My beloved and much-admired writing teacher, the great Jack Grapes, often tells his students, “Talent is the enemy of genius.”
He is making the point that in matters of art, doing something correctly according to all the right rules and principles can be a straightjacket, locking the writer into a student-type voice that makes no mistakes but is so committed to a preordained path that the accidents which can send the work tumbling into the abyss of the deep voice, where genius has a chance, are simply not allowed. The writer gets where s/he set out to go, but the journey is never very exciting.
Jack often explains this with a metaphor about “the cutoff to Bakersfield.” Say what? Well, he talks about getting on the highway and heading upstate. You are driving along, you know just where you are going, and then you’re interrupted by a cutoff to Bakersfield or some other place you had no intention of visiting. Will you plow ahead, determined to reach your set destination, or take a risk and explore the cutoff? As writers, he says, we should explore our cutoffs, the unexpected implications that arise while telling one story that may lead us into a deeper, more challenging story that will ultimately tap more of our genius. “Take the road to Bakersfield!” he exhorts.
Although I greatly enjoy the writers of LitUp and their obvious commitment and good humor, I left their most recent performance at 111 Minna Gallery feeling that they had driven past every cutoff and that much of the writing represented more missed opportunity than accomplishment.
Interesting themes of disability, love and loss and cultural identity were examined with wit and craft, but little profundity. Where are the deeper feelings that would bring us to care about these experiences, beyond the shallow laughter? I’m not suggesting that everything has to be “heavy” all the time, especially in a series specifically devoted to humor. But even when watching readers skate the surface, one wants to sense them skating on frozen waters that run deep—not Teflon®*.
It was an enjoyable evening, and an enthusiastic crowd, but one hopes for more from this talented bunch. They are accepting submissions for the November 8 show, themed “Holidays,” through September 13.
*Our friend and Staff Writer Mr. Kruger so absolutely stumped me with this hilarious, trademarked reference that I leave it here for your enjoyment. Besides, humor is relevant here. -ed.