Dispatch from San Miguel de Allende
I’m writing you from a lovely little rented flat in a magical Mexican mountain town where we’re staying for two weeks. Allegedly, San Miguel is built on top of a bed of quartz crystals – some people here say that is part of its magic. I haven’t actually seen any quartz since I’ve been here, but anyway.
What I have seen: Scarlet tanagers, sparkling tin lanterns hung like stars in the trees, quiet donkeys wearing wreaths of pink and blue and yellow tissue paper flowers, wise old street dogs who show me the best shortcuts through the Centro, and Carnavale’s cascarones, which are festive coloured eggs filled with glitter, confetti and gold dust. These eggs are meant to be smashed, of course, on your head!
But I came here for the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, and this is where I’ve found the very best treasures of the trip. So I gathered some crystallized (ha!) wisdom for you from the talks and lectures.
Here are the 10 the best gems I managed to get down in my notebook.
note: There is no theme or organization to these points. Think of this list as one of those Carnaval eggs: a colourful, mixed up mess of random and glittering advice, wisdom and opinion that we get to smash on our heads.
1. Art happens at the moment where you are unseated.
2. If your book is all instruction, you won’t get anyone to read it. If your book is all entertainment, people will read it once.
3. Canada has punched above its weight in the short story form because we used to have avenues in the market for it, including radio. Today, short stories are coming back as a form, in part because of the Internet. If you make a market for them – if you build one – stories will come.
4. In Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift, he tells the story of the shoemaker who had elves come to visit him in the night and make his shoes for him. Elves are unlikely to visit you in the night. The gift of art may visit you, though. This is what you must do:
Put in the work.
Be open to the gift.
Repay the gift.
From a talk by Joy Harjo:
5. A lot of writing comes from stolen moments. If you only have five minutes to write, take a lot of power from those five minutes. Then make a contract with yourself for that time. Build a consistency and dedication for it – create a trust.
6. Feed and take care of the spirit of your art. Read, dance, listen to music, do things that are fun. Your art needs this.
From Naomi Wolf:
7. The work of knowing what you know is not as simple as you think. Your subconscious works very hard to keep you from knowing what you know.
8. Be ready to be weird. The truly original is weird. You can’t use clichés if you are using an original voice.
9. Make friends with criticism: anyone who is doing anything worthwhile is going to horrify people at some point. Get used to it. Besides, too much approval isn’t good for growth. We think of approval as oxygen, but too much of it can be suffocating.
10. Always write with love, even when arguing. Long term, it is love that changes the world.
Besos y abrazos,