The Last Word
Creativity - nature or nurture?
It is our conceit that the Vineyard is different from other places. And that begs the question: what is it about this place that nurtures the artist's soul? Is it the achingly blue water we scarcely glance at on our way by, or is it the confluence of physical beauty and the ample opportunities to share intellectual talent?
I used to live in Waterbury, Connecticut, which, at least back then, was a rather uninspiring mill town with a dying copper industry. Like the Seven Hills of Rome but without the philosophy, Waterbury lay up and down tattered hillsides covered in three-family houses, tightly packed streets, empty lots, debris, punctuated here and there with green space or the rare middle class neighborhood. Like Rome, there were ruins, but they were mostly of the burned out building variety.
We were there because of jobs and stayed there for almost a dozen years. We had friends, good friends, and our lives were defined by raising children, earning a living, finding companionship in our similarities. We hosted "Friday Nighters" and drank zinfandel while playing endless games of Trivial Pursuit. Creativity for us, and by us I mean the women of our social group, was in the traditional feminine arts. This was the 1980s. Counted cross stitch was very popular.
All my life I wanted to be a writer. I had written continuously as a kid, co-opting characters from popular television shows and inserting the first person (myself) in plots of my own hyperbolic making. In college, I was very creative in filling blue books with essays. Early in our wedded life, I'd tapped out half a novel on a portable manual typewriter, but never finished it.
My life in Waterbury was not conducive to writing for a couple of reasons. Partly, because I was a working mom with small children; but mostly because my social group didn't embrace that sort of creativity. None of us were writers, or artists or sculptors, and there was no way I would ever have confessed such an ambition; we were secretaries and dental technicians and day-care providers. No one knew about this secret side of me. Our friends only knew I was pretty good on the literary questions.
Then we moved here. For my husband, it was moving home; for me, it was a wrench to leave those friends who had seen me through the hard days of young motherhood. I cashed in my tiny retirement check from my job and bought my Collegiate computer, the one with no brain. We moved here in January, into a house with a gas floor heater and no other source of heat, bundling everyone into sleeping bags at night. But I found I had something I hadn't before. Time. I started to write again.
But it wasn't just that I had time. Something else happened. I discovered that There Were Others Like Me. Other writers, both wannabe and published, all over the place. The shy admission that I dabbled in the scribbler's arts evinced similar admissions from other people. For the first time ever, I didn't feel odd man out. I joined a writers' group. Admittedly, we talked more about our kids - we were still young mothers - but we did read each other's work and supported one another. It was heaven.
I had no idea that it was important to talk about writing as well as do it. Now, I'm also of a mind that talking too much instead of writing is a bad thing, but my inauguration into the Vineyard's world of artistic acceptance - that it was all right to admit to writerly ambition - was liberating. The closet writer was enticed out into the world. I discovered that on the Vineyard, if you scratch the surface, a writer, musician, artist, or actor shows through.
Why couldn't I feel the muse living on a hillside in Waterbury, overlooking the actually quite magnificent vista of city lights? Would I eventually have gone back to writing if we'd remained there? Or, was making a complete break from what had been my life to this new chance at self-fulfillment what triggered the latent desire to put words on paper?
I don't think there are answers to those questions. I didn't come here to write, I came here to live. Along the way a chance confession launched a career. Maybe, if we'd remained in Waterbury, I would eventually have found fulfillment in counted cross stitch.
Susan Wilson lives in Oak Bluffs. She is the author of five published novels and is working on her sixth. She also freelances, specializing in equine topics. Her column will appear on the OpEd Page twice monthly. Ms. Wilson can be reached at email@example.com or at her web site: www.susanwilsonwrites.com.