Yesterday, I crossed the Ohio River to do one of my favorite things: attend a fiction reading. Michael Martone, author of nearly 20 books ranging broadly in scope and style, was visiting the University of Southern Indiana, and I was fortunate to snag a seat in what would become a standing-room-only event space.
The reading was funny and touching and beautiful and harsh—in other words, it did the things the best writing means to. Afterward, students grabbed free brownies and filtered out and before maintenance folks came to deconstruct the room’s set-up, the faculty-writers lingered for a few moments. As I connected with colleagues from USI and the University of Evansville—most of whom I knew sparsely or hadn’t known at all before the event—I was struck at how quickly we all fell into good conversation.
On the way home, (in between dodging a couple dozen racing police cruisers heading toward this, I listened to iTunes on shuffle (as is generally my traveling custom) and within a few minutes, the music of friends began filtering through the list: The Minor Leagues and then Royal Holland, Tree Top, and back to another, older Minor Leagues tune. Purely: it was a joy of a trip.
There are some tough things about being an artist of any sort. When Jenna Fischer’s Pam Beasley Character in The Office stands and nervously checks her watch waiting for someone—anyone—to show up at her gallery display, well, let’s just say that scene hits close to home. I’ve seen amazing bands play in front of nearly hollow spaces. I’ve been on the stage for a few of those, too. Authors put years into books, travel multi-state jaunts, then sit and wait as three people filter in for a reading. There are conflicts and money issues, band fights in the parking lot, long hours staring at a screen or canvas and wondering if the idea which seemed at first so vivid will ever allow itself to coalesce into anything at all.
There’s difficulty to it, and real hardship.
But the silver lining, when it comes, is a good one. As I get deeper into a life of trying to create things, the one element that continually stands up as lovely and invigorating is the opportunity to spend so much time around other people who practice the making of beautiful things. Visual artists, musicians, writers, actors, spoken word artists and so on: it’s a good life, being around people who seek new depths of thought, new angles of seeing, and new takes on beauty. It’s an enriching life, one that demands flexibility and dynamic motion, not stasis. In other words, it makes me want to be better.
One of my favorite parts of working in academia is the opportunity to bring practicing writers to campus, and giving students a chance to connect with them. Part of the joy of organizing an event series like this one is to give folks an opportunity to get proximal to new and different art, yes, but more importantly, to provide connections with the people who devote their lives to creating beautiful, cautionary, uplifting, and complex things. That, in and of itself, is a unique sort of beauty. It’s a privilege to live a life connected to art, and I’m grateful for small reminders of that.