Skip to main content

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. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why I no longer trust the St. Paul Police

My dogs awoke me,  barking,  at 3:00 AM -  and I knew something was wrong. I grabbed my under-the-bed baseball bat and stormed into my backyard. The car next door had been burglarized; a neighbor's garage broken into. And the woman who lives in the house behind mine was robbed in the middle of the night. And so as the flood lights slapped across my empty back yard and my dogs growled, I determined to apprehend the culprit. I searched the yard for the wretched, evil doer who would dare take advantage of the decent folks who live in Como Park. Behind me, in my living room, someone walked out the front door with my MacBook and other electronics. Because I didn't check inside the house - I didn't discover the crime until the next morning. "This ain't CSI, lady."  I phoned the police at 7:30 A.M. It took him almost an hour to get to my home - and when he finally knocked -  I opened my door to an overweigh, winded officer. By then I was frant

Here's to you, Mister Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman is eighty-years-old.  Dustin - say it isn't so. Baby Boomers around the globe worship your legacy - your brave, outrageous career where you stepped out - risked much - and led us into our maturity. As Michael Dorsey in  Tootsie  - you exposed an artist brave enough to lampoon his feminine side. As Ted Kramer, in Kramer vs. Kramer  - you challenged other men to reexamine their ability to nurture, to settle for the glories of domesticity. And no one else could have exposed the complexities  of Raymond Babbitt as did you in  Rain Man.   The world honors your excessive and grand talent - but if these allegations are true, none of that will matter.  History will forget your artistry and remember you as a dirty old man. That's what I do not understand.  You're not a B list guy - - not a "made for TV" Hollywood guy. You're Hoffman, for god's sake.  And I cannot fathom you jeopardizing your lionized legacy around someone's seve

Overheard at a coffee shop; An old woman's wisdom.

When she was a small child, she posed in front of her nursery mirror - fascinated with her reflection.  Sometimes she emulated Betty Davis.  Sometimes Shirley Temple.  When she was old enough, her mother enrolled her in tap dance classes, hoping to channel some of that ham-bone energy into something constructive. It worked.   Twice each year, the tap school dressed her in frilly, fluff-flounced costumes, put her on stage with a dozen other little show-offs,  and together they tapped their way to elementary school stardom. When she turned 13-years-old, her tap-dance gang joined the downtown YWCA where they spent their Saturdays doing something called "creative dramatics." Swimming, archery, bowling and hula absorbed their weekends, and she made new friends who introduced her to neighborhoods and families she might never have met and enjoyed. In high school, she auditioned and was cast in every onstage opportunity. In college, where the competition stiffened, she turn