snow days in the life

The weather here in Chicago is such that everything is pretty much shut down and I didn’t have to go to work today. And then I proceeded to not type a damn thing after that sentence until now, which is about 35 hours later. A lot has happened since then, but for you it’s only taken the time it takes for your eyes to move to get from there to here. That’s the funny thing about the written word; it seems so immediate and intimate to the reader but for the writer it is anything but. Writers work for years to be able to produce prose that flows with the natural snap of conversation. To paraphrase the President, it’s hard work to make it look easy. But isn’t that the way of everything? How does anyone casually do what looks impossible?
Persephone was always impatient. Once, she had decided to take up the cello. After a month it was dusty. She had tried it and decided that she was terrible at it and it wasn’t worth pursuing. Of course, everyone has the right to choose what it is they wish to do with their time on Earth and if you decide you don’t want to learn to play the cello, that is absolutely your perogative. What frustrated me was her low threshold for frustration. Of course the first time someone tries to play the cello they are going to sound awful. When you hear Yo Yo Ma what you are hearing is the result of years and years of playing the cello, not what he was actually playing the first few times he held the thing in his hands. To be so unforgiving and intolerant of one’s own learning curve is not healthy, and certainly not conducive to development of anything.
Musicians, artists and actors often hear people tell them they wish they could do whatever it is that person does. The truth is that they can. Anyone can pick up a guitar, paintbrush, or script anytime they wish to. What prevents them from doing this is their own belief that they cannot, or the realization that it’s not something that is quickly mastered. 
In Sexus, Henry Miller wrote: Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heart-ache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, to discover what is already there. 
 I couldn’t agree with him more. Stop thinking an artist is someone you are not. Don’t let your expectations interfere with your reality. Turn off the tv and pick up a pen. Become desperately honest with yourself and see what you find. I’m going to go have dinner.   

4 Responses to “snow days in the life”

  1. Sir Winston,

    Amen, sir, Amen.

    As a writer (and for those of you unfamiliar with me, I’m a “real” one, with 20 short stories and a book to my name), I often do hear “I wish I could do that.” Now, it’s certainly true that there are levels of talent–not everyone can go out and win a National Book Award or a Pulitzer (including me)–but anyone can learn to do it at least competently, if not more than competently. It saddens me to see people with near-boundless imagination at conventions and readings, who really want to do this, but are unwilling to put in the time and effort to actually harness that imagination, learn their craft, and release the contents of their teeming brains.

    Writing is hard. The first draft is only the beginning, and may end up looking nothing like the final one, and sometimes you have to leave a project sitting for months or even years until you solve a dilemma in your mind and can come back to it. Musicianship is hard–you’ll make mistakes (many of them audible and public). I’m still trying to break myself of bad habits playing the guitar…to say nothing of the mandolin, which vexes me to this day.

    So thank you, Winston, for this impromptu posting–I was a little stuck on a story about a man who catches a fish, and feeling very frustrated and blue. I’m going to tackle it again.

  2. Prof,
    Thank you so much for your readership and your comments. Recently in conversation with Batman I mentioned the quantity of my audience is miniscule. What I neglected to say is that I consider the quality of my readers to be absolutely of the finest caliber, but I didn’t want to sound like a pompous jackass. At least I didn’t want to sound any more like a pompous jackass than I already did.
    I suppose that my highest possible aspiration is to be like the Velvet Underground-I would be happy if I had a thousand fans, as long as those thousand fans go out there and do their own thing, whatever that may be. I don’t seek to create brand loyalty or broad market penetration; I want to change the world.

  3. What I neglected to say is that I consider the quality of my readers to be absolutely of the finest caliber

    Well hell, maybe I’ll just show up and dumb down the average.

  4. Well, Batman, at the very least if I know you’re reading I’ll be more careful with my spelling, so that’s a net positive for the English language if nothing else.

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