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MFA in Writing at Vermont College

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Highwire Act

On August 24, 1974 Philippe Pettit walked a highwire between the World Trade Center buildings in New York City.   He was 104 stories in the air, a quarter mile above the streets of Manhattan, and balancing on a three-quarter inch cable.  He walked for forty- five minutes and made eight crossings between the buildings.

Can you say crazy!
A quarter mile in the air!
Balancing on a three-quarter inch cable! 
Who in their right mind would pull such a stunt?

Yet, as I sit down at my writing desk, pull out my laptop and begin to type I strangely resemble the man who stepped out on that highwire above New York.  I feel as if I am all alone, miles above the ground, grasping a thin wire for survival.  Who in their right mind would chose this as a profession?

Being a writer is a lonely, scary job that requires total concentration and commitment and requires you to put your thoughts and feelings out for all to see.   Sometimes I feel as if I am balancing by the tiniest curls of my toes, hanging on for dear life, just hoping to make it across safely. 

To keep his balance while dangling above New York City, Pettit used a balance bar to keep him centered.  I try to do the same by using structure, character development, conflict, story arc and scenes to keep me steady.  These are the tools that keep a story balanced and moving forward.   Don’t look down, I tell myself because if I do I run the risk of falling.  But in the end a balance bar can only keep you on the line so long.  It really comes down to concentration and dedication to your craft… and lots, and lots, of practice.

But there is one major difference that separates me from Philippe Pettit.

I ain’t getting up on that wire without a safety net!

I am not that brave to do this solo.  I am way too needy for that.  

For me, my safety net is, and always has been, my wife Candy.  She is the one that holds me up, cheers me on and is there to catch me when I fall.  When I told her I wanted to go back to school she smiled and supported my venture.  When I sit at my desk in the evening straining with concentration she putters in the other room giving me my space.  When I need an ear she is there to listen to my stories.  When I need advice she is there with constructive feedback. And when I need a break she is always up for dinner or a movie. 

I have come to believe that being the net is a tougher job than the highwire walker.  As the safety net you always have to be at the ready, studying the artist above.  Sometimes you are pulled so taut you feel as if you are going to snap but must never let down your guard.  And in the end the spectators below look right past you and cheer on the star of the show as if you are not even there.  No one ever notices the net!

So, I am writing this excerpt for all the nets out there who support their artists.  The nets who do not seek the limelight but are content to be the support behind the show. The nets who give up their own dreams to allow others to pursue theirs.  To the nets who are never given the credit they deserve.

Who am I kidding? I am writing this essay for one net in particular.  Thank you Candy for always being by my side.  For putting up with my grumpiness when I am in full writing mode.  For proofreading essays when it is the last thing on earth you want to be doing.  For laughing at my dumb jokes. For allowing me to pursue my dream.  For being there when I need an encouraging word.

And for being my safety net.

I love you.    

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