I’ve spent much of the summer not engaging with the Internet, which is only part of the reason why my last post was months ago. There is so much that the Internet brings to my life, but it also brings a world of distraction with it that gets in the way of writing.
And how I long to be the kind of writer that can pound out weekly blog posts and keep up her writing goals and also meet all of the demands of every day life. Do these writers have a potion that they drink to keep the words flowing? Where does the time come from? What is the problem always, but time, time, time?
I’ve thought of shutting down Ordinary Canary a dozen times over the summer. But every time I start taking the steps to do so, something in the back of my brain just won’t let me do it. It’s hardly a success, as far as blogs go. I have no sponsors. My regular readers number in the dozen and that’s only if you include all of the ones that are related to me.
And yet I have been writing journal entries on the Internet since 1997, since before there were fun little software packages like WordPress, before LiveJournal and Diary-X, when telling the world how I felt meant hand-coding the HTML for every entry. Updating links. Pirating pictures from a world wide web that was still a shadow of the information dump that it would soon become.
The Internet has grown up. So have I.
I have been hard at work all year on a novel that I’ve tried to write several times before, but this time I seem to actually be doing it. It’s a historical fiction biopic, based on someone that you might know about if you know your classical music history, but most people don’t. I don’t want to say much more than that, for I read some advice that the more time you spend talking about your project, the more energy you take away from actually working on it.
And working on it I have been. I’ve done two Camp Nanowrimos this year and fully plan to be writing the last chapters of my novel in the real Nanowrimo this November. I discovered a neat little tool that lets you run your own personal Nanowrimo all the other months of the year and track your statistics, and so for most of the other months, I’ve been doing that too.
That is to say, I write or edit nearly every day. I’ve passed 150,000 words and still have another part to go, which tells me a great deal about how much cutting and revising I will be doing. Perhaps this is because it is my first novel, but I am certainly not a very efficient writer. I never have been, which is part of what makes keeping to blogging deadlines so difficult for me. Writing takes time. It always comes back to time.
And so, Ordinary Canary has been put on the back burner for now, but for the absolute best reasons. For now, I just have to keep my head down and the words flowing. And when I raise my head again, finished draft in my hand, I can only hope that all of you will still be here.
This is not a great time to be a sensitive person walking the world.
I’ve read a number of lovely blog posts that are clinging to hope, despite the dark and interesting times that our new administration seems to have put us in. I’ve read poems and shared in the general outcry of the many, many people that are horrified at the recent actions of our country to tear apart Muslim families. As the wife of a former green card holder, it’s been difficult not to walk around in panic, because our story can’t be told without also being an immigrant story that is very much like the people that I am reading about now — people who are being detained not 10 miles from my house.
My heart is not light, so I’m finding it hard to write light-hearted. I have half a dozen blog posts that are queued up in draft, because I can’t quite seem to get to the right frame of mind to put something silly and frivolous into the world.
There is much that I could tell you about, much that I should have told you about by now. We moved into a new house at Hallowe’en and settled into it. There were new couches and holidays and visitors and movies and books. I’ve been deep in research for a big writing project that’s now transitioning into plotting and draft writing. I even went to a really big feminist party the day after the inauguration and cried at the sight of the hundreds of thousands of people with me that were standing up to say that they were watching the new administration.
I even got a new hat.
But it all feels very trivial, when turning to news or Facebook is such an onslaught of terrible things. I found myself crying at work as I came across an article of a breastfeeding 11-month-old that was separated from her mother for a full day because of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Each story of adult children just trying to get their elderly parents back home or spouses trying to reunite or refugees that nearly made it onto what were once safe shores has hit me so hard. My Irish in-laws keep asking me what is going on in my country and I am terrified by all the answers that keep coming out of my mouth.
It is very tempting to go hide in fiction for the next four years. That is, actually, part of what I’ve been doing to restore myself. Each night, after we talk at dinner of all the terrible things that have happened each day, I hide on the couch and cover myself in blankets and let myself luxuriate in story telling. If I close my eyes, will it just go away?
Unfortunately not, not if I want the world to be a place for Baba, with her double passports and international family. Not if I want to lift my head and look back at these days and respect myself for not standing by the side and letting others speak out against deep injustice.
