By dylan
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Apr 8th, 2015

By Drdpw (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

In The Middle of Things: Advice For Young Writers, Andrew Solomon compares developing as a writer to finding lasting love:

I want to take a moment to talk about the middle of things. The middle of things is less exciting than the beginning and less dramatic than the end. Middles can seem humdrum. Say that your current relationship to writing has been like falling in love: we exalt falling in love as the finest of all possible experiences. But the reason people marry and stay married is that the middle, when it can be made to work, far outclasses the beginning. Ask people who have been happily married for a decade or two whether they would like to start all over again, and you’ll find that they mostly wouldn’t, even if some are tempted by the occasional dalliance. It gets to be that way with your writing, too, as you get an ever-clearer sense of what interests you, what you can do, what you’d like to be able to do. Your mature work is the outcome of your early work: that there can be no meaningful middle without a meaningful beginning. But the middle is as joyous as enduring love.

The article, which appears on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner Blog, was adapted from a speech Solomon gave at the Whiting Writers’ Awards on March 5th.  He begins by recounting a humorous experience that anyone who’s ever been a young writer or artist can identify with.  When starting out after graduation, a friend connected him with a biographer who he hoped would find him a job.

The advice I had in mind sounded like this: “You must call so-and-so at this number and say I suggested it and he will publish you and give you loads of money.” After giving me a cup of weak tea—no sandwiches, no pastry, not even sugar or milk—he said, “I have only one piece of advice for you. Have a vision and cleave to it.” We then discussed the weather for twenty minutes.

Solomon spends most of his talk discussing Rilke’s timeless, “Letter’s to a Young Poet.”  One of my favorite parts of the discussion centers on Rilke’s suggestion that writers claim the urgency of their vocation and find a suitable topic.

Rilke has written, “Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, ‘I must,’ then build your life upon it.” That rhetoric of urgency is the credo of most writers: we may be on this path for profit, for fame, for catharsis—but, more fundamentally, we are there because it seems the only possibility.

In his concluding paragraph, Solomon deepens and expands on the idea of urgency by suggesting that the act of writing itself is how we make meaning and ensure justice in society.

I used to say that my books were my children, but now that I have actual children I’ve found that books are by comparison rather pliable and accommodating, if somewhat less affectionate. I can speak to you lightly about time, about getting to be middle-aged, about having a vision and cleaving to it. But in some ways I failed to have such a vision. I grew up in a time when my current life was unimaginable, in a time before gay marriage, a time before people like me could have children, and my ignorance of what was to come engendered a paralytic sadness that has turned out to be irrelevant. I don’t know what you may presume impossible, but I can say that some of it will turn out otherwise. Equally, I can say that forms of justice that seem unshakably strong will fall apart while you aren’t looking. Since I was your age, women’s reproductive rights have eroded steadily, anti-immigrant resentments have surged, and incidents of appalling racism have gripped the national conscience even since we reëlected our first African-American President. I wish I could tell you which issues will move forward surprisingly fast and which will slip unaccountably backward. There will be surprises in store on both fronts. All I know for sure is that those twenty-six shapes are what we have to defend our liberty and sustain our hope.

By dylan
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Apr 1st, 2015

K2 CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hana Schank was particularly introverted, even for a writer.  In her recent essay for the New York Times, she describes her shyness and how she overcame it through writing.

Always confident when expressing herself through the written word, Schank felt awkward when speaking with people in person or over the phone.  Eventually her timidity began to affect her professional life.

As time went on, I discovered that my inability to talk to people I didn’t know was seriously limiting the range of topics I could write on.  More specifically, I was constantly finding myself in a position where I needed to pick up the phone in order to write about a given topic, a task that to me was as daunting as ice-picking across the Himalayas.

Email helped. She found that if she could initiate conversations with people through email, things often went better when she talked to them the next time by phone or in person.

Eventually the emails led to phone calls, of course, but somehow the initial exchange helped me get over my fear of picking up the phone. Once an interview subject had been contacted and a time set, it no longer felt as though I was approaching a stranger.  I’d already laid the enthusiastic groundwork in my written message, and now all I had to do was ask the questions that were in my head.

By focusing on the details of the stories she was writing, Schank actually enjoyed the interviews.  She became witty and engaging.  “It was as though my writing self and my public self had begun to merge into one whole person.”

And when that happened, it was as though I’d been set free. Previously my entire writing career had been defined by what I was incapable of doing. I wasn’t someone who could pick up the phone. And now I am.

Schank’s essay resonated with me for a number of reasons.  I have found that if I can write my way through a task or relationship from the start, it works out fine.  Through writing, I always find new resources and perspectives.  While working with Arts in Medicine, I have also seen people cope with their illnesses and take control of their lives through writing.

By dylan
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Mar 27th, 2015

IMG_6570

I have been studying the impulse to give up on art making because I sometimes do it myself. If I don’t have a clear idea or if I am dissatisfied with the work I’m doing, I will go days without writing or making art.

The truth is art requires time and supplies and effort, not much else. It’s similar to other pursuits—like cooking, say. Art is great for communicating and making meaning, but it get’s saddled with nonsense like the potential to get famous.

I can’t help but attach my ego to art. I like to be recognized for my work. I like hearing people laugh when I read something I wrote. I like getting a lot of “likes” for a drawing I post on Facebook. I also fear of rejection. But these things shouldn’t stop me from doing the work I need to do.

Working as an artist and a writer in a hospital reminds me that art is something we do because we’re human. It’s no big deal. Making art sometimes produces anxiety and frustration because I attach certain expectations on it. I think art should look a certain way or say something profound. I am always filled with apprehension when I start working on a new story or drawing. I want it to be fantastic. Of course, the feelings quickly fade after I get started and become deeply involved in the process.

In the hospital, patients and their caregivers make art to distract themselves and overcome boredom. Most of them also have a lot on their minds. Making art can give them something enjoyable and constructive to do while they wait for the results of an MRI scan, for example.

In the hospital, making art helps people cope with medical crises. I see it every time I work with patients and families, most of whom show remarkable levels of resilience. If art is a useful tool for them, it makes sense that it can benefit all of us.

By dylan
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Feb 24th, 2015
Current exhibit of Art in Motion artists at the Main Library downtown Gainesville

Current exhibit of work by Art in Motion artists at the Main Library downtown Gainesville, FL

The Gainesville Sun, our local newspaper recently published this article about Art in Motion, a workshop for people dealing with Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders.  My Arts in Medicine colleague, Madeline Austin runs the program.  I volunteered for Madeline five years ago when I first came to Arts in Medicine.  She has been an excellent teacher.

Here’s what Madeline told the Sun’s reporter, Nicole Deck about her program:

“This is just an avenue to explore one’s creativity,” Austin said. “It’s easy when you’re dealing with physical challenges to start to fall into the ‘why me’s.’ We celebrate the challenges that are before us.”

Dave Chynoweth, one of the participants describes using his challenges to make art:

“That’s what I hope to do here, kind of develop skills and let my tremor be in the art,” said Chynoweth, who attended a recent arts and crafts workshop called Art in Motion for individuals with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders and their caregivers. “If it’s part of the art, then so be it.”