Susan Merritt: Writings
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Intensive Notes with Paraphrasing and Farewell
Both Adam (Harrison Levy) and Jennifer (Kabat) strongly advised: “Immediately afterwards sit down and review your notes.” So, last night in the quiet D-Crit studio I sat down at my assigned station in that supportive Herman Miller chair and reviewed my penciled account of the past two weeks.
Embedded in Alice’s (Twemlow’s) introduction was an image of a familiar public park bench. Taking design as a point of departure she presented other benches noting the conceptual and socio-political significance of these unique designs. “An object,” she said, “can introduce a larger discussion based on the writer’s point of view.”
As a way of introducing the writers in the Intensive, Paul (Lukas) led us in show-and-tell of meaningful objects we had brought from home. “Every object has a designer,” Paul said. “Every object has a story. Consider how people use objects, observe design details and functional specificity (like the English muffin slicer), and hope for that element of surprise that makes you think (as Martha Stewart Living in braille). Consider objects hidden in plain site (the Brannock Device), overlooked objects (stray shopping carts), and objects that hold personal memories (Paul’s ticket to the Mets game on Father’s Day, 1973).”
Steven (Heller) shared his own obsession with objects, many of which are housed in his “study center,” such as his sculptures of commerce with remarkable facial detail and hand-tailored clothing. “If you see something that looks interesting, buy it,” he said. “It may take a while for its significance to become clear and along the way you may discover related objects that will expand its meaning. I like to show correspondences—how one thing relates to another.”
The object of an interview offered Adam “…is a conversation with an agenda. My style is to evoke rather than provoke.” You have to think like a writer; read non-verbal clues like an animal trainer; be decisive like a lawyer; conversational like a good dinner party host; and sensitive like a psychoanalyst. “Sometimes you get it right; sometimes you get it wrong.” Then he unabashedly revealed occasions when he had come up short, including instances in the play-by-play of his interview with Gloria Gainer. Likewise, Jennifer was just as forthcoming. “An interview is like stripping and I should know, I was a stripper.” On writing she advised, “Lead with an opening scene that contains anchoring detail and creates a sense of place. Follow with a nut graf, the point of the piece. Use quotes that are factual, relevant, and engaging.”
And I quote Scott Stowell, proprietor of Open, “I’m a big fan of unreasonable constraints. It comes from all my reality show watching. In 15 minutes you have to make a thing out of bottle caps with the theme of the city. It’s like, what the hell is that? Or Top Chef. You have to hold your arm behind your back, be tied to another person, and make a soufflé out of meat. I think it’s fantastic.” End quote.
Fantastic, like Twitter—freedom of expression within tight constraints. Say what you like, but if you aren’t within character count, your message is stalled. With Mimi (Zeiger) we embarked on a collective, experimental, writing and curatorial project that crossed the digital and analog divide. With assistance from graphic designer Neil (Donnelly), today we present a published work—an object—that tells our collective story of the last two weeks and will surely grow in significance as we re-enter the lives we set aside.
In closing, circling back to the beginning where benches were introduced: to my Intensive partners, it has been a pleasure to share workbenches with you in the SVA studio, as well as the many “long seats for several people” on which we’ve sat side by side in the various public spaces in which we’ve gathered. To the generous teachers and revolving team of critics who’ve advised us from their respective benches, thank you for your feedback and words of encouragement. And to the benched staff, Emily, Victor, and Bridgette, who kept things going while we were often out pounding the pavement, thank you. As we resume our separate lives, continue to write across platforms, and remember, “stand clear of the closing doors, please” so life’s opportunities remain open, not closed.