And so. There is work to do, even if it feels like my efforts accomplish very little. I saw a tweet recently quoted somewhere that said that if you always wondered how you would have behaved as you read about history, then you’re getting a good chance to know, because whatever it is that you’re doing now is what you would have done then.
That’s stuck with me – as both a calling and a command.
There’s a new coffee shop by the train station that opened over the summer. In a world of Starbucks and Walmarts, it is a welcome relief to the monotony of grande cups and jazzy backgrounds. It is in a tiny space, which previously belonged to a failed news stand and, before that, a coffee stand that only served cold bagels.
Sometimes I think that I have been in this town too long, now that I can remember the history of spaces.
But I like this shop. It’s taken the craft approach, offering everything that you’d find at Starbucks at higher quality. The pumpkin latte leaves a smudge of actual squash in the bottom of your cup. The baked goods are kosher yogurt muffins where you can sink your teeth into the actual fruit. I’ve been determined to help it thrive, which is helped by the fact that I’ve been horrible at getting out of bed lately, and often arrive at the train station needing breakfast.
The baristas take their jobs as coffee artists so seriously that I imagine that they’re all part owners. It might be so. Every morning that I forget my breakfast, I go and choose between the big muffin and the small muffin, and I make such a stink out of it that the big blonde fellow grins every time I go for the big one.
One morning, a new customer came in behind me. Most of America would know the type. He was dressed for work, in an outfit that tells you that this is a man who worked with his hands. Perhaps a mechanic, perhaps in the trades. His jacket was the tough rough leather of a welder’s jacket and he wore jeans made for work. When he ordered, he asked for a small coffee with sugar and a corn muffin. He pointed at the glass display.
“I’m sorry, sir, but that’s a lime coconut yogurt muffin,” my favorite Viking told him.
“What?” He looked closer at the muffins, where a sign declared the new world order in a bubbly script. “Don’t you have corn muffins?”
“No, sir. Just what’s there, sir.”
The man looked over the selection, then shook his head. “Forget it. Just the coffee.”
When he left, he was shaking his head. And, because I am in Trump country, I thought, Is he a Trump voter? Is this the demographic? The man just wanted a corn muffin and a coffee, like he’s probably been ordering at his favorite deli for 30 years, but now he can’t have it. He could have lime coconut or apple yogurt or pumpkin spice loaf, but the classics have disappeared from our offerings.
I watched him walk away without his breakfast, embarrassed for the coffee shop, although it is just a symbol of its time. Why should they carry a product that isn’t exciting and new? They have to compete with the green mermaid machine, like everyone else.
Before Hurricane Sandy, there was a real New York deli right there that would have blown this coffee shop out of business in a matter of weeks. But their store was destroyed by the storm, so they packed up and found a new location two towns away, much too far for the commuters at my station. We have had to shift without our classic bagels and eggs and plain coffees with milk and sugar. And the world that rebuilt never filled those needs again. My new little coffee shop is the closest, but it doesn’t suit everyone.
And watching this man, I understood a little better about all the people who have been left behind by our shifting economics.
The man just wanted a corn muffin. What’s so bad about that?
Living through this Presidential election season has been hard for me. I have been joking-not-joking that 2016 is the year that White America discovered that racism is still a thing, as Trump’s candidacy grew ever more blunt about its willingness to incite anti-immigrant fervor. As the wife of an immigrant and the mother of a child with dual citizenship, this has been terrifying. Even though I know that no one is thinking of the big Irish guy when they’re spouting off about “the Mexicans” or “the terrorists,” it’s hard to watch the violence and the ugliness of the rhetoric. And it has been surprising to me, even though I live in a neighborhood that is deeply religious, to find out how many people have been willing to give a pass to the nastier things that he’s been saying because of how much they hate Hilary Clinton.
As the election progressed, Trump signs sprouted like daffodils on the lawns of my neighbors. Every time I passed one, it felt like a slap in the face, as people that I’d liked shouted their support. And I am trying to be better than this, but it’s difficult for me to look past a willingness to ignore such dangerous rhetoric.
