Thursday, August 03, 2006

Pontiff Kitsch and Inspiration: Edgerton and McCutchan

IMAGE: ART, FAITH, MYSTERY is a quarterly journal for edgy and artsy Christians and all others who love a good read. The latest issue (Summer 2006) includes a humorous story about pontiff kitsch and has uniquely inspired me as a writer.

First the inspiration: I've had 2 fictional works floating around in the back of my mind for many years, and this morning they got a nudge as husband John read from IMAGE. One article he read is an interview with Clyde Edgerton who was asked about his teaching graduate classes on creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The question: "What is the value of an MFA?" His response: "An MFA is like a mirror. When a born writer looks in, a born writer looks out, and when a scribbler looks in, a scribbler looks out. The born writers learn a few shortcuts that save them a few years in finding the characters and situations they were born to write about, and a few shortcuts that help them write better prose and poetry earlier in their careers than they would otherwise."

I can't really say that I'm early in my career. (I co-authored my first book most of 30 years ago.) BUT, I consider myself to be yet in the first half of my writing career. (Grandma Moses is a great role model--didn't start painting until she was 78 and continued painting most of the rest of her life, living to beyond 100.) I don't intend to get another master's degree, but I did vow this morning that I would--in the next year or two--take at least one creative writing course that will teach me some shortcuts. I'm convinced I'm a born writer.

More on Edgerton in another post. The other article from IMAGE John finished reading to me this morning was under the music section of the journal: Ann McCutchan, "Reaching for the End of Time." It's a lengthy article that begins with the sentence: "I first encountered Olivier Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time' in 1971 in the basement of Florida State University's music library, where I was employed as a work-study student. . . ." Now, that is not a first sentence that pulls me in, but John (a music professor) was familiar with the piece and had already read the article and insisted on reading it to me.

There's no way I can give justice to this wonderful article in this little post, but if I can convince even one person to search it out, my effort will be repaid. Here is a musician (clarinet player) and music professor who, due to health problems, switches careers and becomes a writing teacher. (This was a second nudge that will push me into at least one writing class.)

The article chronicles Ann's life journey in wrapping herself around the late French composer Olivier Messiaen and his lengthy "Quartet for the End of Time"--through performance and travel (flying around the country wherever the Quartet was being performed). All that is interesting, but it was her writing style--and humor--that grabbed me.

I particularly enjoyed her story about pontiff kitsch. To comprehend "Quartet for the End of Time," she reasoned she needed to get into the head of Messiaen, a Catholic:

"I have always dabbled in religious matters, which might make me a sort of aspirant, implying upward movement toward some sort of triumph. But I am continually quashing the vertical impulse and reacting against it in others. I want the Shaker hymn 'Simple Gifts,' not the Protestant battle anthem 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' There was a time in my thirties, not long after the third quartet performance, when Pope John Paul passed through San Antonio, and the idea of a pope, a king of a religion, struck me as so preposterous that I cultivated a collection of pope memorabilia as a local corrective. Friends aware of my delight in pontiff kitsch made me gifts of pope paper-dolls, pope snow globes, pop soap-on-a-rope. My most prized possession was a signed and numbered pope lawn sprinkler: a three-foot replica of John Paul, painted on plywood, fitted on the back with a hose connector and some plastic tubing. When hooked up to a hose, the pope's hands spouted water. The sprinkler's official name was 'Let Us Spray,' and it was the envy of my unchurched friends, as well as many of the churched ones. One morning I found it missing from my garden, and though I was angry about the theft, I joked that God was not amused by my irreverence and had seen fit to cast out my graven image. The next time I moved, I carried the rest of my pope trumpery to the Salvation Army. Presumably it was divided into piles headed for the toys and housewares departments, and even the women's clothing, where an 'I Prayed with the Pope' T-shirt from Denver, featuring the pontiff surrounded by a pestilence of prairie dogs, was snatched up, I hope, by someone with a sense of humor."

There's much more in the McCutchan article for musicians--and the rest of us. Go to the library and check out the journal. In the meantime, I'll be searching for other writings by this woman who has so recently grabbed my attention.

1 comment:

  1. More on Christian kitsch:
    A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch by Betty Spackman (2005). She's from Vancouver and does a great lecture set, if you ever get a chance to hear her.
    less seriously:
    (see 'Gadgets for God')