Where is Everyone?

Writer Danny Vitale on his experience as a former college athlete finding a creative home in Northampton.


You’re not in college anymore. There may be no explicit reminder of it, but the subtle lack of contact with other like-minded people eventually amounts to a sense of isolation, so easy to avoid in those years preceding the real world. And that’s when you know. But in Northampton, where so many artists are scratching away at their creative itch, trudging through the grayness of the Valley, one day at a time, a sense of loneliness pervades. The days blend into one long unfulfilled search for the thing we artists try to say, the statement we try to make, the emotion we try to convey. But sometimes, we just can’t.

Now, we’re off to a pretty bleak start, and while it’s just the experience of one self- isolating, roommateless writer in the town they call NoHope, I’ve noticed a lack of community among the artists in this small town where artistry thrives and success is hard to come by.

Artists are a lonely breed, naturally. We try to explore some deep corner of ourselves, of our hearts and minds, and convey that to an audience. But even more difficult is to step back and be pleased with it ourselves. Seldom does a work turn out how you wanted it to. It’s taken me four months in Northampton, exploring storytelling through screenwriting, to even begin to realize that maybe it’s okay if something falls short. A vital step in realizing this, and in continuing to ideate and create, is sharing your work — something I don’t think there’s enough of in the area, especially if you don’t fit a particular mold.

The things I prided myself on in college, my accomplishments that people recognized me for in that life, don't feel like a part of my new life in this artistic community. And that's fine —  they shouldn't necessarily because that was then and this is the new life of immersing yourself in something not academic, or even social, but creative. The things that impress here are artistic drive and quality of the work. And I want to make an impression.

I bounce at a bar in Amherst at nights and babysit on weekends. Enough to put tuna fish on the table. I make less (or lose more, for that matter) than most of my fellow recent Amherst College graduates. Which is fine for now — I’m doing what I love, and despite the path that so many other graduated athletes from small elite colleges feel inclined to follow, the financial world was never for me.

Yet somehow I feel like I have not totally escaped the money-chasing, douche bag athlete stigma that attaches to backwards-hat-donning, sunglassed hockey players like myself.

It’s taken me four months in Northampton, exploring storytelling through screenwriting, to even begin to realize that maybe it’s okay if something falls short. A vital step in realizing this, and in continuing to ideate and create, is sharing your work

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Me, working at The Roost.

The difference between the Amherst athletic community, which spoiled me with camaraderie and like-mindedness, and one like the artistic community in Northampton, is that, back there, I was given friends. I hardly had to try to find a group, to find support. It’s not that the artistic community here is too competitive to find people, but it seems like most artists around here would rather be left alone.

Now, there’s something to be said for working through something on your own and writing, painting, recording for an audience of one — yourself — but new ideas come from new experience, human experience. To make a statement about the human condition — loneliness, happiness, confusion, self-deprecating paranoid aberration and an inexplicable desire to refuse contact with others despite things seeming pretty OK — is hard. It does not take courage or genius, but rather a willingness to discover (though hopefully not) that you may not be able to convey what you’d hoped to. It just might not be possible.

The paranoia and self-consciousness that attaches itself inevitably to sharing your work, or merely making original work, manifesting a piece of your heart and mind as a tangible form of expression, can fester into a fear not only of making, but of sharing. Art should be social. Talking through your work, talking about your work, exposing yourself to others’ work.

You’re not in college anymore. The thriving social scenes, the constant support and feedback on your work, whenever you want, help from professors and professionals. No more. You’re on your own.

Artists are a lonely breed, naturally. We try to explore some deep corner of ourselves, of our hearts and minds, and convey that to an audience. But even more difficult is to step back and be pleased with it ourselves."

So in Northampton, where do you go? Coffee shops and galleries I suppose. That sounds pretty good, right? Well, I stay in my apartment, sometimes for days, the door bolted, shades drawn, running circles in my own head, spiraling downward into a depressive — this is getting dark again. But when the pile of dishes gets too high to comprehend and I’ve eaten nothing but processed junk in a week, I find ways to remind myself, do not forget what it means to be human.

