Obsession and Art

Last week, I taught a workshop at the annual Sandhill Writers Retreat, held on campus at Saint Leo University. One of the most rewarding parts of these community-based workshops is working closely with people who are already doing what I consider to be the hardest thing in creative life: making art solely for the enjoyment of it.

Most of us, whether artists, composers, painters, or writers, find joy in the contemplative time we spend with our work. For me, a lot of the work I do is trying to understand the connection between experiences that I find deeply moving. I’m the kind of person who cries over seeing a kid of a certain age play with his dog, just like my father used to tear up at the National Anthem. Being the son of immigrants will do that to you, and it took me years to figure out why. It’s a subject that’s at the heart of my second book of poems, Little Black Daydream.

Mainly, what I talked about in this workshop was the idea that each of us has obsessions, some good, some bad. Some of my more benign ones are things like a good three-minute pop song, a perfectly tailored white dress shirt, a good haircut from a skilled barber. And especially a good story about an otherwise average person who finds within themselves some unexpected greatness that emerges under duress. I’m a huge sports fan, and I’m always rooting for the unexpected great play, the backup quarterback who comes off the bench and leads a comeback victory, the great dramatic moment like this memorable Kirk Gibson home run.

These themes appear again and again in my work. I’m still trying to figure out why. And I do that investigation in the simplest and most direct way I know: by getting back to my desk.

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