Except there is a part of me that must be honest enough to myself to admit that there have been times where I have reacted to the injustices suffered by Black Americans with gratitude that that sort of thing was not my problem. Until not so long ago, it happened every time an unarmed Black man was shot by the police under suspicious circumstances. It happened when Rodney King was beaten in the early 90s. I would shake my head and be enraged by the injustice of it, by how unstoppable the system seemed. And then I would think, “Thank God that won’t happen to me,” and go on with my day.
I don’t feel that way any more.
Thanks to Trump, I have discovered just how many of the people in my life are okay with the way things are. That is white privilege in a nutshell. The Trump supporters that I know are not evil people. But they are people who have made peace with a man who says vile things, who are content to let the problems of other people be their problems. And they have made me feel afraid, in a way that has opened my eyes to the feelings of many dark skinned Americans.
And that was before his tape with Billy Bush leaked.
It is good that we are having big national conversations about sexual assault. One of the best parts of the way that our culture is changing is that we’re starting to talk about rape culture, which was a phrase I’d never even heard until I was in my 20s. I remember the epiphany, as a young woman, that we should be asking men to talk to men about rape, rather than spending our lives trying to protect ourselves from it. It was a radical notion, this thought that men could be responsible for fixing this problem that predominantly affects women.
Sometimes it is easy to forget how far we have come, in a relatively short period of time. It was only a hundred years ago that we even gained the vote, much less the right to sue for sexual harassment or spousal rape.
Since the tape leaked, I have been thinking of the times when a man has forced a kiss on me, in the way that Trump described. I spent about a week vividely reliving those moments — the fear and the anger that came with it. When a coworker made a joke about locker room talk, I know I was supposed to laugh, but I could only shudder. I’ve been fortunate in my life and have only suffered the garden variety level of sexual harassment. I don’t consider myself traumatized in any way by these experiences, though I am nervous when I encounter strange men. The events that I’ve been thinking about were both strangers, who pushed themselves onto me in public places. In the first, I was a sixteen year old girl sitting at a bus stop. The man had been bothering me for several days, so I asked him to just leave me alone and to go away. There were others there, and I remember their faces distinctly because after he kissed me, I jumped up and screamed at him while they stared at me like I was the problem.
And not one of them got up to help me, because it was not their problem. It was not happening to them.
The second incident happened one night on the subway here in New York. It was about ten o’clock at night on a week night and I was coming home from a dinner out with friends. Sitting in a nearly empty train car, I was studying for work. The man approached me and asked for money, over and over again. He wouldn’t go away, so I finally gave him some change to make him leave me alone. When I did, he decided to kiss me. Years later, I can still feel the wet imprint of his lips on my forearm, which I threw up above my head to deflect him and defend myself. I remember the faces of the two women who got on the train at the next stop, who I asked to switch cars for their own safety.
Garden variety harassment, as I mentioned. I do not know a single woman who has not had multiple experiences like these.
No real harm done, except…except that I have a certain distrust of men that I do not know, because of all the times that men have behaved this way around me. When I first heard “The Story,” a song by The Great Ani, I thought, “Oh. Oh yes, this. This is exactly it.” The lyrics are a bit of poetry:
I would have returned your greeting if it weren’t for the way you were looking at me this street is not a market and I am not a commodity don’t you find it sad that we can’t even say hello ’cause you’re a man and I’m a woman and the sun is getting low there are some places that I can’t go as a woman I can’t go there and as a person I don’t care I don’t go for the hey baby what’s your name and I’d alone thank you just the same
Since the tape leaked, the Trump signs in my neighborhood have come down. I am filled with gratitude for that, as it lets me stop thinking of the men that have objectified and attacked me and all the people that look like me.
Maybe that is a start. Maybe it’s a move towards the empathy that we need to create a kinder world where your problems are my problems. I can only hope that at the end of all this ugliness, we’ll all have learned something about ourselves and the country and culture we want to create.
As the Great Ani sings:
we’re all citizens of the womb before we subdivide into sexes and shades this side that side and I don’t need to tell you what this is about
Undressing for the fan Like it was a man Wondering about all the things That I’ll never understand there are some things that you can’t know unless you’ve been there but oh how far we could go if we started to share I don’t need to tell you what it is about you just start on the inside you just start on the inside and work your way out
It is October and I have been writing short stories for most of the past year, among other things. More on that later. But I was reminded the other day of my favorite Hallowe’en story, read by one of my favorite authors, so I thought I would share it with you.
