Sunday, September 1, 2013

Of Ahab & Artistic Assassins

A few weeks ago, fellow writer and friend Michael Harper posted this on Facebook and I just absolutely loved it, so I wanted to share:

Cormac McCarthy is the one writer I can’t read. I own his books. I love his style. But ten pages into The Road, *every* time I attempt it, I am gripped with such cataclysmic despair I cannot continue.

McCarthy is my white whale. A perfect storyteller. A perfect writer. He raises the bar *so* high as an author that simply reading his words is a discouraging endeavor for the writer in me.

I keep The Road on my bedside table. I look at it every night before I sleep, and I silently promise myself. Someday I’ll read it. Someday I’ll see it as just another book. Someday, that great white whale will be confronted. Overcome. Dragged into the shallow waters and drowned.


But not today. Today McCarthy is more valuable to me out there, in the vast ocean of possibility. He’s a target. A Holy Grail. A literary assassin, stalking me with his arsenal of great experience. Inimitable structure. Unmistakable voice.

He’s everything I strive to be as a writer. He keeps me sharp. Focused. Reaching. And, like Ahab, he keeps me a little crazy.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unlike Michael, I made it through The Road. I left the experience feeling brutalized and exhilarated.  I left thinking, almost in the same thought, "I never want to write again" and "Where the hell is my laptop? There are stories to tell."  But I get what he's saying.  Boy, do I ever.  

This is what great art does to us, be it poetry or painting, the throbbing yearn of rock or the soaring pang of opera.  It's why, upon hearing Charlie Parker, dozens of misguided horn players took up heroin, believing they could channel Bird intravenously.  But the concoction in that cosmic syringe isn't a crippling narcotic.  It's stark reality.  It's whatever chemistry exists inside the artists who move you that causes them to confront Truth in the most bold, unflinching manner, so that you have an accessible lens through which to view it.  Whoever that person is for you - be it Trent Reznor or Georgia O'Keefe - they provide you the pinhole through which you can stare at the sun, if only for a moment.  

So, today, I'd like to express gratitude - however masochistic it may seem - for those artistic assassins, snipers in their lofty perches that keep us ever uncomfortable, not because they intend us harm, but because they hold the power to devastate us in the most restorative way.  They exhaust us with beauty, drain us of our own cynical speculations, so that we can be refilled by something all at once satisfying and hungering:  art that leaves you with no choice but to walk away from the experience better than when you came to it.  

Changed.  Renewed.  Broken Wide Open.

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