This is going to sound quaint or trite or maudlin or something, but sometimes it shocks me how much talent there is in my little part of the world. I suppose that talent exists many places, but I see it all the time in my students and my friends. Someone writes a poem and I see the world in a new and shocking way, and I see new stylistic writing choices as well. It all changes my writing for the better more so than any other kind of reading.
I’m a zealot when it comes to writing communities. The romantic vision of the lone writer who creates masterpieces in isolation is most often nonsense. There are, of course, exceptions. There are always exceptions. But the truth is that artists are people, and people are social by nature. The dynamics of a good community creates innovation and demands a high level of sophistication and precision.
Lately, we’ve been creating moments of communal art at the San Gabriel Valley Arts Community in a strange and fun experiment. We’ve been coming together for specific lengths of time and given the prompts. By the end of the time, we’ve had people produce poetry, stories, music, paintings, and drawings. We’ve had extraordinary work, stuff that shocks me with innovation of idea.
Our first get together was at my house. My guess is that as our community grows, I’m not going to be able to host these get-togethers any longer. The theme of the day was “From the Mountains to the Ocean.” I personally produced a short story that’s been posted on this blog, and there were perhaps ten poems, five visual art pieces, and a song.
I think what I liked the most was the number of people who were just starting in the arts or returning after a long hiatus. Lance Schaina was there. He’s a former math professor and current medical student, and someone who hasn’t written in years. What he wrote, he kept private, but he, like three or four other people, came up to me personally and told me what a relief and joy it was to write after not having done it for so long.
I talked to Lance and several of these people as I practiced my ukulele on my front lawn. It’s my first musical instrument, and I’m teaching myself to play it. I’m a large man with a gray beard and a red shirt, and this was just before Christmas. Some kids walked out of the house across the street, saw me, and gaped. It must have been a surreal moment for them. They thought they were seeing Santa Claus on his off hours playing a tiny guitar without any rhythm and or sense of melody.
I smiled and waved at them, trying to look jolly. Usually the Santa Claus comparisons annoy me, but after talking to Lance and others like him, I felt like Santa. The only difference was that I hadn’t really given them anything. They’d given each other their gifts.
We’ve went off to Mt. Baldy the next month for a weekend in the woods creating work. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be with like-minded people who love what I love. We’re all there to make ourselves and each other better, and it’s working.
I’ve taught creative writing at universities and colleges for years now, and I’ve never seen a more successful group of writers than these. I currently work at a community college, and since I am a big part of the San Gabriel Valley Arts Community, many of us are community college students. Publishing isn’t the primary reason we write, but it’s an important aspect of our work, and to confirm the value of our community I have never seen a group of people with the number of publications and quality of work than I have with these writers.
We started gathering as a group on and off in April of last year. In that time, we’ve had about twenty people start to publish. One person is talking about book deals and already has a chapbook out; another has published hundreds or poems. Those who have wanted to publish their work have done so.
This is all just to say that I’m so pleased and excited to be a part of our little community and to say that we’re going to have more of these get-togethers in the time to come. I’m amazed about what has passed, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. And what’s coming next? Ideas are spinning off each other.
My friend, Daniel Cuesta, is starting an audio chapbook series. That’s right, chapbooks on CDs. I’m giving him any help I can, and I will help anyone else who wants to start a project with SGVLF.
We’d love for you to be a part of it.
Write us if you’re interested.