Art or Smut?

The fire near Los Alamos (the Las Conchas fire, officially) is confined enough now to look like a giant train, steaming ahead on the horizon. I hope it gets where it’s going soon.

Last week, I received the quarterly newsletter from the Ucross Foundation. This is a really wonderful group that supports artists of many varieties. They sponsor a residency program where you can go stay for two to six weeks and, well, create full-time. I particularly like the Ucross take on this because the 8-10 residents at any given time can be writers, composers, photographers, painters, sculptors, etc.

Getting a residency is competitive and you have to pass several stages of admission. Once there, they give you a room to sleep in and a study. I had this amazing study that was like a library, with a little deck off of it. We were on our own for breakfast, which we pulled from this amazingly well-stocked kitchen. At night, we all convened for dinner and always fascinating conversation. For lunch, they would creep up outside your study door and leave a sack lunch. I never heard anyone come or go. It was like we were curing cancer.

This was an incredible experience for me and something I highly recommend to any writer.

This was the first time for me that my identity, and sole purpose for two whole weeks, was entirely about writing. It was a huge transformation for me and will always be an experience and memory I treasure.

They follow their former residents and include news of their careers in the newsletter. The five writers who had stories in Best American Short Stories, the gallery showings, the concerts. All pretty fabulous activities.

I wasn’t in there.

And I’m not saying this as a Poor Me thing. The reason my news isn’t in there is because I haven’t sent it to them. So this got me thinking.

Why haven’t I told them about Petals and Thorns, or the upcoming Feeding the Vampire and Sapphire? I don’t think I’m ashamed. However, clearly I’m not proud.

Or I would have told them. Right?

I know some of this comes down to the eternal battle between literachur and genre. I noticed that a couple writers I know reported fairly minor journalistic publications for listing. I probably would do that, too, before I’d send out notices about my very naughty novellas.

It surprised me that I think this way and I haven’t decided what to do about it. I did a little Twitter poll on the topic and most people said to own it, be proud and send in my info. One gal told me she wouldn’t do it either, but then, she was still “festering” about the people in grad school. Something I totally get.

So, I haven’t decided. Am I eternally seeking approval from the academics? Do I trumpet my work, which is selling far better than anything else I’ve ever written, and spread the good word about careers in digital-first publishing?

What would Anais Nin do?

I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Rain

A new fire started yesterday, just south of Los Almos and this morning is a mile away from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Amazing how the smoke plume casts a shadow across the sunlit clouds.

After night fell, we could see the flames along the ridge. From our porch 35 miles away, we could see the flares rise and fall.

Just incredible.
I’m frivolously off to the RWA convention now. So I might not be posting much this week. Internet charges are rumored to be $17/day. We’ll see.

The good news is, the weather might be turning. Pray for rain for us, and less for those getting flooded!

On Fires and Hubris

Smoke in the valley today. There’s a 60,000 acre fire near Alpine, Arizona. The smoke and ash blew in on us last night. Our patio cushions have ash all over them.

Apparently it’s worse in the valleys. People in Albuquerque were calling 911 to report fires. They were broadcasting bulletins to tell people to knock it off, that the smoke was from Arizona.

Where there’s smoke, there’s not necessarily fire.

Not right *there* anyway.

It’s a funny thing, how what happens to our neighbors affects us. We forget that things are different for people just a state away, the weather, their politics, disasters. Until it spills over into our own lives.

A friend of mine is up in Yellowstone right now and it’s been snowing. She’d asked me for advice on the best route home. Then she found out that one direction isn’t a possibility because the roads are still closed due to snow. I lived in Wyoming for over 20 years and already I’ve forgotten that early June can still mean snow there.

How quickly we adapt, focusing on our immediate world.

I think it’s easy to fall into this pattern, thinking that how things are for us is how they are for everyone.

Maggie Stiefvater, who is a very successful author of young adult novels, and at quite a young age herself, wrote a blog post the other day that kind of took me aback. I agree that jealousy is a worthless emotion and something to be overcome. However, the relentlessly self-congratulatory tone is a bit off-putting to me. It can be a trap, I think, to believe that your own success is a direct result of your awesomeness.

Clearly, if the juice is lacking, you have little to go on. Still, success in any endeavor is made up of many factors. Timing, serendipity, personalities. It’s like wondering why one woman is able to have babies easily while another is infertile. Is it because fertile woman is a better person? Because she deserves it? Why does one guy develop pancreatic cancer and another live to be 106? We like to try to trace cause and effect, but there isn’t always one.

With producing art, we’re talking about something that necessarily grows out of the deepest parts of ourselves. Sure, a writer can try to target what sells, but if the story isn’t genuine to her in some way, it’s not going to work. Not everyone has the story that becomes a phenomenon. That’s just how it is.

We all follow different paths in life. Our joys and sorrows, failures and successes are part of that. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what hand we’re dealt, but rather how we play it.

Not everyone gets to be a bestselling author. Not everyone gets to live to be 106. Some people die young. Some can’t have babies. Some artists are discovered after they die.

I sometimes wonder if I’d take Jane Austen’s lot – to be so revered long after my death and never get to enjoy it myself.

Maybe so. Hubris is a poisonous thing. Not getting too excited about one’s own awesomeness can be dodging a bullet. Hard to control a raging ego, once its been overfed.

More and more I’ve come to believe the real test in life is not how well we do, but how we handle what happens.

Remembering that not everyone sees the same thing when they look out the window is part of that.