Anyone who writes knows a life of writing means long hours staring at a page or a computer screen, watching words take shape across the mass of white. But whenever I've been writing hard for several days, I'm reminded of a story I came across years ago. I wish I could remember the author because it is a parable worth remembering and giving credit for.
Two writers sat down to describe a county fair (or wedding or business meeting or whatever you want). One writer provided excellent detail and grounding in the event, but the other writer made you feel you were there. You forgot you were reading. The teacher who passed along this tale meant to impart one lesson. As much as we may love writing, we also have to live. The stories we discover as we explore and work through an idea come out of lived experience. The first writer made the story feel like a research project. But the second writer had been to the wedding and had a great time, and she conveyed that in her story.
As much as I love writing, I also love getting out in the world. On a recent visit to Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum, I passed an exhibit of sticks, yes, sticks. Let's face it, modern art is peculiar. But it is also fun.
"What the Birds Know," or Stickworks by Patrick Dougherty, is a cluster of half a dozen human sized
The sculpture of huge nests is intentional art, and the brochure reports that it will be gone in a year, the result of natural forces and time. But what about the man who collects hubcaps and one day decides to nail them to the fence so he can admire his collection? He has scattered across his back yard, to the consternation of his neighbors, various parts of old cars and trucks and farm equipment. "They're so handy," he tells anyone who complains. "They're right there when I need them." And indeed the array of rusting artifacts has a certain beauty to it.
And then there's the man whose house sits on a hill looking down on the narrow street. He has positioned white buckets along the gravel path, to store extra gravel in case of icy weather. Clutter or art?
Whenever I see such things, I wonder about who these people are and how much I enjoy their way of living in the world. But I also think of the teacher/writer who reminded his/her students to get out in the world. It's full of interesting people doing interesting things with their lives and back yards.