Yes, yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and although his memory deserves much more than one blog post – today, I prefer to discuss a different King, a literary king, Stephen King.
Amid the hefty stack of books I slated for my winter-break reading, Stephen King’s nonfiction piece, On Writing, claimed the top of the pile. Before this summer, I had never read one of his novels, but a literati friend put Green Mile into my hands. I was impressed by his storytelling ability and found myself willing to forgo my predilection for writers who teach me a new vocabulary word each page for solid, page turners like King churns out. Next, my same wise friend recommended On Writing to me, King’s autobiography and advice book for nascent writers.
Now, like many of my peers who study arts management, I struggle to make time for my own art while spending time studying the management of it. After reading about the challenges King overcame to produce his first novels – juggling marriage, small children, factory shifts and teaching – he reminded me that yes, it’s possible to keep artistic focus despite all the life happening around us. But it takes discipline. Amid the many sage observations in this book (including my favorite aphorism – “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”) what most resonated with me is his topic of muses.
How often do we as artists wait for that illusive moment for our inspiration to strike? We avow there will be a perfect moment to begin our opera, our painting, or our novel, but the time we have now does not seem quite right. Chances are, that instant will never come unless we pave the path. King puts it this way:
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair… It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.”
We must not wait to strike when the iron is hot, but rather, we must work on what we love when the iron is tepid, downright frigid even. In order to be a successful arts manager, it’s paramount to foster my enthusiasm for the arts by being an active participant. Perhaps if we all find time to keep creating, then maybe, our reluctant muses will snub out their cigars and help us create work that can, in fact, change lives.