Thursday, November 12, 2009

Art Pencil to Quill

I sat down with two former-teachers-turned-friends this week to get caught up on life. With one of them, I’d reconnected several months prior when he’d volunteered to help me with my writing projects; the other I’d not seen for twenty years. Back in grade school, one was my creative writing instructor and the other my art instructor—the right-brained mentors of my childhood and teenage years.

QuillImage via Wikipedia

“How did you end up writing? And, what are you writing: a novel, poetry?” the artistic one asked.

As I began to tell her the story, the analogies and images formed in my mind that would make it a grand story, piecing themselves together as an on-the-spot-aspiring-author was slowly learning to do. “I followed my artistic passion into the study of architecture, but found that I wanted my structures to be more sculptural than practical. I believed that I wouldn't get the chance to push the boundaries of design when I entered the real world and college was the best place to do so. But, my instructors kept asking me if I’d designed to code. A common question like ‘Does this space have the required number of toilets?’ would send me into a debate about what we should be focused on in our education. So, I wrote an opinion-editorial for the school newspaper that compared our education to being herded like cattle. It caught the department’s attention, and that of my current term’s instructor.”

“I can tell that you’re not happy with architecture,” he said. “So, I don’t want you to work on the project that I assign the rest of the class this term, I just want you to write. I don’t care what you write, just write about your thoughts, feelings… write essays, poetry, whatever you wish, and we’ll sit down and talk about it each week.”

“It was at that point that I laid down the art pencil and picked up the quill pen,” I told my friends and former teachers. “My architecture instructor was a former dean of the department, and through his network of contacts, he arranged interviews with people in a multitude of professions, then asked me to speak with them about their passion and their choice of employment.” As I spoke, my hands gestured wildly, an art that I’d learned complemented that of storytelling. “That process opened my eyes to the things that I should focus on during these important, formative years of my life; years when I was deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

“Such as?” they asked.

“Education, to me, is about learning the vocabulary that you will use once you enter your profession. The ‘how-to’ will be a style that is taught to you by your first employer to make sure that you are doing things their way. They weren’t going to make me an architect, they were simply teaching me the language so that I could be trained as one once I entered the real world. If anything, what they taught me was the reality of that world, and my disinterest in continuing to pursue it.”

“How did you get from there to here? That’s got to be a pretty interesting path,” the artistic one said. “By the way, you were a brilliant artist, but waaaay too mechanical. I knew that you’d never do anything in the fine arts.”

“Odd, isn’t it? I was too mechanical an artist and too sculptural an architect.” We all smiled. “I started studying business and found that my right-brained expertise excelled in group projects and organizational behavior experiments. There was a great combination of logic and creativity inside of me. I could see all of the options, ones that the rest of the class couldn’t see, and bend the rules to my advantage. I ended up in technology marketing for years. Basically, finding ways to tell consumers a story about products and services so that they would see the emotional need and take the desired action.”

“So, once he picked up the quill, he never put it down again,” said the writing one.

“Exactly,” I confirmed. “Press releases, ad copy, web site copy, you name it and I wrote it for a decade. During the day, I wrote for my employer, but at night at wrote for myself. I have a stack of poetry and random thoughts that’s twice as tall as this novel,” I said as I picked up the spiral bound manuscript.

“That’s good,” my editor said, nodding his head. An air of excitement appeared on his face noting the feeling that he’d always had about the discovery process.