Posted by: jtglover | March 18, 2014

When Worlds Collide: Writing, Art, Academe, and the Story at the Heart of It All

Writers, in 5x5 Format

Writers in Plain Sight

The plan to rekindle my writing flame proceeds apace. I’m returning to writing and reading more steadily, with all the concomitant gains you’d expect. I downloaded Scrivener, am using it in turn with Dragon Naturally Speaking for dictation, or Sound Pilot (Smith-Corona scheme) when typing, or I’m writing by hand. I’ve had one co-written short story sale, I have another story in progress, and I’m getting the first chapter of Knife Fighting with Mondrian into shape, a novel I prematurely abandoned last year. And last night I finally re-hung my inspiration board, which has been sitting in a corner for far too long.

A funny thing happened, though, between now and my writerly productivity peak of a few years ago. When I got into the visual arts, I kept making analogies to writing, thinking about how one affected the other, etc.. All that time, however, I still thought of each as one thing affecting another. This is pretty much in keeping with how my life has often gone: on parallel tracks only occasionally overlapping.

Lately, I see story everywhere. It’s tempting to think this is part of the leveling-up process of writing, and that it’s an aspect of my personal teleology, but whether or no, I think it’s accurate to say that I’m thinking about story more than I have at any other time in my life. Not just plots for stories or scraps of prose running through my head (they’re still there), but everywhere I look, ties that feed into narrative. Different parts of my life seem to be usefully intersecting in ways that they didn’t previously. I’ve written about why librarians should write, and I’ve written about how librarianship informs my thinking about SF, but this seems to be a new strain of intermingling.

As such, I’ve added the category “whenworldscollide” to my blog. I may have more to write about this down the road, but for instance:

  • Back in February I attended the College Art Association conference in Chicago in order to co-present a poster. I attended an excellent panel there about finding common ground among museums, artists, and art historians, and many of the speakers framed their experience in terms of the overall story of the institution.
  • A couple weeks back, a symposium on the digital humanities was held by my university’s interdisciplinary program in media, art, and text. One of the presenters, Amanda Phillips, spoke about teaching literature majors to design games, and what everyone learned in the process, from social justice to the technical aspects of building games.
  • My work with James River Writers is expressly connected to story-land, but what I didn’t anticipate was how many RVA folks would talk to me about JRW and their interest in writing, the broad range of types of writing that my fellow members of JRW do, or how strongly some of the membership would respond to my work as a librarian.
  • Last weekend I helped run an unconference about the New South, social justice, and technology. One of the threads that ran through it was new ways of telling stories, and while I did have a part in weaving in that particular thread, I didn’t do so for creative writing reasons: it just fit.
  • And, of course, I work at James Branch Cabell Library. This wasn’t the reason I applied for the job, but it’s an ineluctable part of my daily existence, as is the extent to which we construct narratives around our collections, whether circulating, archival, or otherwise.

Examples could be multiplied. These days it seems like storytelling flows through just about everything I do. My avocation shows up in unlikely places at work, and my thinking about libraries shows up in association with my writing. That kind of interaction used to seem strange to me, but these days I tend to expect it, and it feels only natural.

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Responses

  1. This resonates with me. When I began doing taxonomy work in my professional life in 2008 and learning the craft, it triggered a breakthrough in my writing that I find hard to explain but was clearly connected. I think it was because the taxonomy work required such a structured way of thinking, and learning to think in that way allowed me to approach the wild creative mind differently–not to tame it, but to better direct it towards the form of a story. It was a powerful thing, but sadly my professional life these days no longer involves that kind of work, and isn’t playing nice with my creative life. Those rare moments when all the strains do cross and give birth to new forms and stronger results–synchronicity, I guess–are the most amazing. It can make a person feel so alive!

    • That is a great way to put it. Everything is converging right now, and I’m going to ride it and enjoy it as long as I can. I’d like to think it will last forever, but you’re right–at some point something will change. I’m sorry the two strains aren’t playing nicely in your own life right now, but perhaps what you learned from the taxonomy work makes you more effective at using your writing time when you do get it.


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