Writers And Clowns

Today I will be interviewing Mary Guterson, who, among other things, happens to be the sister of the novelist David Guterson. Creative siblings have always been an interest of mine since my younger brother and I teamed up twenty-something years ago to create a traveling theater show.

Though, of course, that show began long before we wrote even the first joke. It began on our childhood couch with my brother improvising puppet shows and the stories we would tell each other to fill those empty summer hours. It was for this reason that writing for me began more as a public performance than a private exploration. The audience, even if that audience consisted only of my brother, became the inspiration, and making someone else laugh felt like a triumph, as you crossed the bridge from one soul to another.

Like every writer, however, I inevitably discovered the pleasure and the need for privacy. Reading, which I loved, is such a private experience, after all, and like so many clowns, professional and amateur, I was inclined toward mimicry, and only on the printed page could I mimic the solitary pleasure of reading. Plus, I liked to talk to myself, and writing was a place to do so without embarrassment.

But as a natural ham, I sometimes miss the immediate spark of another live human being sharing what I have discovered. Such is the plight of the writer. You are required to make peace with your first and only audience – yourself. Eventually you will hear from others, but by then the work will long be done. I have come to understand that writing the work teaches me much about myself, whereas experiencing others’ response to the work teaches me about the world. It is important, I think, not to confuse the two.

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