LITUP WRITERS: talent vs. genius (habitat for insanity)
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.
We will agree to disagree on this review.
matthew, thanks for saying so. i’d hate to disagree without agreeing. cheerio.
I disagree with the review too. It kind of seems like this reviewer wanted the show to be something that it never set out to be in the first place. I wonder what”exits” you wanted them to take? And how do you know they didn’t take any?
There is nothing more tiresome than writers who takes themselves too seriously, so that even their humor pieces must include some deeply-rooted “meaning.” Writing humor well is extremely difficult, it often involves a subtlety which I think you have mistaken for “skating on Teflon”
I think the authors accomplished what they set out to do, and then some. Their best show yet.
I’m thrilled we’ve agreed to disagree. It’s so much classier than “WTF?”
Matthew, it is good of you to comment. Feedback is valued. I’m sorry you can’t agree with the review; I’m willing to take the heat. It is certainly true that the LitUp folk are great hosts and the crowd (including me) was happy and enthusiastic.
For a free show… I thought it was GREAT!!!!!!
Actually, Jack talks about the Slauson Cutoff and only in reference to a transformation line that can be massaged.
The deep voice is not an abyss one falls into but something that can be cultivated through the practice of several techniques. Writing from the deep voice has nothing to do with writing about deep feelings.
[…] It’s no wonder storytelling has become a popular public platform. Also this week Fireside did a related “Pets: Man’s Best Friend, or Worst Enemy?” Started in 2007, they join the ranks of Bawdy, which now recurs in Oakland and SF monthly, went down to LA last month, and just added an open mic. Mortified, a different kind of series focused on true, personal tales, made it back to SF and Berkeley this week and occurs regularly around the country. And you know about LitUp Writers. […]
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