Recently, I've been thinking about how much I admire artists and writers whose work lives go beyond creating their own work to actively championing community–learning envirornments, supportive networks, forums for bringing their passion for writing or art-making into the larger community–in various and varied ways. Maybe, in part, I've been thinking about this because I'm reckoning with how much artists and writers (well, right now, this writer) have to champion their own work, i.e. self-promote, and how that's necessary (and not always comfortable for this writer). Self-promotion is a necessary part of pushing your work out into the world, and indeed, if you have something you feel strongly about to say or to show, you need to let others know that you've got something important to say or show. So, I'm working on this aspect of writing with more effort than ever before (starting this blog, sending work to new places, and going back to places I've written for before with new work) and I find it at once exciting and wearing, and most certainly, I sometimes feel quite vulnerable at really asking others to read my work (early, often, comment, share, make it go viral!).
I have never really seen myself as a teacher. I am better doing quiet editing (say, coaxing out younger friends' college application essays or critiquing my peers' manuscripts), or using my writing and editing skills for newsletters, annual appeals, and most recently, commerce (helping to prepare launch a vibrant website at Northampton baby gear store, impish imminently). I possess some related skills, though, like networking and advocacy.
Seeing people who bring teaching and learning and networking together would logically be something I find moving, then.
Indeed, I'm excited by the efforts fellow writer (and co-founder of a favorite website, one–self-promoting here –I've written for quite a bit over the years, Literary Mama) Amy Hudock has made to champion high school students and soon community college students in Charleston, where she lives, and also her work to bring writing into her community with a proposed citywide writing day through the Lowcountry Writing Project to celebrate her city through writing. It's kind of the common book for a city turned to writing. In a different way, my friend and writer Jennifer Graf Groneberg, whose very moving memoir Road Map to Holland, chronicles the discoveries made during the first two years of raising a son with Down syndrome (along with two other boys). Even before the book came out last year, she was well known in the mother/writer and special needs' parenting communities as a giant-hearted resource: calm guide, champion, often the first person a mother with a special needs child reached out to (proving the Internet can help make the world warmer, smaller and more supportive). On her blog, Pinwheels, she regularly alerts people to new resources (blogs, news, links) about raising special needs children. She is more than a writer; she's a compassionate advocate for children and parents, and she communicates this with such admiration and enthusiasm I am continually awed by her. And these are just two examples; what's really exciting is that there are so many, many more…
Potter Michael Kline learns and teaches and makes pots. He keeps a fabulous blog about the process of his teaching/learning/creating life called Sawdust and Dirt, which I read regularly, although I am not a potter, it's that good. Having always loved his work, I find that I've become a fan of his life, and through visiting the blog, I get gorgeous glimpses into his potting and into the way he draws such energy from being part of a creative community.
Another person I visit via Internet these days (and look forward to interviewing soon for Preview Massachusetts, the regional magazine I write for) is Crispina Ffrench, whose recycled creations (see them at her Etsy shop) of old sweaters and such are fantastic (these days, I'm ga-ga for her blankets). Making cool things in the "Berkshire style" is only the tip of iceberg for Ffrench, whose Alchemy Initiative is hopping, and who teaches workshops (and runs after school classes for Pittsfield youth) and is one of the engines behind promoting her small newfound hometown of Pittsfield through the arts (check out more about culture and arts in the city through Cultural Pittsfield). Ffrench, too, keeps a happening blog. There is a great deal to be jazzed about happening in Pittsfield these days. Artist Maggie Mailer (whose portraits I am wholly smitten with, and are often on display at Ferrin Gallery downtown Pittsfield; Leslie Ferrin is one of the city's huge, effective champions) started the Storefront Artist Project. She is doing a very interesting residency/project at the Berkshire Museum.
Having helped raise money for a large number of institutions, something many people find a daunting prospect, I always say of development work that it's really about offering people an opportunity to learn about and support an exciting, inspiring project or organization. Essentially, I think of giving as a gift. It should then stand to reason that promoting one's art–or the cultural happenings in one's beloved city or town or particular community–is really the same thing: an opportunity to learn about and invest in something wonderful. I am going to try to think that way as I continue to learn the art of self-promotion.