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Life as performance art

Life as performance art


By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

Someone asked if I ever suffer from writers’ block. Of course I do. I can’t imagine anyone who writes who never experiences it. Editor Scott Sullivan and I have talked about it a few times and it is part of life.

Winston Churchill, who was such a prolific writer it allowed him to afford being a politician, once said, “Everyone wants to write; everyone likes to be written about; no one likes to do the writing.

We all have days where we know we need to get something done, but ideas don’t come to us. Fitzgerald and Hemingway firmly believed a few drinks would jump start the brain. At least Hemingway had the good sense to believe in drinking while writing, but never while editing.

My method is to go for a walk because Socrates was right: walking is the best form of mental stimulation.

Sometimes we break through the dreaded WB by listening to people. When Pat and I were in Prague last year, all it took was a few words from an interesting woman I met in church, and I knew who was going to get bumped off in my next mystery novel.

Later, Maggie Baker Conklin mentioned the words, yarn hoarder. By the time I got back from a walk I had the whole idea for “The Murder of the Saugatuck Yarn Hoarder.”

A month or so later, Marilyn Starring asked how I might write about a murder on the Chain Ferry in the middle of the Kalamazoo River. I had no idea when I started walking back along Water Street, then saw a supply box on the ferry.

By the time I got home, I had the plot worked out. With a bit of luck, next year there will be a fifth mystery.

It’s much the same way with sermons. Like most clergy I have the text I’ll be using, but then have to go for a walk, push the lawn mower, rake leaves or shovel snow for a while till I get an inkling of ideas to surround it. Someone suggested I recycle sermons from a few years ago, saying, “No one will remember them anyway.” Thanks a lot.

I think everyone who dabbles in some sort of art — performing, visual, music, written, whatever — gets stuck once in a while. Sometimes creativity and ideas flood in and come easily; other times, artwork is just plain hard work. Always in the back of our minds is it won’t come together and “work” as we want.

We’re lucky to live in communities full of creative people who risk converting ideas and visions into reality. It goes beyond what we often think of as “art.” It’s well-decorated shop windows, holiday decorations in or outside our homes for others to enjoy.

It’s the extra few minutes of selecting an outfit for the day. It’s the ability to look at a refrigerator full of leftovers, then create what will probably be a one-time-only, never-to-be-repeated-meal.

Go forth and create! If you are stuck for an idea, go forth and walk. Better yet, bring your shovel to our place and help yourself to all the snow you can find on the driveway.