C’mon, Big Group Hug!

group of meerkatsI’m sure you’re a writer, which I know based on (1) a mysterious spiritual connection that flows through time and space, (2) my magical powers that I use only for good, except that one time, and (3) why else are you reading this when a perfectly good TV is sitting in your house? Since you’re a writer, put your beer down for a minute and let’s have a hug. ((((((((( ))))))))))

In some forms of art, the artist can work with other people, and often they do—musicians, actors, dancers. Some art forms, like sculpture, pottery, or painting, are frequently done alone, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Potters might pottify ensemble. For a writer, however, it’s almost impossible to work if anyone else is around, and some writers will go to extremes to achieve that solitude. In the last few days I heard an interview with a writer who had small children, and she said she would get up at 4:00 a.m. to write. I can’t think about that. That’s….4 a.m. Jeez.

Several years ago, back now in the misty yearnings of memory, I spent two weeks in Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center, a place that houses creative people for a while, so they can just create, or at least think about creating. It was one of the most glorious things I ever did, two weeks with nothing to do but write (whatever that actually meant in practice), eat great meals, and look out the window at the river.

One of the best things about the experience turned out to be a feeling of community, that I was part of a group of creative people—fictionists, poets, sculptors, painters, and so on—an artistic community, or artists colony, as some call it, though what mother country could have planted that colony I cannot imagine. I loved being surrounded by other creative people, being with people who understood, who wanted like me to create, who knew that it is a constant struggle against the world.

As driven as I am to write, I also find it to be a miserably lonely endeavor, and as I said above, it has to be. A writer must sit alone, but in a more metaphysical sense, intentionally or unintentionally, a writer (and many artists, for that matter) often exist alone in the world in some ways. Even with spouse, children, family, friends, if you don’t know other serious writers, then the most important thing you do, the thing that gives meaning to your life, may not be understood by anyone around you. That, dear reader, is lonely.

Some writers actually do know lots of other writers, and maybe they get together and talk about whatever it is writers talk about: agents, whiskey, pencils. I don’t know, because I don’t know many other writers, and serious writers, those who live for it—I know a couple of poets.

Of course it would be nice to have some sense of community in this enterprise. Writing groups, by the way, do not necessarily do this. Some people bring in bad science fiction, others want to write one memoire and then they’ll consider whether or not to write more, and still others are just Christ awful but don’t have any idea (and no, goddamnit, don’t put capital letters in the middle of the names you made up). That is not my community.

I began thinking of all this because I met a writer on Wednesday (at a social salon given just for writers associated with the website ArtsATL.com. I went for networking and hoping there would be some nice food (no, although the cheese was OK). It was still kind of cool, though, to look around and think “These are all writers” at least of a sort (not all fiction writers, the only real writer in my irrationally prejudiced view). All the writers there had published things on the website, and that was nice to think about, like we’d all taken it seriously, a whole roomful of us.

Unexpectedly, I met another fiction writer, who seemed glad to find me. You probably have no trouble imagining someone being glad to find you, but I have to work my imagination to see myself in that scenario. During our conversation we determined that we were very serious about fiction writing. It was a bit as if we were both from another planet and against all odds had found one another on this one.

Just the excitement of discovery was a kind of extraterrestrial hug.

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