Why arts events are like torture

trombone plus lawnmower

Yes, this person is playing a trombone accompanied by a lawnmower. Photo courtesy Society of Composers.

I attended an arts event the other day that reminded me why I don’t go to arts events. The event was one of a series of readings sponsored by a Seattle-area literary non-profit which I won’t name, but I respect it for its work with aspiring writers and young people. The event’s theme of climate change caught my eye, because global warming is a ripe, almost unexploited area for fiction. I went with notebook in hand hoping to jot down some thoughts for an article that could make me a few dollars.

No soap. The event featured three writers and a musician. The first writer, a young lawyer who had won the non-profit’s literary prize, read his story, which was a kind of satire on the environmental correctness of Seattle. I was happy that someone was willing to take on the city’s culture of “Let’s do something for the environment, no matter how stupid it is.” But he said nothing substantive or satirical about climate change.

The second writer was a twenty-something young woman who wrote a funny piece on her obsession with physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s gained fame with his Cosmos remake on FOX. The most she ever said about climate change was the admonition in cloaked language to deGrasse Tyson to lighten up and waste time looking at Tumblr memes. At least she made an important point, that climate science is the most depressing discipline ever. EVER.

At this point, the audience listened to an experimental musician. A woman sitting next to me said a lawnmower sounds better than her. Point made.

My wife liked the third writer, an environmentalist from a Rocky Mountain state. He’s an engineer turned activist, and he attempted to expropriate the imagery and passion of the civil rights movement. Ten to one the environmental march he described was 90 percent white and upper middle-class. He was also depressing, in the way a Calvinist preacher raises the spiritual bar so high that no one except Jesus Christ himself could get into Heaven. Fuck, if I don’t trade my car for a bike, go vegan, and buy only fair trade goods at a co-op, I’m going straight to a Hell financed by the Koch brothers. My wife liked him because he reminded her of her father.

The fourth writer was a poet with a C.V. longer than a roll of toilet paper. He was the star of the show, judging by the audience’s reaction, though I’d never heard of him. Watching the sweat collect in my navel was more interesting that this guy. I won’t cite him by name, for fear he might write a retaliatory poem and bore me to death. Much of the work he shared with the audience included portraits of his pre-school-aged daughter, who sounded much more entertaining than him. When he said, “I’m going to read just two more poems,” I nearly stood up and cheered.

Arts events are like forests. I don’t feel the necessity of traipsing through the woods, cold and wet, in order to appreciate the trees. Same with book readings, openings, and recitals, though I will make exceptions for people I know. I’m much more interested in the companions on my hike than the trees.

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