Saturday, July 27, 2013

Summer with student artists (Jennifer R. Hubbard)


Summer jobs figure largely in the memories of my fellow YAOTLers this month, and my teen-job experience was similar, but I’ve already written about that. So I decided to revisit the best summer of my teen years, which I haven’t blogged about in a few years.

My first encounter with an artistic community occurred the summer I was fifteen. I went through a five-week program called the Center for Creative Youth, which still exists. (If you are, or have, an artistic teen of high school age, check it out!) Although I haven’t kept up much with my fellow students, I know that one of them became an influential TV producer (trivia: if you watched the finale of the American version of The Office, you would’ve seen her playing the PBS panel moderator). One of my best friends from that summer, Carrie Rouillard, became an artist and mask-maker, even though she and I were originally in the creative-writing track together at CCY. (See her studio’s page here, and her Facebook page here, for samples of her stunning work.)  
At CCY, high-school students lived in university dorms. Every morning, we took a class in our major subject (writing, dance, music, theater, etc.). Every afternoon, we took an "interdisciplinary" class, where we learned more about the other art forms. (This is where I was first introduced to gamelan.) We had guest artists, and we put on our own performances too. Some students worked at the university radio station. Our writing class produced a literary magazine, and some friends and I started (but alas, never finished) making a film. In the evenings, we went to performances or hung out with one another.

It was the most supportive peer community I'd ever found. While we had our own groups of friends, I don't remember any cliques forming to exclude or bully others. Admittedly, I didn't do much writing that summer. Interacting with other artists for the first time in my life was a powerful experience, and I had more fun watching my artist friends draw, choosing Beatles tunes from the box of cassettes that a friend carried everywhere with him (he always said he could play any Beatles tune you wanted, on the spot), exploring the cemeteries that are part of Wesleyan's campus, or listening to an actress friend practice one of Juliet's speeches. But when I got home, my writing blossomed. Not only did I work on my fundamental writing education (challenging myself to write both Petrarchan and Elizabethan sonnets, for example), but the contemporary fiction I loved to write had a new simplicity and directness. Within a year, I had written the short story that became my first published work.

It may be no accident that the years when I was "on my own" artistically were my least productive. When I began to attend writers' conferences, when I joined SCBWI and started interacting more closely with other writers, my writing blossomed again.  Community isn't just about the technical interchange that occurs with critique, or the nourishment from reading colleagues' books.  There's a synergy that occurs when writers bond. Maybe it's just the validation we give one another that this work is important and difficult and rewarding.

12 comments:

  1. Being in a community of peers is inspiring and even validating. The common understanding of the process and the experience of creating art encourages and challenges us.

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    1. I think we see that in the history of the arts: there will be groups of writers or artists or filmmakers who all spur one another on to new heights; sometimes they even form a new schools of thought, new genres.

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  2. What an amazing experience to have in your teens! Great post! Also a great reminder that even though writing is a solitary craft it's so important to take a break from first drafts and edits and interact with other writers and artists.

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    1. I enjoyed it at the time, but in retrospect it has been even more important than I realized at first.

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  3. That community is wonderful, and I think it sounds like a great place for teenagers to be. I wish I could have gone to one when I was younger (I'd even like to go to one now). It would've been a lot more interesting than ringing up groceries, which is how I actually spent my summers when I was a teenager.

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    1. I worked from the age of 16 on ... so I was lucky to get to do this the summer I was 15. One more reason I favor summers off from school!

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  4. I would have loved that. I'd still like to go there. Do you think I could pass for a teen?

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    1. At least we have writers' conferences! :-)

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  5. I couldn't agree more--connecting with other artists is as good for the soul as writing!

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    1. In that vein, thanks for bringing us together on this blog. :-)

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