masters of some secret universe

you can keep a secret; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 8 x 10 inches.

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Antanas Sileika has an article in the new Quill & Quire about the problems with teaching creative writing. What problems? he writes. Why is it a problem? We don't ask this question in other pursuits, he states. We don't ask if art can be taught.

Actually, we do. The only useful art instruction I've ever received was from a charming Egyptian painter who stated, categorically, right from the outset, that there would be no instruction. That would be useless, she said. We were there to paint and show our work and be forced to confront what we were doing. Her only role was to encourage, and she did it with a kind of style that could never be taught.

Now, Sileika is the director of Toronto's Humber School for Writers. So he is a *big* fan of the MFA in creative writing. "Most aspiring writers would like to get into Granta. The way to do it is to get with the program."

Uh oh! I *would* like to get into Granta (England's premiere literary magazine). So this remark isn't very encouraging, for me or the unwashed rest of us, forestalled by our damnable full-time jobs or doomed with needy young families. If all these gleaming, beaming MFA's are the divisions of the new literary blitzkrieg, then people like me are the French army of 1940, all heavy coats and five-day's stubble and no competent generals to rally us towards the front.

So are we utterly lost? Not at all, my middle-aged friend. We can attack this problem part-time, through the fog of that academic twilight they call 'continuing education'. Hell, I've even done some advance scouting, having taken three creative writing classes about a million years ago. I even paid for two of them.

The first instructor had the same solution for every writing problem: time travel. Thin characters? Time travel. Pointless story? Time travel. Incomprehensible plot? A little time travel should sort that out. Just bend space! She wore the same red, polyester stretch pants to every class. She also wrote poetry. All of it was about some war between the world and her vagina.

The second instructor didn't even try to teach us anything. We'd just read our stuff out loud, listen to two minutes of silence and then move on to the next person. I'd often meet him after class, to stand and smoke and listen to stories about his former career as a bank robber. He said bank robbers needed to be organized, professional guys. They should have a college for that, I said. They do, he said. It's called prison.

The third instructor attempted to teach a class in children's literature. What you have written, he told me, is not children's literature. Which was sort of instructive, I guess.

The one thing these classes did was make me write something each week. It's the same service my writing group performs for me now. Because writing is tough, and one is easily discouraged ... especially when competing against whole new divisions of young, hot-faced MFA's coming straight off the creative-writing assembly line, each model's eyes even bigger than the last.


  1. well, Wm. Faulkner wrote in between delivering letters for the P.O., and Hemingway in between loading his rifle, so I guess there is hope yet.

  2. you write well. i enjoyed your stories.

  3. no worries..I would rather read work from unwashed stubbled army fellows than pristine young tweed wearing MFAs. They have been in the sheltering arms of life lived that would be interesting to most of the reading masses. red stretch pants and time travel...sounds like a Dr. Who moment!!!

  4. I love your drawing. makes me wonder what secret he is supposed to keep.

  5. Great stuff! Amazing:) it is so dark and i love it


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