art is made whole by its receiver

Recently I heard part of a radio interview with Paul Simon in which he said that the audience completes the songs he has made, that listeners bring their histories and ideas and openness to his songs and finish them. The idea stuck in my head. I drove around distracted by the light bulb glowing bright and yellow, Damn, I thought, he’s right. And Graceland is a brilliant album. Paul’s idea, I guess he doesn’t own it, that’s good because it’s mine now, gave me a new way to think about the written word.

A reader does that, too. A reader finishes what the writer has written.

Writers have to write for themselves first. Sure, we may have an intended audience – a Sci-Fi freak, a fellow depression sufferer, our children, somebody who isn’t us. But primarily we write for ourselves. To find the story, to make the sentences, to see if it can be done, to answer a question. What if there was a restaurant at the end of the universe? What if there was little girl book thief? How might it feel to be a young woman in Massachusetts in the 1800s?

So, how does being read finish a piece of writing?

Last week I had a post Freshly Pressed. It was a post concerning the scattering of my little sister’s ashes.

I wrote the piece because it needed writing. It was aching in my mind and making my fingers sore. It was a fast write, I didn’t make many changes from first draft to posted, the aim was that I wasn’t allowed to say how it felt, I was trying to show it, matter of fact, this happened, this happened, this happened. The piece was being written in my head that day by the river; some part of my brain absorbed details, sounds, smells, a texture, for the words to come. I posted.

Days later the piece was Freshly Pressed.

And here comes the audience.

There are many ace things about being Freshly Pressed. Exposure, validation, emails rolling in that leave you breathless with their content and their number. Likes. I’ve never been liked like this and my kids say I’m pretty likeable.

But the best thing is the community and all the comments on the post that show me I’m not Robinson Crusoe in this loss stuff, comments that show me that pain and love and suffering and forgiveness is universal. Yeah, it’s not that I didn’t know that, of course this life business is not mine alone, but like when you read or see a movie or hear about your uncle’s flatmate’s best-friend’s sister, it’s anecdotal. Actual people responded to my piece. Real people related moments of the passing of their fathers, sisters, mothers, friends, I read about ashes from bridges, ashes into rivers, ashes unavailable. People told me how they cried at work reading my piece, how they cried halfway through, how they hoped my tears would be less available soon. People I don’t know wished me peace, prayed for me, blessed me, wished love to my family. Some of my readers comments made me cry warm, happy tears of being sad but not alone.

Paul Simon was right. The art is made whole by its receiver.

Being Freshly Pressed has completed the post.

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9 thoughts on “art is made whole by its receiver

  1. I agree and have been so enjoying both the increased readership since being Freshly Pressed and the increased posts in my feed as I have been finding high quality bloggers through clicking on Freshly Pressed blogs. Like yours! I have also been trying to spread the love by commenting on people’s blogs and telling them when I like what they’ve posted. If I seek love and acknowledgment ( and I do), others must, too and it’s important for me to remember that and spread the love!

    • Like yours! When I can get off the email I can’t wait look around, read some terrific writing and get involved in other people’s good art. I like commenting, too and I shall do more because this, acknowledgment and love, is ace.

  2. Hey bikegirl37 (Is that your age?) this piece is really great too. I hadn’t thought about writers writing for themselves. Some I’m still not too sure about but I expect most too. I really enjoyed this blog too. Keep up the good work Alex.

    • 37. We’ll go with that. Do you think visual artists work for themselves? In the sense that it’s difficult to produce work if it is not authentic to you. Thanks for stopping by. Have good days, huh? Nicki

  3. What a beautiful heart and soul you have shared with the world (or at least with the WordPress audience!). I just read your post about scattering your sister’s ashes and it took my breath away.

    • Thank you, what a lovely thing to say. I’m glad the post has resonance, I think it may the best thing I’ve ever written, in the sense that it was a breathtaking day and i don’t ever want to the memory of it to dull. BTW, I have checked out your blog, a little – too busy too stay long – and I love it. It has an openness and gentleness I admire.

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