>Transcending Art


The Yoknapatawpha Writers Group held its second annual Christmas meeting and dinner party this past Saturday, hosted again by Patti Trippeer here in Memphis. (Group photo by Doug McLain, includes: Herman King, Patti Trippeer, me, Michelle Bright and Daphne Davenport.) Ladder in background, I think Patti would want me to say, is because she’s not finished trimming her gorgeous Christmas tree! Last year’s party was in January, when things are a little calmer. It was brave of Patti to host this close to Christmas!

Coffee and breakfast treats and lunch and dinner were seamlessly interwoven throughout our day of critiquing each other’s manuscripts and challenging and encouraging one another in our craft. Six writers from five cities in three states came together for this intense twelve hours of work and play.

Writing groups can be very intimate settings for soul-baring and soul-searching and one must learn that delicate balance—allowing just the right amount of access to your soul. It’s difficult to hold onto the boundaries sometimes

As one person reveals the works she’s doing for a journalism class at Ole Miss and another begins to share family stories from a distinct but distant place and time, and another mixes memory with fiction in his stories from the war and yet another creates a voice like Scout in Mockingbird with her child-like clarity, we all are learning to treat each other’s treasures with tenderness but also with truthfulness.

And yes, I got my dander up when challenged to consider a different approach to my work and even a bit frustrated that I couldn’t find words to describe with clarity exactly what it is I’m trying to accomplish.

But this morning my frustration was greatly diminished when I read Haven Kimmel’s blog post. Haven was doing an email magazine interview and was stopped in her tracks by this seemingly simple but oh so complex and personal question:

“What do you hope to accomplish (italics mine) with your books?”

You’ve got to read her response! I’m not even going to quote much from it because it’s just too wonderful and I might misrepresent it. Except for this one part that I must share for those who might not go to her blog and read it:

Writing a book is an accomplishment in and of itself, if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for. The question was phrased such that I imagined my books going out into the world and doing something, like qualifying for one of those obscure Norwegian sports in the winter Olympics. Maybe one of them would join a boy band, and another could buy a bar in the Florida Keys. Then I decided it was the pronoun “I.” I don’t have anything to do with this, the books are themselves, discrete. They aren’t about me, there is no “I” in them. I would argue that even the two memoirs aren’t about me: they are studies in a particular way of crafting memoir.

Studies in a particular way of crafting memoir. That’s it. That’s what I’m trying to do. It’s not just about me or the other people involved in the memoir. I keep going back to what Scott Morris told me in the workshop at Ole Miss last June—you have to get up above the truth and create art.

I love the quote Haven opens with in today’s post:
The object of writing is to grow a personality which in the end allows one to transcend art. Lawrence Durrell
If that doesn’t make you want to read her blog post, I don’t have anything more to say to entice you. Just read it. Here.

So, I’ve interspersed photos from our day together on Saturday, and now I’ll close with a big THANK YOU to Patti for hosting (again) and to Herman for his amazing bananas foster and to Doug for the wine and fruit salad and to Daphne for being so wonderful (even though I did get mad at you) and for Michelle for her bubbly enthusiasm and youth that we all need a shot of. And to the spouses who made it for dinner—and I’m so sorry I didn’t get a picture of us all at the dinner table! But Doug sent me this one of my husband, with the caption, “Chilled.” I think that says it pretty well, Doug. Father Basil came straight from Vespers at St. John, where several new members were Chrismated, which explains the black cassock at the writing group party!

I really love each of you and am so blessed to have you as friends, and also to be able to trust you with my treasures. You are helping me grow a personality that will hopefully allow me to transcend art through my writing. Lofty goal? But isn’t that the only kind worth having?

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