Monday, August 31, 2009

The Artist's Dilemma

"Conferences are life-changing." That's what my friend Isabella said, when I asked for an idea of what they were like.

"Technically, brushing your teeth changes your life" was Trevor's input as he left the room. He was being dismissive, but he was right: everything you do changes your life. How could it not? I figured that must be what Isabella meant too, that it would change my life in the same way as any other trip to a new place, to do new things with new people. Any change in scenery is good for the soul. But how much change could three days playing Bananagrams in a hotel really bring?

If I didn't give Isabella enough credit, it was only because I had to experience it firsthand to know how right she was. Conferences are life-changing. Short though it was, after the Northeast Unschooling Conference, I will never be the same. Not only did I gain new friends, I also came home with a new mind, new eyes, a new heart. I am changed and still changing, as thoughts and feelings sink in and meld together and connect in new ways.

I want to put the whole conference into words, to capture its essence in a form I can reopen whenever I need a refresher course on love, hope, and joy. But how can I catch the wind? How can I take all the things I feel, all the new ideas, the new perspectives, and parcel them out into individual essays? My feelings are swirled together, freely flowing, and stubbornly wordless. They resist being captured and tagged. All I want to do right now is spend some time getting to know this new heart. It's warmer than the one I left with, and I want to bask in its glow.

And yet, I need a way to share these new ideas with others. This is the dilemma of all artists and writers: how do you give someone a river? If you bottle the water you lose the flow. If you take a picture you lose the sounds, and the smells, and the feel of cool water against your skin. The best you can do is take someone there, but even when this is possible, their eyes are not yours. Maybe they'll focus on slime and snakes instead of trees, rocks and birds. Maybe they won't swim to the same depths or sit on the same bank or feel the same breeze. And mostly it isn't possible anyway. You can't take someone to a memory-place; while a few people may still be at the hotel, the plain fact is that this year's conference is no longer tangible in three dimensions. And those who were there saw through their own eyes, not through mine. Others may echo my experience, but ultimately it is mine alone.

So for a few days I'll jot down some imperfect metaphors, describe some favorite moments, and share some new thoughts in their most verbal and shareable form. Hopefully you'll get an idea of why this experience was so important to me. But I can't give you the feeling that's in my heart right now, nor can I save it as a gift for the person I will be tomorrow. I wish I could, because it's a feeling everyone should have at least once, though it's likely that only a few ever will. So I'd love to bottle this river and send it out to everyone on Earth, to give them each a piece of the joy and the inspiration and the confidence that I feel right now. But I can't do it.

All I can do is write.

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