If you are a writer, you probably have a list favorite authors, authors you discovered years ago who inspired you and who revealed to you what was possible in the written word. When I was eighteen I discovered T. S. Eliot, and after reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock I actually said aloud, “Oh, you can do that!” By “that” I meant express big ideas in simple, even conversational language. Prior to then, I thought big ideas required big language. It was through Eliot that I learned the opposite was nearly always true. More than that, he, like many other artists I was discovering at that time, was exciting something within me. Art valued and targeted my emotional life above all other concerns, above intellectual learning and politics and right and wrong. This awareness was both intimate and universal, a yin and yang that pointed a very secular young man toward the spiritual. In this way, the artists I discovered where like holy men and women to me.

It was natural, then, to place them on pedestals, to set them apart from the mere mortals with whom I spent most of my time. The problem was that I was one of those mere mortals, and I did not know how one went about becoming deified. It turns out that the best way to “honor” an artist whose work I love is to see that artist as my equal. What I called greatness was merely one person’s exquisite recognition of our absolute and irreversible equality.

It is not so easy to do. Humans love to rank themselves, and compare themselves, and grade themselves, and divide themselves into neighborhoods, political parties, and races, and classes, and genres. At times it seems to me as if all human energy is spent ceaselessly trying to separate what cannot be separated.

As an artist, who wants to express what he sees from where he stands and what he has lived, the temptation to join in the effort to separate us all is great. How else to know what I want to say, to be heard and recognized, to get out of the pews and onto the pulpit? But after years of trying to find what set me apart, I decided to write one simple piece about what connected us. What a relief I felt when I’d finished that story, to simply follow the river rather than try to divert its waters where I believed they should flow.

“Oh,” I thought. “You can do that.”


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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