Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Artists and New Frontiers by Odilia Rivera-Santos

I am first and foremost a musician who loves to make music with words.
My first love in the arts was Spanish-language music since we were in Puerto Rico and not connected to the English language or anything outside. My mother had a beautiful singing voice and she loved to dance -- playing music in the morning was normal as she made breakfast for us. We were a family of nine children and two very exhausted parents. There was a lot of creativity in the household because people with few material resources become very resourceful.
Being creative was in our DNA and in our training, so it was not something deemed special to be used in a creative writing class at an elite college. Creativity was about surviving on our way to thriving.
Seeing creativity as pure pragmatism has made it possible for me to continue writing regardless of life's challenges.

Prisons we make for ourselves and prisons to which we are led
There are prisons we create for ourselves and prisons to which we are led during a vulnerable moment.
I was thinking about a very sweet woman I met in an environmental justice class; she had become involved in a program to help prisoners and fallen in love with a man serving life for murder or manslaughter. She married the man and decided to become a lawyer, so she was going to college to help her husband. Her life was tethered to his as his life was tethered to a very long prison sentence. I wanted to tell her to leave him, but thought it might be her way out of her prison. She was very intelligent, had married very young and had children without the opportunity to explore what she could've done with her abilities. Now, she was on a mission to 'save' her husband and while traveling on this road, she became a highly-motivated straight A student with a gift for critical analysis of data and a love of intellectual debate. She told me she respected that I had always been a reader and asked me questions about books -- her world had been opened up and she freed herself first. Visiting a prison helped her get out of her own.

The Psychology of characters and people
As a child, I always gravitated toward psychological novels. An understanding of human motivation, human potential and how people interact with others is pivotal to creating believable characters. In the fifth grade, I loved The Good Earth and seeing the limitations set on women in China and how they paralleled those set on women in traditional Puerto Rican culture. In the fourth grade, my teacher said I should be a psychologist, but this never interested me. My interest in how people 'work' in life and love has always been related to writing.

Compassionate souls cross the invisible line and date a client.
When there is lack of parity in a relationship,  it strikes me as a way to maintain control. A person dating someone in prison always knows the person's whereabouts and the power of denying a prisoner a visit.
However, it is often the case that the relationship becomes a con on both sides.
The one who believes him or herself to hold more power is in the relationship because of his or her predominance in the area of intelligence, socioeconomic status or beauty, really wants to be safe and detached. Detachment is a means to no real romantic ends, but protects the solar plexus.
Meanwhile, the 'lesser' partner in the equation is lunging greedily at those things -- to be taught (dating a highly-educated person), to get his or her materials needs met (dating a wealthy generous partner), or to feed a fragile ego (dating a person considered beautiful).
Our life experiences either make us stronger or more fearful and if a person becomes fearful, he or she chooses simplicity. Nothing is more simple and meaningless than trying to have control in relationships -- this applies to teaching large groups, managing a staff or in a romantic relationship.

Artists in prison
I think about how some of my favorite writers, Dostoevsky, Boethius and Cervantes, wrote in prison and they wrote to liberate some part of themselves from the mundane life of a prisoner limited by external forces. Slyvia Plath was in a prison as well limited by both internal and external forces-- my guess is her prison was one made of a combination of domesticity and mental illness.

Artists and New Frontiers
The greatest thing is to play with the pliability of creativity and to transfer skills to another arena, to be the visual artist who begins to write or the writer who studies human behavior or the poet who becomes a filmmaker.
I just listened to a Fresh Air interview with Steven Sodenberg; he said he's done making films and will direct plays and paint. And it is this artistic meandering I have always loved and accepted as part of the creative process.

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