If Potatoes Be the Food of Love
By Jacob Bingham, Bluegrass Writers Studio
I can't speak for all of us, but it often seems to me many writers go through a lot of trouble to be taken seriously. I don't mean we try hard to get people to read our work and respect it; that's obvious. I mean we try to invoke something other than a skeptical raised eyebrow from a relative who asks what we're studying in graduate school. We want them to think we aren't just playing.
In Chelsea's blog post on James Sallis' Bluegrass Writers Studio craft talk posted earlier this year, she called Sallis "a good philosopher." And as a good philosopher, he provided an insightful, complex craft talk that proved the work of the students in the Bluegrass Writers Studio is serious; however, Sallis -- because he is an artist -- is obligated to contradict himself. His reading proved what John Crowley's reading suggested to me the night before: when great authors write, they are playing.
In his reading, Sallis shared "Potato Tree," a hilarious story in which a delusional man learns he is "crazy as bat shit" and there is nothing he can do about it. Sallis' humor and the narrator's helplessness embody the conflict between being serious and having fun. In the audience, I found myself both laughing and considering the serious philosophical questions at the heart of "Potato Tree."
While Sallis' work proves he is having fun with his writing, his love of stories is evident to anyone interacting with him or even observing him. Sallis and Crowley attended each other's readings and both men laughed and smiled while they played the role of audience member. Yes, I watched them while they were in the audience and that makes me kind of creepy. But I noticed these men didn't only respond this way to the funny parts; they just seemed genuinely happy that someone was telling them a story.
I was able to confirm this at the evening reception when I had the chance to talk to Sallis. He was eager to swap musician stories with me and discuss playing Banjo and our mutual enjoyment of Andrew Bird. The other students and our professors also found him more than willing to listen, and I think many of them would agree that James Sallis is a writer who reminds us all that before we learned to take writing seriously, we wrote because we loved it.
Play on, philosophers.
Published on September 16, 2015