Monday, April 26, 2010

Poverty drives creativity

When you think about it, writers owe American bankers a big "thank you." 

American banks and the people who love them ruined our economy.  Hedge funds, leveraged against unstable options imploded, catapulting us into (let's call it what it is) the Great Depression of the 21st Century. 

My mother warned me.  She said my generation was headed for that destination arrived at most often by hand-basket. 

And she was right. 

Still, I hold no grudges against the criminals who control my destiny.  If not for the many of us who are now unemployed, art would be dead. 

Think about it.  Remember the anti-art movement of the late 20th Century?  The way the radical right pounded the National Endowment for the Arts?  

Thanks to Sarah and her Tea Party, they have bigger fish to fry. 
Consider this - your ill-fated leisure feeds your curiosity creativity. Would you be reading this blog, writing your novel, considering your next essay if you were fully employed?

Of course not.

You'd still be smack-dab in the middle of that job you hated, scrambling to look busy, pretending to care about the damn widgets your geezer boss designed fifty years ago. 

If you aren't employed and bored, you're employed and frantic.  The majority of those who are still working are performing the jobs we all lost.  They're freaked to the gills that thei hard work will not pay off - that thei Machiavellian employer will dump them without warning.  

Time magazine reported in the February issue that employed Americans are more stressed than those of us who are unemployed.  

Why? Because they're beaten down, absent of all hope and inspiration.  But those of us who are unemployed are pumped with hope.  Our lives are pure potential and we're using our creativity to make our time meaningful, productive and worthwhile.
 So, if you're without work right now, take heart.  When you feel frightened, anxious or alone, remember our name is legion - - there are more of us today than any other time in American history.  Americans without work, with only our dreams to drive us - - we're a beautiful demographic! 

And consider this - can you imagine returning to a work place where you will not be allowed to continue on this path? Where your creativity is not honored?  Your skills denied and trivialized? 

It will, eventually happen - so gird up your loins. 

In the meanwhile, enjoy your freedom.  Write.  Dream.  Imagine. 

And give thanks to Goldman Sachs and the boys.  Their greed created, after all, our little slice of literary freedom.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Not a competitive sport. . .

The cafe where I do my creative work is on an empty little street in the center of my lost little city.  St. Paul scrambles through this recession with the heart of a street fighter; fierce in determination to make it through the night - committed to keeping the lights on, the traffic moving, the appearances upbeat.

Before the lunch crowd descends, I make my way to the corner table by the window. 

It's a privilege to live like this - unfettered by the nonsense and worry other assign to "security."  Those of us who write and fend like this are not entitled to worry.  The life is a good one; simple and clear. And so we don't. 

Instead, we take our mornings in bright sunshine, filtered through dusty windows in shabby cafes around this struggling town - and when the muse assaults, we roll over, play dead and write for a living.

Before I was old enough to know how hard this would be, I imagined writers as one considers Fitzgerald, Hemmingway - or even Sinclair Lewis.

Celebrated at every stage of their artistic lives, living as a Steinbeck or a Salinger, in beautiful country homes, attended to by a doting, adoring spouse, unfettered and free to think, create and thrive.

It took me a long time to get over that fantasy.  Assisting in the death of that idea was the experience of warching August Wilson, morning after morning, slouch at the bar at W.A. Frost, writing "The Piano Lesson."

Poor as a church mouse, his face was lit with a beacon of iconic insight.  A genius, I suppose.  Still, like all the rest of us, Wilson wrote, one word at a time.

The late Paul Gruchow once whined to me about the few spots he could identify for publication of his odd brand of writing. Paul wrote about trees, prairie, farmland - and there were, and are, multitudes of others writing the same thing, seeking a venue for their work. How, oh how, would Paul ever sustain his energy? Why didn't everyone get out of his way and let him be published?

When he finished his rant, I reminded him that creativity is not a competitive sport.  Nor is it a team effort.  Writing requires concentrated attention to the solitary investment of time, agony and self-indulgence.

"Then why does it feel like that?" he asked.

I don't know, I replied.  And I realized - once again, I am alone. Because it does not feel competitive at all - not to me.

I'm not in this to beat anyone.  I'm in this to beat back something  - the vague, unsettling haunt that life might be, without my energy infused at every moment, meaningless.

Writers write to bring order, meaning and agenda to the vague, random assaults of reality. 

Here, light breaking through dust, things fall, like early autumn death, into place. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Never written a play? Try it!

Those of you who have never considered writing a stage play might rethink your decision.

Writing for the stage is an attractive way to get the voices in your head onto the computer screen. If you're clever enough to advance your play to production, seeing your work dramatized is as exciting as your name in print.

I speak from experience. My first dramatic efforts were produced in 1957 when, at age eight, Miss Nelson (my third grade teacher) commissioned me to write a Thanksgiving play for our class.

The compensation was, I recall, recognition at the annual Thanksgiving all-school assembly.

And so it came to pass that, early on, I became hooked on writing dialogue and direction.

In the years to follow, I wrote plays for the congregations I led. (Yes - that's right. I am a professional clergywoman, remember?) No one is more appreciative of creativity than the mothers and fathers of senior-high children; especially when the off spring are cast in roles that mimic Vana White, Britney Spears and Johnny Depp.

These days, retired from both the church and my work with print media, my first play PAPER DADDY was recently optioned by a local theatre. When it opens, over two hundred readers/fans have promised they will storm the theatre to watch my characters come to life.

I'm writing a second play - under consideration by the Minnesota History Theatre. This one is close to my heart - a historically true telling of the experiences of a young, female seminarian in the late 1970's. GOD GIRLS is autobiographical, based in the Twin Cities and set in Princeton, New Jersey.

When I sit down to deepen the characters, I am transported to the pre-feminist days of my girlhood when self-doubt was always reinforced by the criticism by the many men who dominated my work and home environment.

Revisiting history is clarifying. I am reminded of two things; how far we have come and how much more work there is to do.

These insights are, I'm certain, available to the essayist and the fiction writer.

Only in theatre, however, does the author have the opportunity to see her work, interpreted and acted, by other artists.

Don't let the image of Shakespeare intimate you. Step into the spotlight. Write a stage play.

Give it a shot. I promise you, you'll enjoy the exercise.