Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just Gotta Be Me

So I’m still thinking about Yellow Springs (see my previous post), specifically about the town’s appreciation of the arts. Many writers, painters, sculptors, belly dancers, you name it, make their home there. That got me thinking about the general public’s perception of how “artists” are supposed to look and act. Do a man-on-the-street interview asking someone to describe artists, and I’ll bet you’ll hear variations of  these attributes: dreamy, impractical, prone to dressing in wild clothes (or alternatively, all in black), either boisterous or complete loners, in all ways, “odd.”

While in Yellow Springs, I had dinner with the agent I've been working with, and I was convinced she agreed to the meeting just so she could make sure I wasn’t a total weirdo. She insisted she already knew I wasn’t a weirdo based on our previous phone conversation and said that in any case, she’s worked with plenty of writers much weirder than me. I don’t doubt it. I know some writers who are a bit "out there." But I know some accountants who are, too. I don’t doubt that the arts, as a career choice, is more accepting of, what shall I call it, extreme personalities, but that doesn’t mean someone who is trying to break in to this business of writing should change who they are.

I remember a creative writing professor I had in grad school, a very practical, very straight-laced woman who had published short stories with success but was having trouble tackling her first novel. What did she do to fix this problem? She dyed her dark brown hair a pepto-bismol pink and wore tights with holes instead of her former, no-hole tights. I remember her walking into the classroom the day after this transformation, laughing nervously, looking down at the carpet. She was so uncomfortable with what she’d done. It wasn’t her. And it wasn’t going to improve her writing, that’s for sure.

Though most of my fiction is fairly mainstream, I’ve written some strange things. I published a one-act play about the mating of anthropomorphic fireflies. I gave a reading at a conference of one of my short stories, which was a very fractured fairy tale centering on the neuroses of the three pigs. Some fellow conference attendees talked to me afterwards, surprised that I had written it, me, standing there in my cute little outfit from Kohl's, my brown hair in a ponytail, a single set of holes in my ears sporting simple pearls. Yes, it was an odd short story. Yes, I wrote it. You see, I have an imagination. And I’m not afraid to use it.

To be honest, I rather like that I don't stand out in a crowd. That nobody at the corner grocery has any idea what I'm up to when I'm at home tapping away at my keyboard. And if my book gets published and causes a stir and people can't believe I wrote it ("You? You're too normal to be a writer, especially of a book like this!"), I'll just smile and brush back my perfectly, non-pink hair.