Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reaching After Art

I’ve been reading a volume of Paris Review interviews with writers. As I read, I’m aware of the voices I manufacture to represent these writers. It reminds me of the way Hollywood presents period pieces. Whether the cultural era represented is Roman, Greek or Egyptian, Chinese or Mayan, the rulers, the elites, the higher ups are so often given formal British accents. I do something like that in my head. I hyper-intellectualize these writers in my mind. As Hollywood does with its elitist accents, I place my writers in a world apart, distance them from my every day. Whether it’s from awe, respect or fear, I place them in a realm I can skirt around, catch a glimpse of, but can’t quite enter.

And sometimes, when someone asks me about my writing, or about my practice of social work, or about fusion jazz (or anything else about which I think I ought to have some expertise) I find myself going into a subtley altered voice. Trying to sound as though I have something all figured out. Slipping in the odd fifty-cent word that I hope they don’t quite understand. It’s not intentional. Not consciously intentional. It is a little defensive though, in the same way some of the responses of these authors gets a bit defensive when asked a highly analytical or intellectualized question about something that didn’t spring from the intellect.

I have a great friend in the artist Liz Quisgard, a hard working, prolific sculptor of colourful, highly patterned columns and knitted tapestries who, when asked what her works means, replies, “Nothing at all.” She presents no theories about how her work comments on the social or cultural milieu, or responds to certain psychic of spiritual forces, or represents the evolution or devolution of what has come before. “It is what it is,” she says, matter-of-factly. She knows her work well enough, and likes it well enough, that she doesn’t need to say anything else about it. She knows that she’s an artist with such assurance that she doesn’t need to define what an artist is. She just makes art and doesn’t bother with the rest of it.

Me...I’m not even close to that. I’ve been writing – not prolifically, but steadily – for decades. I’ve amassed thousands of pages of scenes, dialogues, reflections, scenarios, ideas and outlines. I’ve had a handful of short pieces published, but most of my output is in a state that can only be called “unfinished”. But I realize that this is – more than anything – a symptom of my unresolved self-image. Because, I’m still hugely uncomfortable claiming for myself the designation “artist”, or “writer”.

I make music too, but I have no worries or concerns about whether I’m a musician or not. Because it isn’t important to me that anyone consider me a musician, I’m free to happily make music without much concern about what others think – except for the neighbours that is, when it’s late and their kids are in bed. But writing? That’s a different matter. Because I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life. And in my heart, I know I am one. A contradiction, yes, but that’s just how it is. I know and I don’t know. I am already, yet am always striving to be. I reach for what I already hold in the deepest part of my being.

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