Thursday, February 21, 2008


Two Recent topics:
passion, salvation, and the ordinary writer...

Two recent topics I have been thinking about are the passion and salvation of art and the ordinary writer.

I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night and got my first introduction to Gustavo Dudamel, the young man who has just been hired to conduct the LA Orchestra. During the interview, Dudamel talked about why he is passionate about music. As he conducts, he asks musicians (some old enough to be his grandfather) to reach deeply into themselves, he wants the passion, he wants blood.

It occurs to me that this is what I want of my own writing and also of my students' writing. Like Dudamel, I feel an almost messianic zeal about my art. Where does this come from? Like Dudamel, who grew up poor in Venezuela and who was saved from poverty by music, I also feel I was saved by writing. When I speak of poverty, I don't mean money, but poverty of the soul. I think Dudamel also means poverty of the soul.

The second topic is something that came up on a private message board that I contribute to. The question arose: what writer would you give up your life savings to study with? My answer was no one: that everything there is to learn about writing is there, in the books, in the novels and stories. I said that most writers are actually very ordinary people, not very interesting at all, that all their passion is in their work. All their wisdom is condensed in their writings. Afterwards, someone posted a quote by Oscar Wilde that she had found in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I had never seen the quote and was surprised at the way it expressed my sentiments:

"Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A really great poet is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise."

Then I made the point that there are some artists who are geniuses, who are flamboyant, who are Dionysian, but that they pay a high price for that: I mentioned Dylan Thomas. Another person mentioned Rimbaud. Then I remembered Oakley Hall, the young man who is the subject of the documentary, The Loss of Nameless Things. Hall was a young playwright and director who was having great success in NY, until his fiery personality and lifestyle led to his falling from a bridge and damaging his brain. He is still alive but has in large part lost his ability to be creative. He is not the same person he was.

For my part, I think I am happy to be ordinary in my life and to live out my passion through my art. I do mourn the loss of great talents like Oakley Hall, though. I really do.


Anonymous said...

So the fact that I look like just another middle-aged white woman with an old dog who sometimes shits in the house doesn't mean I'm not the writerly type? Once again, your words are exactly what I needed to hear. Teagrapple!

emmapeelDallas said...

I like this a lot. It makes me think of a story I once heard about the sculptor, David Smith. He was having a show of his work, and a very proper society lady approached him and said, regarding one of his works, "But what are you trying to DO, Mr. Smith?" He reportedly looked at her and said wearily, "Lady, I am trying to make the best goddamned sculpture I can make". He had passion for his work.

Trée said...

Wish I had seen that 60 minutes interview. What is life without passion. One can see it in music and in prose and likewise, one can see when it is not there. Give me poor writing delivered with passion over soulless "great literature."

I love that he wanted their "blood," their essence, their life, their passion. Beautiful metaphor. Thanks for sharing. :-)

JK said...

very cool blog... love the connection of passion and salvation, although as we see with some great art the passion can lead to a tragic end (which in a way could be their salvation...)
My class was talking about passion & inspiration last night, and I'm surprised at how many of the future teachers I look around at seem to have none... maybe they hide it well...



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

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