While in Utah visiting family and friends, I ride the Trax light rail from downtown Salt Lake City to Sandy. It’s Friday afternoon and the train is full. I stand near the door, holding onto the metal bar overhead. A red-headed woman and her boy, about five, sit so closely that I have to work not to touch them as the train jostles. At the next stop, an elderly black woman steps onto the train, trips for a moment, and is assisted by a young male Hispanic with a half-smoked cigarette cocked like a pencil on his ear.
At the next stop, a young teenage girl gets on, holding a large art portfolio case. She sits in an empty seat just vacated. She wears long shorts and a tee shirt with a box-like smiley face on the front. Her face is soft, with no smile, her hair pulled back. Long strands of hair are dyed very light blond against her darker natural color. As the train moves she stares out the window, and I wonder if she’s sad or simply quiet, perhaps thinking about the work in the portfolio. I wonder what she’s been drawing or painting. I wonder why she needs to do this strange work—making art she will carry around the city. I assume the art can’t be good because she is so young. I could be wrong about this. Even so, her work is important. It’s important to her, and perhaps to those who love her. It’s important to me because I know what it’s like trying to make something beautiful, working and facing failure more often than success.
Later that night I watch Olympic divers in the springboard competition, the images so bright and rich on my sister’s big HD TV. The muscular legs of the divers are beautiful, evidentiary of uncommon training and discipline. Even as the divers move down the board, building momentum for the dive, their feet curve gracefully. It’s the best kind of beauty—a secondary witness to something greater.
Before going to bed, I call home just to hear the voice of the woman I love. She speaks of an ordinary thing, allowing me to enjoy the music of her voice. It compensates, just a little, for the absence of her touch, her embrace.
Perhaps the writer is greedy—perhaps all artists are. They want to live, as others do, but they want to hold onto life, savor it, taste a moment again and again. Ah, but the writer shouldn’t be a jailer. To capture a moment and keep it locked up, choked off—that’s not art. The writer must liberate the moment, not extort it. The writer must lift the moment into the realm of art.
Perhaps good writing starts with “the writer’s eye.” The writer must look at the world before writing about it. And the writer must look in a specific way. I’m one who believes in the redemptive power of art. To look at the world, at others, and see what is valuable and redeemable, this is one of the holy powers of art. As a Mormon writer, I marvel at the concordance of it all—art, humanity, faith, struggle, failure, and redemption. It’s a good life for the writer, a good life for the Mormon writer.