenly she had my undivided attention. Oh boy. The answer to one of life’s great questions.

“Men want sex,” she told him. I knew that. “But women want intimacy.”


I drifted back into my stupor. Obviously her answer would require more work on my part than this morsel of information would … never mind.

But the idea nagged at me. I belong to a small writer’s group, and my contributions are appreciated more than they should be – they’re just words. I know how to gloss the surface. From listening to others I began to realize that I needed to dig deeper into my subjects – what is truth here? How do I actually feel about this? What are my real goals?

And it came to me – finally – that intimacy is not a weakness. It takes real strength to walk into the fire with your eyes open.

And then all the fragments came together. To be an effective communicator, you can’t be an observer of life, but a participant. You don’t just see it with your eyes, but also with your mind, your heart, your passion, and your soul.

And if …

And when …

you can do that – from the instant the concept is formed – all means of expression are open to you. They are a gift. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing, painting, or beating on a hollow log with a stick, because everything is simply a variation on the same theme.

The only thing that really matters is this: did you reach somebody?

I don’t write because I’ve experienced life. Rather, because I’ve experienced life, I write.

And how was your day?


Julie Morrison said...

Great post. I will have to think all day about it now...
The sculptor you quoted was Michaelangelo.

Kim Z said...

Wonderful post. Of course I wish I could say I write for money, but last year, although I got a few royalties, I'm pretty sure I spent more on postage than I made. (I haven't done the totals yet.)

I definitely write to share, which is why I switched from fiction. With plays, when I can get produced, I have the opportunity to audience watch. Did I get to them? If so, I win!