Be afraid. Be very afraid.

third grade
third grade

Words on a page are not exactly bits of glass in the only food left to eat. Why do they frighten so many of us? Look. Lines. Marks. Put together and arranged to tell you something. That’s it. Yet many of us will do anything to avoid arranging these marks ourselves.

I love people who don’t get in their own way–even if I don’t like their work. While I loved Twin Peaks, I wouldn’t go see a David Lynch movie for the love of my very own star. No way. But I love the way he just goes and makes what he wants. You can understand it or hate it. He’s off making something else.

And I love Russell T. Davies. His ending of Torchwood: Children of Earth was horrific. I can’t imagine that many television writers taking a story that far. BBC executives must have been gnawing off their own thumbs, but they let his vision stand. Hats off to them.

Tell me a writer or artist who you think is brave. Who takes chances? What writer or artist do you admire (like is optional) for their mix of crazy vision and fearlessness?

9 thoughts on “Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  1. Okay, this is probably going to sound a little weird, but bear with me!

    I don’t think there’s any bravery involved in writers writing, or artists … “arting”. I think this is what they do and can’t help it any more than a flower can help turning toward the sun. I think for such types, NOT to do it is to die a little bit. It’s survival, and necessary for their own mental health.

    Others may or may not like an artist’s work, but that’s a whole other can ‘o worms.

    To me, bravery is doing something you don’t want to do but do it anyway even though you’re afraid. I don’t think writers and artists are afraid to do their thing. Afraid of the response maybe, but not to do what they do.

    1. I think you’re right. I will say that I’m usually terrified of doing my thing. My anxiety level rises every time I send my work out for anyone to see. But I’m afraid what will happen if I don’t. And I’m not even sure I’m afraid of the response because I’ve gotten all kinds of responses and been fine. It is something hard to describe.

      But anyway, I’m going to rethink the use of the word bravery here.

  2. My wife, in discussing this post with me, cited the people on American Idol who stink. Somehow, they got the impression they were good enough to audition for this, or know they’re so lousy they’ll be the comic relief character. Either way, the lousy people putting it out there on TV for the millions to mock seems gutsy to me.

    1. I can never decide if I think certain people are brave or are grandiose attention seekers. It’s not like we can read someone’s mind and know his motivation. And then, what if the motivation is less than laudable but the end product is amazing?

  3. I sort of agree with DarcsFalcon. And sometimes what we think of as bravery is just stubbornness in the face of resistance from family, friends, society.

    But authors and artists often hit me with something, like, I could never do that. I don’t mean “could never” in the sense of “don’t have to skills” or “will never have an experience like this one.” I mean even if I had the same skills and found myself in the writer’s situation, I could never stretch that far. That’s because stretching-that-far is a matter of personality as much as skill and opportunity and all the rest. We say people are “brave” because we can’t see, in our own personalities, the ability to make the same leaps as someone else.

    Lynch is a great example. On one level, it just cracks me up that the creator of Twin Peaks and Mulholland Falls could also have created Elephant Man and The Straight Story. On another level, it just awes me. I mean, it awes me in both directions — towards the way-out-there, and towards the simple. Are they “brave” choices for him to have made? I only know, I thing I know, that other directors wouldn’t have reached in all those directions. (OTOH, other directors have leapt to places Lynch would probably never try.)

    I’m really afraid, I mean really afraid, that someone will like my WIP enough (when it’s done!) to publish it… on one condition: it needs to be half as long. What would be the brave choice? To insist that no way, it is what it is, take it or leave it, I know what the story requires to match my vision? Or to gulp and, swallowing my fear of radical surgery, go at the MS with scalpel and chain saw?

    1. Great observation about Lynch. And who knows what goes through his head at night–though he meditates which probably helps.

      You’ve given me a few points to think about. What is the brave choice? I don’t even know.

  4. Michael Chabon takes us well off the road and into the hinterlands, each work of fiction and nonfiction a piece of wonder that was created without a template. He is nothing less than inspiring for me. Phillip Pullman gives us a complex and plausible alternate universe, resulting in a remarkable protagonist in the person of Lyra. Philip Roth goes boldly and, some say, too energetically, but like him or not, you have to admit he goes. Louise Erdrich is paradigmatic brave. I remember her telling of how she so feared she’d messed up with “Love Medicine” that she didn’t want anyone to see it. We were all there, having seen it, to see her get the LA Times Best Fiction of the Year award. She takes stunning risks and is artist to the core. Richard Powers takes gigantic risks and must be more than a bit crazy. I want to think Francine Prose is crazy but because I in fact am, she makes enormous good sense. And then there is another I admire, one who takes her old manuscripts and cuts, trims, and otherwise rearranges them into portals to a country I get to visit with greater frequency, now that I have one of her works.

  5. Pingback: Private Writing vs. Public Having-Written

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