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. 

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