Rising with our Peers

Sometimes its too easy to think of everything as a competition, whether it’s blueberry picking, writing, or art, or love. And while I don’t mind a good blueberry picking race (especially with my cousins and my sisters and my Nate), really the point is that we eat as many berries as possible and get whatever else we pick into the freezer so someone can eat them later. And the point of creating isn’t to compete on a judged scale of betterness, but to create the truest, wildest, most mysterious humanity we’ve got.

Last winter, at the AWP conference, I attended a workshop about being a good literary citizen — about promoting your friends’ work and helping build a strong literary community instead of just tooting your own booty all the time. They talked about the idea of “rising with your peers,” and I’ve been thinking about it all year. I thought about it at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, where it seemed to be the unspoken spirit. Instead of being a week of jockeying and ego, it was an intense immersion in exactly what it sounds like it is — a writers’ community. It was the kind of place where Richard Ford shows up to my friends’ party, and everyone knows who he is. Where we had endless exciting conversations (which we all understood) about long lines of tension and things being on the nose. Where you tell perfect strangers the most shameful thing that ever happened to you and they write it down and that is ok. Also Gail Tsukiyama gave me her sandwich. I left feeling exhilarated, like I was rushing forward towards authorness in a great mass of allies, instead of running like the lone child towards the red rover line.

I thought about it again last week when I saw The Way Out, an acrobatic/dance/theater show my high school friend Terry Crane directed. When I met Terry, he was always popping out of hollow logs in a pointy hood, like an elf, and I was always wearing my mother’s old Goretex coat, which I thought made me look mysterious (it also had a big hood), but statistics suggest actually made me invisible. Then we both went off to college, and Terry got into circus arts and I started writing. Now Terry and his crew has made a show that is indescribable. I left different than I came in. The world is different than it was before that show, or at least it is to me. I feel so excited to have an old friend making art like this. Terry taking his art seriously gives the rest of us permission to do this too. It makes our artistic community that much richer.

Besides, who wants to be the only awesome writer or aerialist or blueberry-picker, anyways? That would be one boring cocktail party.