Friday, May 2, 2008

Why do you do it?

My dance teacher once said, "This is a field where you have to be able to do it all. If a choreographer wants you to run across the stage full tilt, then stop on a dime and drop face first onto the floor, you have to figure out how to do it. If you don't you'll lose your part to the dancers that did." I don't know if that is actually true. I wasn't ever good enough at dance to have to worry about it. In my high school art class, I remember my art teacher showing me some exercises from an art college. One required a student to copy a black and white picture by choosing one color, painting duplicate of the picture all in shades of that color, and then converting it to grayscale via xerox machine. It's harder than it sounds, for me, at least. I can't see color intensity with enough precision to do this.

Usually when people ask why I write, a frustrating conversation ensues. Most people seem to assume that any form of artistic expression is about breaking free. Riding a surge of crative energy that comes from this wild and untameable maelstrom of emotion.

The freedom isn't what interests me. It's the boundaries. LDS fiction has been a very satisfying exercise for me. This market has limits. I can't write excessive violence or graphic sex. I can't overtly criticise the Church and its leadership. My readers are from a very different background than I am, and I lack 90% of their life experiences. I've never had kids. I've never watched a sibling get baptized. I can't cook a casserole to save my life. (I had to look up how to spell casserole just now.) Many see a list of "can'ts" coupled with a chasm between writer and audience and think it must suffocate artistic expression. I feel that they miss the point entirely.

This is my way of doing the excercises that I could never master as a dancer or visual artist. I love having tools removed from my toolbox and an audience with whom I often can't have a simple conversation ("please don't call my parents 'brother' and 'sister', people"), and then be required to figure out how to convey a story with range and emotional authenticity. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and yet the work is its own reward.

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