Thursday, January 10, 2019

DOING WHAT YOU CAN’T DO



By Vicki H. Moss, Contributing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine


I wake up this morning at 6 a.m. to open my shutters and discover snow is falling down like there is a heavenly outpouring of serious white fluffy business. Good. I love an earnest snow. This calls for hot chocolate. Thank goodness I have some left over mashed potatoes for breakfast.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I love potatoes. I feel about potatoes as Forrest Gump felt about shrimp: you can eat them boiled, you can eat them baked, you can eat them scalloped…you get the picture.

And those thoughts lead me to Vincent van Gogh who must have loved potatoes as well because he thought his best painting was The Potato Eaters. He wanted to depict peasants as they really were. Choosing coarse and unattractive models, he thought they would be more natural and unspoiled in his finished artwork. He said, “You see, I really have wanted to make it so that people get the idea that these folk, who are eating their potatoes by the light of their little lamp, have tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor and – that they have thus honestly earned their food. I wanted it to give the idea of a wholly different way of life from ours – civilized people. So I certainly don’t want everyone just to admire it or approve of it without knowing why.”

I chuckled when I read his explanation. Evidently, van Gogh, who was from a family who were quite well-off, thought only city dwellers who did not do manual labor were civilized people, though he did seem to identify with the middle class and had a disregard for the finer things. 

Two years later, van Gogh wrote to his sister Willemina in Paris: What I think about my own work is that the painting of the peasants eating potatoes that I did in Nuenen is after all the best thing I did.” As an emerging artist, he hadn’t counted on criticism from a friend—Anthon van Rappard—shaking his confidence. He wrote back, “you…had no right to condemn my work in the way you did,” and later, “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.”

And here it is—why I must have potatoes on the brain: As a writer, I might think my potatoes are the best potatoes I’ve ever written, but like van Gogh stated to a friendly critic, “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.”

The moral to this story: No matter how many online classes writers might take or how many conferences you might attend, there’s always something new to learn in the writing world. You must always work on perfecting your writing—there’s always a varied recipe for “cooking your potatoes.” No matter your critics, keep jotting those ideas down, form the ideas into paragraphs, throw in some pepper, salt, and garlic, and keep writing those stories whether or not you choose to pen fiction or nonfiction.

To be a writer you must first till your writing garden and “honestly earn your food” before your potatoes go out to an agent or publisher. Eventually, with practice and persistence, you’ll have a palatable dish cooked up for a publisher’s table. When that day arrives, don’t forget to send out invites!                

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