Monday, July 25, 2011

Things are Cookin' in Fairbanks

The Summer Arts Festival is half over and even though we've only been at it a week, I feel like I've done enough work for several months.  I'm not burning-out yet; this exhaustion is a good feeling.  It is truly a saturation experience.  We're talking about and doing work with poetry, fiction, and essays.  We are also working on a handmade book compilation of some of our shorter pieces.  And somehwere in there, I fit in with some performative, embodied considerations for art and writing.  We burn our candle at both ends, it will not last the night -- which suggests an even faster rate of combustion, considering how relatively nonexistent the nights are up here this time of year.

Let's imagine for a moment that the students (er, "registrants") aren't exhausted and over stimulated; let's posit that we are helping draw connections between this mixed bag of offerings.  We are in the thick of it all with one week to go.  For sure, anxieties are high.  "Surely, my writing would be further along," some posit, "if not for this book project."  Others choose not to engage embodiment and performance.  Most of the folks here are participating for their own "enrichment;" who can really argue with their choices not to engage in certain dishes at the buffet?

But for those who are?  I think there is a rich synergy that is happening across our various activities.  How often do writers think about composition not as wordcraft but as the aesthetic placement of "objects" on a page?  Turns out the good ones think about that a lot.  Certainly the book making process encourages them to embrace the materiality of reading and writing as well as acknowledge both (a) the layered process of production and (b) the need to commit and commit quickly to decisions in a collaborative project ("first thought, best thought," I tell them).

I also tell these folks a little about my process.  How I work an idea in multiple media at the same time.  Try writing about it.  Try drawing it out.  Collage some photographs.  Improvise a monologue.  Find a gesture.  At some point, the idea settles into what it wants to be: a performance, a poem, a painting -- sometimes all three, sometimes all at once.  But always the different ways of approaching the idea influence each other -- call this a kind of "lateral thinking."

I know, for some this approach is profoundly uncomfortable.  What does waxing a car really have to do with karate, Mr. Miyagi?  But when you relax into it, when you trust the process, you discover that pretty much everything plays a role in creative expression, whatever the medium.  Even a walk in the woods is part of the writing process (in my experience, often the most important part).

Of course, so much creative energy can ignite a fire...and sometimes that is not so good in the woods.  Metaphors have these tricky ways of becoming material.  This weekend there has been a large wildfire blazing in the woods south of Fairbanks.  I know our creative sparks didn't light it.  But that tang in the air is a reminder about what happens to energy released on fertile ground, where tender awaits to ignite.

I think our students are lighting a different kind of fire...if they can just get over their fear of matches.  And their belief that rigid categorical distinctions will keep them warm, or keep them from getting burned.

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