Writing Is Art

Writing is art. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but it’s a phenomenon that I’m sure veteran writers have been dealing with for ages. What I mean when I say writing is art is that even if the writing is labeled “nonfiction,” it is a creative endeavor. It is not intended to represent the whole truth, nor can it. It is a slice of life, a snapshot, one angle on the truth in any given moment. That is not to say nonfiction writing is a lie – it’s not! But it is a piece of writing. It is not meant to convey the totality of the feelings and intentions of the writer.

writing is artNeither should the writer attempt to explain, justify, or soften the writing. This can be very slippery territory indeed. I’ve never published anything I regret, but I do wish I hadn’t answered questions about some of my pieces, and I have vowed never to do it again. Once, after reading a poem I’d placed in a lit journal, a well-meaning relative asked, “Was this about so-and-so?” She already knew who the poem was about, I’m sure, because enough of the details were recognizable. So the question caught me off guard and I answered, “Yes.”

“I thought so!” She sounded pleased – she’d solved a puzzle. She knew the inside story.  And I instantly regretted affirming her suspicions – because the poem didn’t tell the whole truth. It was only one piece, one facet. If you read that poem and thought, “This is what Jennifer thinks about so-and-so,” you’d be wrong. Did the poem represent a thought I’d had once about so-and-so? Sure. A recurring thought, even. A poetic thought. But it wasn’t the complete story. A poem can’t be the complete story. It’s a poem.  Continue reading

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Taking Risks

I’ve never been much of a risk taker.  I don’t buy lottery tickets, for example; I’d rather keep my dollar, thank you very much.  Even roller skating on the fourth grade class field trip to Star Skate was a stretch for me.  Wheels on my feet sounded scary.  I generally like my feet just fine on the ground.

leap-and-the-net-will-appearBut when it comes to my writing, I live dangerously.  Each time I write, it’s as if I’m leaping off the edge of something.  Writing, as I’ve said before, is an act of faith.  One of my favorite quotes is by John Burroughs: “Leap, and the net will appear.”  For me, this describes the writing process perfectly.

There’s an even bigger risk, though, that scrawling my most intimate thoughts across a cold blank page, even than sending them into cyberspace.  That risk would be to write “safe.”

I could compose nice little articles about nice little people.  Other nice people would read them and say that they were “nice.”  I could then smile and think, “Yes, I’ve always been good at telling people what they want to hear.”

Now there’s a truly frightening idea: to take my unique writing voice and use it to say something mundane, something forgettable.  Something I think people want to hear.  Something that doesn’t feel real to me.

This page, or this “slot in cyberspace,” or whatever it is, it is my space.  My writing time is my time.  It feels important to use this space, and this time, to say something true.

So the real irony is that when I take risks with my writing, I am actually playing it safe.  Honest writing still feels like a risk, but in fact I know the net is always there.

I just have to leap before I can see it.

Flash Mobs – I just don’t get it

I don’t understand the relevance of the flash mob.  The very idea irritates me.  Why?  I love music.  I am as entertained by dance as anyone.  The phenomenon, its appeal, eludes me, and I think I’ve figured out the reason.

According to Wikipedia, “a flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble Photo Credit - Denver Librarysuddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.”

The happening gives the appearance of spontaneity, but really it is carefully orchestrated.  Bystanders (if you can believe what you see in YouTube videos) look on in astonished wonder as the performance unfolds around them.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love public art, even when combined with a healthy measure of civil disobedience.  A talented graffiti artist, for example, whose intricate works of art materialize overnight in ordinary public places would delight me (if it wasn’t my building, that is).  But in that instance the spraypainted wall is left to discovery.  People can see the work of art, appreciate it, be surprised by it…or not.

On the other hand, a flash mob forces itself on its audience.  It’s as if the non-participants have been tricked into walking onto the set of a game show.  In one moment they are waiting for the bus, and in the next they are they are required to stop going about their business and take in the spectacle happening in front of them whether they like it or not.

It’s almost as if the flash mob is doing something to the audience.  The bystanders are drafted into participation.  After all, the flash mob is all about the audience; otherwise there would be no point.

That’s what I don’t like.  There is something presumptive about it, some element of “watch me, watch me, lookit what I can do.”

I’ve never seen a real flash mob in person.  It’s quite possible I would feel differently if I did.  But until I do, and am overcome with wonderment at the privilege of being a witness to such an event, I will find the concept annoying.

Sometimes people just want to go about their business.  They don’t want to get sucked into someone else’s melodramatic theatrical agenda.  They just want to get on the bus and go home.