Unmasking the Sprezzatura of Writing: What’s Under My Bed?

Ireland 2013 220

If sprezzatura means to express art in such a manner as to convey a supposed effortlessness, then let’s unmask that, at least in regards to my writing. (I say this with much tongue-in-cheekedness; I am not saying my writing is that good, but hey, how else am I gonna work up to what I really want to talk about: what I found under my bed this morning?)

(Note of interest: I took the above photo of Vermeer’s “Lady Writing Letter With Her Maid” in Dublin this past summer.)

While my goal is to one day get writer friends of mine to share honestly with us what’s under their beds, I guess I will have to show you mine first, so here goes:

This morning while cleaning the bedroom (it started with cleaning my writing room and spread from there), I decided to duck under the bed and pull out everything on my side. I am not going to share what I found under my husband’s side. Not because it’s so bad, but because I am respecting his privacy. NB: My dear husband said this could make one think many things if one reads it. All I mean is that while his side looked much like mine, I will let him choose to reveal or not any clutter there may or may not have been under his bed. 🙂

What was lurking under my side? Plenty of Kleenex that had missed its mark, I am sorry to say. Two issues of Poets and Writers. Two art books. Three library books, two of them wholly untouched and likely to remain so — they grow stale, don’t you find? Several paperbacks. A Woman’s Health. A pair of headphones. Three pair of socks. A marked-up manuscript of my novella. A printed copy of a topic that once interested me but now does not. Toss! A filled journal.

A sprezzatura is, again, supposed to hide, not reveal, the sludge of creativity such as what I found under my bed. In the painting above, we see a carefully staged scene. We don’t see the lady worrying because she can’t find the “mot juste” for her letter. Do we want to see our writers struggling for just the right word?

If you happened to have read and enjoyed any of my stories, know that all of those things (and more!) hiding under my bed go into making up one of my stories. The books are self explanatory. The socks merely keep my feet warm — I can’t stand being cold, and I often am. 😦 The filled journal is deceptive — I am probably the worst journal entry writer ever. I record petty, mundane activities or I rant. I unload the mind. I am not trying to impress. I read the journals of famous people, of those with great minds, and I flinch. Still, my journal entries work for me — if I didn’t empty my mind, there would be no room for anything else.

There might have been a few other odds and ends under the bed that I’ve forgotten: I think there was a hanger, and maybe a neck pillow. Oh and a plastic bag. Neither the hanger nor the plastic bag aided my writing, though: they were just part of the flotsam and jetsam that whatever creative creature lives under my bed pulls in. (Maybe you’re getting the impression that I’m not tidy. Well I’m not. I’m not a slob, but faced with the choice between writing or cleaning, guess which I’ll choose, every time? Ok, almost every time.)

So, who’s first? What’s lurking under your bed? And if you’re a creative type, how does it contribute to your art? Go!

“Swift” Speaking by The President of Ireland

michael d higgins

When our daughter was young, Barry would often read aloud to her. He once read an excerpt from “Gulliver’s Travels” and she giggled incessantly upon realizing what “making water” meant, bright child that she was. The next few hours found her laughing and repeating the phrase. I’m not entirely sure that’s what we wanted her to most remember (Or repeat. In front of her grandparents!), but she has never forgotten it.

While in Ireland recently, we were offered the opportunity to attend the Swift Satire Festival in Trim. It was a pleasure made doubly so by the President of Ireland who is not only a leader, but a scholar, giving the festival’s inaugural address.

The president spoke eloquently and with fervor about Swift, a man who had also been the dean of a local church in Trim, a town more recently distinguished for having the castle used in the movie Braveheart. (Pictures to come.)

Higgins ended his speech with a word to writers, one I shared today with my students, and one I take to heart:

“Without the engagement and passion of people, without the raised voice of the intellectual and the poet, without the willingness to engage in public discourse at the price of personal risk, without the willingness of the powerful and the well connected to feel such a thorn or scruple as will impel them to disturb the composure of their class and peers and go on to champion the cause of the marginalised and the excluded, we will not have a society which is worthy of the support and allegiance of all of the citizens.”

At the conclusion of his speech he shook hands with a few of his listeners. My husband and I were happily among those. Sad to say, our hands were too occupied to use our camera to record the event. But what’s the chance we’ll ever forget it, anyway?