|Surely this is the only door that matters.|
At the end of our midsummer night's dream party on Friday, I went to the bottom of the garden where my son Elliot and his friends were sitting around the firepit. The night was still warm, and the fire was aglow, as were the faery lights high in the trees. And these friends of his were having a very familiar conversation.
They were talking about the limited and unimaginative constraints of certain college assignments they'd encountered. They had failed to impress their professors, because rather than do what the professors had asked, these friends had been trying their hand at something different. Something more heartfelt and real.
As I listened, I thought to myself, this is the conversation I've been having all my life. I'm still having variations of this conversation.
Nothing has changed.
I've had similar conversations about one of the books I've written. I poured into it the best of myself and the most heartfelt rendition of what I know about life and the craft of writing fiction, and yet I kept finding time and time again that it didn't meet market criteria.
Another example: Today, I finished a two day workshop on figurative sculpture. It was one of the most fulfilling activities I've done all year. At one point while we worked, our teacher, a portrait sculptor with some pedigree, spoke about when he was a student, and discovered that all they wanted was installations. They wanted the students to produce something trendy. Something memorable (and the shortcut to memorable was often found in shock value). He said he had felt almost embarrassed and apologetic for his adherence to the old fashioned craft of figurative and sculptural portraiture. There's a lot of technique and artistry involved in what he does, but somehow it wasn't sexy enough, and therefore was dismissed.
So it was with a tinge of sadness that I listed to my son's friends speak along similar lines. Because these young artists, whose talent is evident, are destined to meet with marketers further down the line, who have, let's face it, lesser expectations. They aren't looking for craft. What do they know about that? They only want something that sells. And the highest level of craftsmanship doesn't often converge with what sells.
On Friday I received an email from a dear friend, a fiction writer teaching at Oxford. She writes, "Some of them ( her students) are trying so hard and they are really sincere and hard working and then they send their work to an agent and they just get told 'insufficient commercial' and it makes me so cross."
On we plod. Without hope. With our laughable standards and ideals. But mistaken or otherwise, this is who we are.
So although I am sorry that my son and his friends are facing the same kinds of resistance to their artistic offerings, something in me cheers them on. Because they are on my TEAM. They answer their inner convictions. They are the future. Or if they aren't the future - they are what I wish the future was.
I came home from my sculptural workshop yesterday, to find an enormous package waiting for me on the table. It was wrapped in white paper and my name and address were hand written on the outside in a beautiful cursive hand. I tore the package open, and underneath the pink and purple tissue paper, discovered a box with a card affixed to the top. "Happy Birthday!" it said. And inside, "You've got mail!"
I opened the box to find a tiny painted door, with a bell pull beside it made out of an acorn. A little mailbox at one side contained an envelope the size of a fingernail. It was so small I couldn't read the writing. But my son Elliot took the letter out of the envelope. "Happy Birthday," it said. "with love from Stephanie, Dylan, Oliver and Emmett."
My sister and her family. My sister who teaches drama at a children's workshop in San Francisco - working long hours and pouring her heart into her work - not for the money but for the love of the craft.
It is the little door you see in the photograph above this blog post. Elliot and I placed it underneath our tallest silver maple tree. You've never seen a more inviting door. If only I could open it. And yet it will not open. It isn't a door to anywhere at all. But it is the very best door I can imagine. I will be knocking on doors quite like it, for the rest of my life. So will my sculpture teacher. So will my son and his friends. So will my sister Stephanie. God Bless Them All. May it lead to wonderful vistas!!!