Interstitial Moment:

Centrum Wisdom

Years ago, I was teaching at Centrum Writer’s Conference in Port Townsend, WA. The speakers were amazing, the students ate it all up which was just as well since the food was incredibly bad.  Everyone complained. Finally the head cook (I hesitate to call him a chef) remarked grumpily to us, “You writers. . .you publish one book and you think you’re a regular Van Gogh.”

Well, what he said went viral in the only way something could in those days. Everyone talked about it, wrote about in their (actual) journals, and in their poems, stories, etc. My class even made me a broadside illustrated with a painting of my cottage. When I got home I had it framed.

A Regular Van Gogh. Alas, how prophetic now that poor (in all senses of the word) cook was. What with e-books and self-publishing and celebrity children’s books, there are a lot of folks out there who think that once they self-publish, they are a Regular VGs.

What we are missing, in our rush to democratize the arts,to make sure everyone gets an equal chance at foisting their prose or their daubs or the off-key karaoke onto the international stage is the sense of the hard work involved, the endless restructuring, reinvention, re-visioning. No one in the arts simply does something once. Though it may look easy, we who paint, write, dance, sing spend hours exercising the muscles of our craft.

Stand in the wings—as I did as a child watching the Balanchine dancers come off stage. From the audience they looked as if they floated through the air effortlessly spinning, leaping, launching themselves at a partner. But in the wings, when Melissa Hayden—who had just danced so gloriously—was away from the lights and passing me in the wings, she was red-faced, sweaty, huffing. Then she took a deep  breath, squared her shoulders, and leaped back onto the stage.

I never forgot that. Or that before her performance she—along with the rest of the NY C ballet company, had taken a barre class stretching and straining and warming their muscles so that they could go out and make it all look easy..

Writers do the same. We stretch. We strain, We come out of a chapter red-faced, huffing, square our shoulders, and get down to the next chapter. And the next.

Put bluntly, the Arts are not for wimps.


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