Scrolling through a friend’s Facebook, I saw she had uploaded a simple pen and paper “Map of Influences.” I was intrigued, so I put it on my list of things I would like to try. Mine, when said and done is not as intellectually inclined. For me the streets of cities I have lived in, clouds, and anxiety are as much of an influence (perhaps even more so…) than Don Delillo, Joan Didion, Pina Bausch, Miss Piggy and Gordon Matta Clark.
So to start, where does one start?
For me, a curlique. In inward/outward spiral is what the pen and I decided on as the beginning.
Then some structure:
My parents provenance, Wisconsin and Iowa. I am midwestern although I was born in Kentucky.
My first art forms recognized-
Nature, clouds, being on a boat, the wind.
Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Caddie Woodlawn. I’d have to meditate more on why those were my favorites. I also had a book of Russian Fairytales edited by Jackie Onassis. The red cover and the illustrations fascinated me. The illustrations by Boris Zvorykin are in a category alone.
A was influenced by punk rock, the circus, french films…such a strange lot of ingredients.
I think that traveling from the Midwest to Japan in the mid 80s made me realize that everything that I was told as “correct” or the “way things are” is not true. Following those ideas in college was trying to understand how we understand things. There is no “right” way, I became iconoclast and non-dogmatic.
New York, San Francisco, MFA:
Adulthood is when we finally get to choose where we want to be and what we want to follow. It was a time of incredible growth for me, but I would say that most of the books I was exposed to really resonated with me for style, not for substance. At this point I think my references were solidified. When I think of the trip I took to Spain 3 years ago what blows me away is that you can have Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (Prado) and Picasso’s Guernica (Reina Sofia) in one city. Two paintings, both dealing with good and evil, 500 years apart both at the same time futuristic — as if their time has still not come to pass.
An influence that is missing here are my teachers. The very openness of a teacher who supports you, perhaps not in an obvious way, but that you have a seat at the table. There is a quote from George Saunders about the love a writer has for a good teacher,
“Why do we love our writing teachers so much? Why, years later, do we think of them with such gratitude? I think it’s because they come along when we need them most, when we are young and vulnerable and are tentatively approaching this craft that our culture doesn’t have much respect for, but which we are beginning to love. They have so much power. They could mock us, disregard us, use us to prop themselves up. But our teachers, if they are good, instead do something almost holy, which we never forget: they take us seriously. They accept us as new members of the guild. They tolerate the under-wonderful stories we write, the dopy things we say, our shaky-legged aesthetic theories, our posturing, because they have been there themselves.”
And now, as a teacher myself:
I am still being influenced, but I have a bit of pushback against what is “crowned as being good.” Whether by society, or the media, or even cultural elites. I don’t know if writing exists in the moment of the new. I just read the excellent Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and a major plot line is that after the “apocalypse” the main character is part of a group of traveling actors performing Shakespeare. What is true is timeless. And by “true” I mean transcendent of the human experience…today, tomorrow, 500 years ago.