Sunday, August 1, 2010


This weekend I have been in Buffalo New York with my family, staying with one of my mom’s college friends, John. He is an English teacher at a prison. He’s also single and Catholic; he has a statue of the Infant of Prague in his dining room. The house he lived in was his mother’s house, I believe, and he keeps it the way you’d imagine an elderly woman would. He turns on the radio in the morning and has one in the only bathroom in the house, and when we drove to Niagara Falls he kept the radio on in the background the entire time.

John is also a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. My Grandmother (mom’s mom) also likes Wright. I asked my mom her opinion, she said, “I think he fell prone to this ‘great man complex.’” As for his architecture, she says, “he really kick-started the whole modern architecture movement, and the buildings do have a beauty.” And she’s also a fan of “Falling Waters,” a beautiful late-Wright in Pennsylvania. Personally, I find his architecture like classical music: a strong narrative is present, but one must discern it. To continue the metaphor: in popular music, there are words that explain the narrative. In classical music, the narrative is only sounds.

I mention Wright because we all watched a documentary (and after lunch John will take us to see some of the buildings) and I just found it very interesting. I have been contemplating the human mind for the past few days--mainly, to use an example, differences between the kind of ordered, mathematical thinking of my dad versus of the abstract and academic thinking of my mom. And this documentary brought to my attention several interesting artistic complexities.

Apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright came from a broken home. His parents divorced when he was an adolescent, and apparently his architecture became an extension of his quest for the perfect home. This is apparent also in his almost obsessive-compulsive planning, which extended even to designing furniture and even a dress for the wife of a client to wear in the house. The exteriors of the homes he built reflect security and strength, with brick accents and strong lines, and overhangs that create porches. The interiors are wide open and one room can give the sense of leading to three rooms, or even five.

It was very interesting because the documentary said something along the lines of “the suffering of his early life became his creative drive.” This quote almost suggests that the mere presence of suffering in his life led to his skill. There was no mention of any training or early trial and error that may have occurred. It’s quite a common thing, of course: “the struggling artist.”

In reality I think that suffering is a great part of art but, obviously, the mere presence thereof does not lead to great art. Another interesting aspect to the discussion is how an author deals with suffering in their work, how they paint such things, and whether the conclusion of the story is “optimistic” or “pessimistic.” Tone is a very interesting thing in much work. I enjoy stories where the ending is optimistic to the point that the main character decides life is indeed worth living. I’m not using technical language, but that is basically what I mean.

Another aspect to this situation I find myself in on this trip is learning. There’s a general feeling in our country that learning is “boring.” My mother has always emphasized education, to the point I believe that almost all of the fun was sucked out of it. Some people are enlivened by learning. This is an interesting thing to me, because despite the fact that if I am interested in a subject I will devour information about it, I can become exceedingly bored with having to read every single display in a museum.

In my case it has a lot to do with how information is presented. Textbooks are boring, historical novels are fun. But, I can pick apart a textbook (or a description written in an extremely dull, lifeless style) if I am very interested in the topic at hand. A fault of mine is that I am not interested in many things. For a long time, even, I saw no value in travel--the reason being that at home I had everything I needed, and travel, even to exotic places, just didn’t do anything for me.

But, even I can admit that Niagara Falls was magnificent. I was thinking I might be able to talk about how place affects writing, but I think the true affects are a more permanent residence in a place, and how that can overtake perhaps choice of settings, and local flavor of discourse. For me, the effect of this vacation has not been an immediate compulsion to write, but a gradual opening of thoughts and ideas that will, I am sure, become future stories and characters, etc.

My friend’s father once talked to me about his belief that college was an extremely important part of a young person’s journey into adulthood. He spoke about the value of experience, and how topics are exposed to you that you might not have encountered otherwise, topics you would enjoy learning about. I know how I feel about college, but I don’t know how I feel about encountering topics to learn about. Learning, for me, is a straight jacket, because of how I encountered it in childhood. In reality it is probably something a lot like curiosity--something alive, something inquisitive. There’s a disparagey for me, one I would like to understand: what goes on in the mind of someone who enjoys it?

Most likely this is a bigger topic than I can cover in the conclusion of this post, and additionally I don’t believe I am presently equipped for such a discussion. I will say that I have been experiencing a lot of things recently, so I don’t think I’m missing out on that. I suppose it remains to be seen whether I will pursue knowledge about things I encounter in this time period.


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