Every January, my husband and I look forward to attending the Creativity Conference at The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia. First of all, you can’t beat the surroundings. The Cloister is timeless and elegant, and the surrounding lush gardens help you forget it is the dead of winter and dreary back in Atlanta.
The big draw, however, is the speakers. Mark Moffett ( https://www.doctorbugs.com/ ) is a world-famous explorer, naturalist, photographer and storyteller. His wife Melissa Wells, an expert in managing healthcare systems, often travels with Mark as an accomplished photographer and videographer. To give you example of the life they lead, they were married at the rim of the Rano Kua Volcano on Easter Island. They love to surround themselves with interesting people, people who are at the top of their game, people who look at the world differently. So, they organize the Creativity Conference yearly, where the 300 plus participants are treated to two days of sparkling talks by painters, authors, rappers, violin builders, magicians, neuroscientists, cartoonists, economists, primatologists and poet laureates, just to name a few. Each talk is wildly different, and the questions and answer periods are always scintillating.
This year was remarkable as always. This was the first time, I have to say, that we closed down the Cloister bar, having late night talks and drinks with a magician/mathematician and a philosopher/disc jockey! Shout out to you, Mark Mitton and DJ Spooky!
But I digress. I want to talk about writing and listening to great writers at this conference.
Cory Doctorow, the New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother and Homeland (and a host of other books) is a fascinating guy. (https://craphound.com/bio/) He talked about the Creatives (writers, poets, painters, sculptors, composers, musicians, screenwriters, etc.) and the terribly small piece of the pie they get after the publishers, music companies and movie production companies take their portion. He thinks of these big firms as bullies. He talked about information asymmetry; the big publishing houses know so much more than you the writer do, and that is costly to the writer. He’s a big fan of independent publishing, so as to not support, or fall prey to, the Big Five. He’s written a book, Chokepoint Capitalism, about how to win back power and income from Big Tech and Big Content. It’s a complex world, the publishing world, and his talk gave me the teeniest window into how it all works. It also gave me the shivers. Can’t wait to read his book.
Joyce Carol Oates, the National Book Award winning author of 60 novels, (Perhaps you have read them, Blonde, A Garden of Earthly Delights, or Breathe.) spoke about a book she’s been working on for decades, about the writer’s life. She lovingly talked about how much fun she has editing her writing, weighing each word thoughtfully, retrieving exactly the right turn of phrase. She likened it to curling up and knitting beside a crackling fire. I must admit I don’t feel like that about editing (I would compare it to pulling teeth or sticking a needle in my eye.), but she gave me hope that editing could be fun. I was most struck by her comments about writers and rejection (Something we all face, right?). My notes include the following comments:
- The art of writing is the most solitary art.
- Woundedness and rejection – we have to learn how to anticipate, deal with and surmount these.
- Failure can be an inspiration. Many writers were not successful early on. That led them to keep writing and get better. You must let rejection spur you on.
- Many famous writers had illness and death of loved ones early on in their lives. This woundedness can lead to greater creativity. But that same woundedness only makes rejection more difficult. A conundrum.
I hope Ms. Oates will finish her long project on the writer’s life; it is sure to be a wonderful read.
As always, I came away from the Creativity Conference re-energized, inspired by the smart, creative people I had been with, and ready to write more!