Today's agenda wound up being unstructured. My recent push has gotten me back to a full-week ahead of my work responsibilities, and this morning I was asked to come up with profile subjects. So I did what I used to do: I went out.
Someone (I don't know who, but I used to quote the poor sap to eager platoons of young reporters) once said that the best writing is done with the legs. "Don't tell, show" is great writing advice, but before you can show you must go, and for me that's always the key. Which is a nice thing about living in Charleston: on foot and on bicycling to can see so much, if you look:
- A lit-up outdoor icon at the Greek Orthodox Church;
- A pony chomping grass outside the Simons Center;
- Phony Mountain Dew guerrilla marketing posters;
- More graffiti than I've ever seen around town;
- The new CVS on George Street
- A new restaurant on Upper King called Hugers that looks promising;
- Fantastic art at the Halsey Gallery;
- An Art-o-Mat I'd never noticed before in a place I'd been many times;
- A new burger joint next to Jack's Cafe (and why would you bother to do that?)
I dropped off some cards, dropped in on a fascinating guy I'd like to know better -- a former profile subject of mine who is that rarest of human beings: he seems to like me even though I can no longer do him any benefit. Hadn't seen him in two years: He didn't recognize me.
Rain chased me back sooner than I would have liked, and I spent the afternoon searching and reading and phoning and whatnot. But through it all I found myself thinking back to the art I'd seen at the Halsey, how much I liked it, even if I didn't understand it, how much more I wanted to know about it, and how absolutely none of these reactions to the work fall into any form of critical or journalistic writing.
Because those forms of writing demand to know, "Why THIS artist?" They assume there is not enough time, or attention, or money to go around. So if I write about one artist, then the choice must be more deliberate than "I went for a ride on my bike and stopped to look for inspirations and found this." And once I assume that stance, then I must write with that authority, with all the responsibility and gravitas that comes with it.
But art is everywhere. And do you know what I crave as a writer and a cartoonist and a generally creative person? Responses. I want to hear when people groove on things with me. Ask Janet: If she laughs when she reads something I wrote, I'm all over her: What made you laugh? Why did you think it was funny? I'm very annoying to read around, because I covet that laugh the way other people covet neighbor's wives, possessions, etc.
I want to connect that impulse to my work without all the artificial strictures. And right now the only way I can think to do that is from an artistic stance. Why am I writing about this artist and not that artist? Because I'm an artist. Because the rules of art are different than the rules or journalism or scholarship.
To wit: If I write an essay-style blog post that contends that class distorts everything, that the rich are different, and that trying to be accepted by the rich is a losing proposition that someone from my station should avoid, any number of sharp-eyed readers would question not only my conclusions, but also my standing to make such sweeping generalizations. But that's basically the Cliff's Notes version of The Great Gatsby, sometimes heralded as the greatest novel America has ever produced.
Why are we like this? I'm convinced that much of the polarization found in modern politics is the result of our inability to discuss what's really motivating us -- fear, shame, feelings of inadequacy, what have you -- and so we turn to political proxies that wind up making little rational sense because they're stand-ins for deeper anxieties. Good luck discussing those without trying to turn your ideas into some form of art.
And a bit later I was reading some poetry, by someone I've never heard of, and I found myself feeling desperate. It might as well have been in a foreign language. I didn't understand the rules, and while the sentences contained nouns and verbs and objects and subjects, stacked together they equaled exactly gibberish to me.
I thought what many people must think: What does this mean? Have I just been invalidated? What do the people who like this (and the poet was respected, with lots of publications and honors) see that is invisible to me? And as I started to try to deconstruct it, explain it, it occurred to me that this was the journalist in me talking, and that no amount of thought and explanation would ever be sufficient to the questions about this poetry. The only way around this was around this, through new art, more art, oblique art.
Things change in measured increments, but not as much as we think. Rather, I think, things change in big shifts, in leapfrog jumps and binary this-thats. Scientists help us, as do technical wizards who give us tools. But the big shifts take place via art, via people who help us imagine the things we can't see, until we do.
Why this subject? This structure?
Because. It's Thursday.