So I’d put on my flashy California sunglasses, my backwards NCAA hockey hat, loose fitting athletic shorts, and walk through town to get an iced coffee at Starbucks, sit and work. The look may have something to do with the weather, but the aura is unique in Northampton.

This may have been bred from a self-consciousness or a lingering attachment to the person I was in college, but I notice a sense in other people that they think I have something to prove. They’re not wrong, but the thing I may be trying to prove is probably not what they think I am. Athlete is part of my identity. It always will be. Artist is what I am, more so than an athlete, but I am an artist in part because I am an athlete. I draw from my competitiveness and my battles on the ice in my writing. Not only can they exist in harmony with one another, but my athletic past enhances my artistic now.

I don’t need everyone I cross paths with to explicitly know this. But I don’t want to have to hide it at the risk of being ignored or unwelcome in certain circles. And while it hasn’t happened yet to a point of ostracization, it is something I am conscious of, wary that they’ll think they’ve figured me out before I tell them my story the way I want to. Not that this should matter when it comes to my art; my work should speak for itself.

Someone very smart and very dear reminded me, “some day, Danny, you won’t even have the opportunity to skip these workshops.” So I went. And I read aloud. And I hated what I wrote.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Musicians are shunned for liking certain artists and not others. Photographers keep their frozen moments concealed because of how expensive it is to post something around town. And where does a writer go to publish their work?

I enrolled in a writing group when I arrived in Northampton in early September. Every week we meet, write, and share. But as the youngest person in the group, projecting an athlete personality with my posture and attire, my competitive gene unfortunately took over. And halfway through the three month series, I still hadn’t really listened to what everyone else was writing. Between sentences, if I hadn’t yet zoned out, I’d stop and ask myself — and then assure myself — if I could do what they were doing, and if I could do it better. The answer was invariably yes.

Then I got stuck in a rut. I hated what I was producing, I hated going to the writing group, I wanted to shut myself in my apartment and continue spewing out my crappy crap and never show it to anyone, because then, what would it matter if it sucked? At least no one would be reading it. I thought about skipping one session.

Someone very smart and very dear reminded me, “some day, Danny, you won’t even have the opportunity to skip these workshops.” So I went. And I read aloud. And I hated what I wrote.

But I shared it, and there I still was. And luckily, I was surrounded with fellow writers willing and excited to help with my work. Forget the guilt I felt for not offering the same sort of constructive input when they may have needed it. I was overwhelmed with a sense that I had missed out. I’d try not to let that happen again.


Also on Paradise City Press: "Support Local What?"


Get it out there. Share it, welcome it, and you will discover something about the statement that you may have wanted to make, and it may even change. A story — my story, for instance, about heart and hard work, based on my own college hockey experience — can evolve into something you didn’t even realize was there in the first place, on paper or in your mind. My script is more about loneliness and the necessity of opening yourself socially to find your true passion, aspects of being an artist and a human that I have really only begun to come to grips with.

If I haven’t lost you, you may agree with me, and therefore be asking, so what? What can we actually do to foster socialization among artists, and to help each other’s work?

I hesitate to offer up my phone number for the pure sake of privacy (I am, after all, a self- isolating artist who screens calls from numbers I do in fact recognize). And it’s hard to approach someone working in a coffee shop at the risk of being spurned for appearing intrusive, nosey, or annoying. It’s hard to ask people for feedback on something you are working on when they’ve probably got their own work on their minds. Can’t be bothered. But try to ask anyway.

The glares from embittered hipsters or ironic vinyl-buyers or whatever label you want to slap on the eclectic mix of people in this little town, have regrettably taken a toll on me. Now, I work at The Roost; I wear flannel. But I still keep my hat on, and I don’t know if it’s just the natural attitude of other disgruntled, run down artists, but I garner sneers and eyerolls from those who notice. It’s funny how people feel a necessity to demonstrate their apathy.

But if you need some input, or just find yourself curious about someone else’s work, I’ll be open to talking it through, to making art social. You know where to find me.

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