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The Essay
Show #271
Somewhere Off in the Distance ....
David Gunn

There are many components to creating a work of art, be it music, writing, sculpture or bowling in the high 90s. There's the stomping around and throwing inanimate objects when things aren't going well; the utter frustration one experiences when you've just had a brilliant idea and then, before you can write it down or implement it, it vanishes; the inconsolable depression of a blank mind staring at a blank canvas a week past deadline; and there's the melancholy every artist feels when he discovers that the commission award has been rescinded. But the hardest part of any artistic endeavor is simply getting started.

Just ask any artiste. Take Shakespeare. Think that when he sat down to write, clever repartee just oozed from his quill? Not at all. The old bard often went through numerous rewrites before he hit upon the scintillating words that would someday find their way onto coffee mugs, fashion swimwear and community theater stages. An early draft of his famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy, for example, begins "Somewhere off in the distance a dog barked." Or take marble- maven Michelangelo. A premature model of his "David" sculpture shows a crude stick figure standing with arms akimbo and little exclamation points coming out of his head with the caption, "In qualche luogo nella distanza un cane ha scortecciato." And those toe-tapping tunes from The Rite of Spring didnít just pop into Igor Stravinsky's noggin one day whilst he was laundering his mum's antimacassars. According to an entry in his sketchbook, they started out as elementary recontextualizations of a popular art song, "Quelque part dans la distance un chien a aboyé." Dogs and distance -- one of the most oft-repeated themes in most great works of art.

Many artists find procrastination to be an excellent way to avoid getting started on a creative endeavor, and the very act of dawdling has itself become a meaningful art form. Not that this particular essay has pretensions of artistic merit, but I have managed to slog through nearly half of its length yet haven't written the real first word of it, at least what I had planned. My notes say return to the West Virginia conversation between Canadian and Bung Hollow Wingate, but as long as procrastinatory elements are in play, that plan has nothing to do with reality.

Reality, too, plays a vital role in getting an artistic event's ball rolling. Deadlines, late car payments, failing relationships, public incontinence, spontaneously combusting cows and dogs barking off in the distance are all real world crises whose consequences can both help jump- start and scuttle the creative process.

Meanwhile, back in the bungalow half-submerged in a forgotten fork of the Gauley River in West Virginia's Monongahela Hills, Bung Hollow Wingate was regarding his Canadian cousin with a bit more than skepticism, when somewhere off in the distance ....

This essay for episode 271 of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar represents yet another element of the creative process, namely, throwing in the towel. When all attempts to snatch victory from the jaws of failure founder, simply giving up is generally the smartest recourse. It's reality; it's a dog barking off in the distance; it's deferring to Kalvos.