Writing has been difficult lately.
I think most of us have things in our lives that come naturally to us, things that are second nature, things that bring us a sense of peace, things that allow us to feel we’re doing what we’re meant to do. For me, writing is one of those things. It is, perhaps, my most significant thing.
Sometimes it’s almost a compulsion, an itch in need of scratching. Sometimes the words are all consuming and I can think of little else. I’ve forced my husband to stop at gas stations on road trips to buy pens and paper so I can write while traveling. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night when the words infiltrate my dreams. In fact, I’ve had dreams that are nothing but words being written on blank pages. When I awaken, I rush to the computer or the nearest notebook and hastily transcribe what my dreaming mind conjured up.
Sometimes it seems the words themselves are in control and I’m not fully aware of what is happening until I’m able to read what I myself have just written.
Writing frequently comes so naturally to me that I almost never engaged in the formal writing process of rough drafts and revisions that was pounded into our heads while in college and grad school. Don’t tell my professors, but more often than not, I’d have the finished product first and then go back through and delete some sentences so I could turn that in for a required rough draft.
Even when writing wasn’t a component of my profession, I wrote for pure pleasure. It goes beyond that, however. It’s not something I do just for fun. Writing is something I do because I have to. I simply wouldn’t be who I am without it.
I don’t think I myself fully realized what an integral part of my identity writing is until my daughter came home from school with an assignment where she had to describe her mom. Among many other descriptions was that one word — writer — that filled me with a thrill of recognition.
My writing assignments here at the Herald also typically come fairly easily. Whether it’s court cases, public meetings, community events or human-interest stories, the words are almost always just there, waiting to fly from my fingertips. Some stories are of course better than others, but I rarely find myself at a loss for the written word.
I explain all this so you can understand a bit how distressing it is for me personally when the words don’t come, when they provide no solace or feeling of relief, when I sit and stare blankly at a blinking cursor. People have mentioned that I’ve seemed depressed as of late.
I’ve been searching my heart in an effort to find the source of my discontent and I’ve realized it’s a classic “chicken and the egg” scenario. Which came first? Is my inability to write because I’m feeling down or am I feeling down because of my inability to write?
In any case, I’m just having so much trouble finding the words. Any words.
I’m hoping that’s changing.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend a couple of events in recent weeks as part of the Park City Institute 2018-19 season. For those who are unfamiliar, the Park City Institute season consists of a broad array of musical acts, dance groups, guest speakers and more. My husband and I were able to listen in as award-winning journalist Bob Woodward spoke about his work during the administrations of nine U.S. presidents. This was so impressive that my husband, who I’m fairly certain went along only to serve as my date, enjoyed it as much as I did.
This past weekend we took our children to see Ocean Soul with National Geographic photojournalist Brian Skerry. It was utterly fantastic, moving and inspiring. These two events have inspired us to attend more events and we’re now planning on taking in some of the musical and dance acts that will be visiting Park City in coming months.
Through my attendance at these events, I’ve begun some email correspondence with someone with the Park City Institute. Her signature line on that correspondence reads “Art Matters.”
That’s gotten me thinking about what exactly constitutes art and how it does, in fact, matter. It matters a great deal.
What is art? I would guess that for most people the word immediately conjures up paintings or sculptures. Indeed, Dictionary.com says art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
If we take the heart of that definition, the expression of human creative skill and imagination to produce works appreciated for beauty or emotional power, the concept of art is far more than painting or sculpture.
Although we can’t see it, music is art. Music can stir the soul and elicit profound emotional responses. Music can make us smile, dance, cry or sing along.
Dance is art. Dance showcases the beauty of the human form expressing the emotional responses that accompany music.
Photography is art. There are photographs that have undoubtedly changed the world by showing us sights we would otherwise never have seen, stirring our emotions and spurring us to action.
Theater is art. Performers and stories that can make us forget we’re viewing a performance provide one of the primary forms of entertainment in our modern world.
Writing is art. Great works of literature have, after all, been deemed great and have stood the test of time for a reason.
I possess close to zero skill when it comes to painting, drawing, singing, dancing, etc., but writing is my art.
It’s a skill to condense the most important points of an event into a brief yet coherent story. It takes creativity to craft a human-interest story that solicits the intended emotional response. It’s an art to find the right words to put in an opening sentence, the words that hook a reader and spur him or her to continue reading. My column entries are some of my truest art.
When viewed through the lens of the use of skill and imagination to create beauty or elicit emotion, any number of things can be considered art.
These things all matter. They matter very much.
Art brings us together. It can bridge divides and chasms that sometimes seem so big we could never possibly cross them. Art can make us all stop and gaze in wonder.
Art can preserve our past and honor traditions passed down through centuries, if not millennia. After all, what are so many of the ancient artifacts we value and keep behind glass for all to admire if not art?
Art can remind us of what’s important, of our shared humanity. Art is sometimes more honest and direct than we can be in our daily lives but can also provide us with much-needed escape from those lives.
Art can highlight important issues in creative and inventive ways that strike a chord.
Art can sometimes haunt us and shake us to our core.
Art can inspire us to act, to travel, to change our lives, to pursue our dreams.
Even when we’re not creating classic works or masterpieces, art is a way for each and every one of us to express ourselves and share our gifts with the world or whatever small audience we choose.
In my case, the art of others is helping me to find my way to my own form of art.
Indeed, art matters.