Nora Byrne


Arts, Arabic, Adventures

Writing about My Writing: An Experiment in Narcisism

A couple weeks ago I finally got a small gig writing articles for an online magazine called CHAOS. It is focused primarily on fashion but has a sub-section on art for which I interview artists and write articles discussing their work. So far I have only interviewed one artist, and it was one of the most stressful things I've ever done.

I loved this series, called "Homebodies,"
where Ma personifies different conceptions of
"homes," as kinds of safety zones to deal with
social anxiety.
Calvin Ma, Anywhere but Here, 2013

I guess I should have known and been better prepared when I got an email from the editor telling me to choose one of out about seven artists, get in touch with him/her, and that the deadline was in ten days. I instead acted like there was no time crunch and let an email to my favorite artist out of the bunch, Calvin Ma, go unanswered for four days. Wackiness ensued:

I received an email from Ma. I emailed back asking for answers to the (as yet unwritten) questions by Sunday the 9th (Deadline: Monday June 10th). It wasn't infrequently in college papers were not written until the day before, so this was no big deal.

Day 5: Ma replied. He was moving out of his studio and into a new one, wouldn't be able to get questions back until Tuesday. I immediately sent an email to my editor asking if that was okay, an email to other artist to see if I could find a backup, an email to Ma with interview questions.

Day 6: I waited.

Day 7: My editor gave me until 8:00 am on Wednesday.

Day 8-10: I waited more. Sang karaoke Monday night.

Day 11: I received answers in the morning. I worked the day shift. I wrote a quick, slightly unintelligible outline. I modeled at night. I began the article.

Day 12: I wrote. I drank coffee. I wrote. I Ate chili. I drank more coffee. I wrote.

I managed to get to bed at 5:00 am, spending the entire next day in a messy haze of exhaustion. I couldn't even look at the article for days, having pretty much zero recollection of anything it said. Finally I decided to give it a read over. I ended up pleasantly surprised. Sure, it was a bit wordy and probably went too far into analysis for most people but it's readable, and at least vaguely interesting if you're into that kind of thing. I managed to get across the main point, which was the meaning in Ma's work. Luckily he gave me a lot to work with.

What I ended up writing about was the artist's ability to communicate through his art as a way to deal with social anxiety. The interview and artwork gave me plenty of material to work with, I found the real problem with this sort of writing was the audience. These little blog posts are pretty much the extent of my writing for any non-academic purpose. Having to craft a full 2,000 word article in an entertaining fashion was the biggest challenge, and I think my biggest weakness in my writing.

With all the freedom I have in this blog I had not really been confronted with this problem before. It is interesting how I was taught in college to write for the audience, but neglected to explore the variety of audiences possible. The writing I did in college was for an assumed "informed reader," and, more importantly, a reader assumed interested in what you're talking about. The biggest challenge I have writing about art for a non-scholarly audience is my need to convince them why they should care. Art about art rarely piques the interest of a wide range of people. Art about people is usually more successful. I feel incredibly lucky that I chose Calvin Ma's extremely universal and personal work because it is so difficult not to care about. I attribute my ability to pull off a more or less decent article to the emotion and openness of Ma's art.

Sorry for the text-heavy post. Lots of pictures next time!