Ars Poetica

“Fill your heart with the world.” – Junot Diaz; All School Meeting, October 15, 2008 Art does not run on a time table. Art does not meet a specified deadline, nor does it manifest itself in our handy-dandy blue assignment notebooks as a footnote or fun fact. Art does not stand on a pedestal and ask to be taken, and Lord knows art waits for no one. Art fears nothing but mediocrity— and art even attempts to transform that into something more palatable. Andover has its painters, its poets and its prima ballerinas. The world has its conspicuous artists. But the true test of your art is the extent to which it refuses to be abandoned. You can’t say to Art, “It’s too late, my friend. I’m simply too tired to put this pen to paper. No, no, I can’t do that—they might not like me, they might not like you. I have my Common App-ready priorities, Art, and you aren’t one of them. Let life flow from your fingertips. Before Junot Diaz came to campus, I had found myself in the 9th circle of the Inferno-writer’s Block. Every day for a month I sat down with a pen and stared at blank sheets in notebooks that had once flourished under the reign supreme of summer. The notebooks that just a month ago couldn’t contain all the words my fingers ached to commit in ink found themselves naked. Art is cold-blooded—it adapts to any surrounding, it thrives in any atmosphere. Sure, it’s easy to blame our lack of capital-A Art on various elements of Andover—the pace of life (faster, faster, faster!), the Massachusetts air (brisk with a hint of the common cold), the workload (too much). It is easy to dismiss the disappearance of artistic thought as a direct consequence of too few hours spent musing in poppy fields. It is easy to say that lack of exposure to the artistic is a legitimate excuse for a lack of artful living. It’s easy to brush art off as a profession or a pasttime. Because then, when Junot Diaz tells us to embrace art and embrace life, we can say: well, Mr. Pulitzer Prize Winner, I’m not an artist like you but, I’m sure as hell living in the real world. But, my dear comrades, there is no difference. The art of living is the vein from which all others flow, the Rome to which all roads must go. The art of living deeply is the art that can never be mastered, but for the true artist this obstacle serves only as incentive to go further, carry it out one more step. Therefore, though Phillips Academy has an abundance of talented artists of the canvas, the stage and the page, the art of living is comatose on this campus—a fact I was unaware of until Junot Diaz’s words hit me like a ton of bricks: “Forget being a writer. Go out and live.” Now, instead of staring at the intimidating, empty pages of my latest spiral bound enigma, I’m trying this whole “life” thing out. And sure enough, it’s working. Yes, we walk the same paths every day, we see the same faces. Each year we watch the same old Bulfinch tree burst into figurative flames and fall to saturated red ashes, only to be reborn in spring like the predictable phoenix it is. We wrap ourselves in the monotonous nature of Andover life; we wear regularity like a down comforter around our shoulders and then complain about the heaviness of its heat. It’s time to cast aside the excuses we make and run naked through the streets. Or, if the Lady Godiva act isn’t your cup of tea, just try and look past your eyelashes the next time you pass the chicken wire that lines the Commons construction site. Try to really feel the cold water sliding down your throat, taste ice cubes with your teeth. Try to extrapolate the smile of your friend on the other line of a text message. In short, try to be alive. And then will come the moment of explosion. The pens running out of ink, the canvases overflowing onto the walls— in the immortal words of Junot Diaz’s Oscar Wao: The beauty! The beauty! Jenn Schaffer is a three-year Upper and an Associate Commentary Editor from Bolingbrook, Ill.