The world might be dark and scary outside, but I just wanted to remind you that literature can make it even scarier.
I was thrown into a whirlwind of self-doubt last week, after seeing a single photograph. If you’ve paid attention to the news at all, you already know the one — a drowned toddler, clothed in vibrant primary colors, washed up on a beach. You probably know the story, too; another migrant family, desperate to escape the civil war in Syria, put their trust (and their savings) in the wrong boat captain. Half the family drowned and, because of the death of a child, the world is suddenly paying attention. This is the power of photography – to capture human suffering with a strength that makes people pause their lives and actually do something.
Suddenly, the world has been afire with criticism for the European reactions to the millions of Syrian refugees. Perhaps it is because I am now a mother, but that image has haunted me in a way that I can’t remember another photograph doing. Every child, no matter their nationality or language or ethnicity, has become mine. It is only chance that my Baba is safe in her crib, while so many Syrian children are still in danger. To be a parent is to be so aware of how vulnerable you are to great loss, at any time. It is to know that your heart walks around outside your body — and to fear what will happen to you if you live long enough to see tragedy strike. This child, Alan Kurdi, was born during the civil war that has torn Syria apart. He never experienced the safety that I have been able to give to Baba, simply because she was born here and not there.
It is an awful thought. My heart breaks for his family — for all of the families that have had to make such desperate choices.
One of the members in an online mothering group that I belong to posted about having a feeling of gratitude that Alan Kurdi’s mother also drowned. At least she was spared the pain of living, after the drowning of her sons. It’s an awful sentiment, a terrible thing to say out loud, but also a feeling that I fully understood. If I were unable to keep Baba safe, but I survived….living would be the harder course, by far.
When he was interviewed by the press, the words of Alan Kurdi’s father really struck me. My wife, he said, my wife was everything to me. How do I go on? How does he, after the death of his life partner and two of his children?
How do you go on in the face of such loss? Your children, your wife, your community, your home. What do you do when your entire world has become a place of danger, a place of loss?
It puts the trivialities of my daily trials into a certain perspective.
What can I do from here? I can donate money. That’s easily done. But what can I do? Do my daily efforts contribute to making the world a safer place, a place where “the refugee problem” is solved not by finding refugees new homes in new countries, but creating a place where we don’t make refugees in the first place? In my job, I build a communications network, but that seems feeble. My writing…well, I have had an artistic crisis, as every trivial scene I’ve ever written feels empty and hollow. I haven’t written a word all week, because what could possibly be the point of it all?
I’ve read that there are more people on the move in Europe since the end of World War II. Armies of people are sitting in camps and at checkpoints on national borders. Vivid photographs of their marches through fields and along highways have made it across the world. It’s touching — and frightening — to see just how many people have had to give up their lives. My heart goes out to them. It makes everything I do to get through the day seem meaningless. What does a clever story matter, when there are people who have lost so much, suffered so much, through no fault of their own?
What am I doing with my life that really means something, when there are such problems in the world? It’s a question that has lingered with me, ever since I saw a single photograph.
A few months ago, I came across a lecture given by John Cleese on the nature of creativity that he gave as a training piece for corporate managers. I’ve found myself thinking about several aspects of it, so I thought I would share it here.
I was never a Monty Python fan, mostly because their work was so well quoted that by the time I actually saw any of it that all of the surprise was gone, which is just death to comedy. All the same, I have a huge respect for the originality of their material, which has a distinctive flavor to it. It is hugely creative, so obviously Cleese knows a thing or two about how to do it. In his lecture, Cleese discusses how to create a time and space for idea generation, which he believes can only happen when the brain is in what he calls “open” mode. He has five important factors, which he lists as space, time, time, confidence and humor. In a nutshell, to be creative, you must give yourself a space, a specific time duration in which to maintain focus — and you must allow yourself enough time to really think out the best solution to the problem rather than the fastest solution — and you must believe that you have the ability to be creative. Humor feeds into that last concept a lot.
In other words, no matter how serious the problem that you are trying to solve, you must allow yourself time and space to play in order to come up with fresh and creative solutions. This is true, of course, for activities that we already associate with creativity, like art, writing, dance, etc., but it is also true for activities that we don’t associate this way. It is true for any problem solving that a human mind could possibly want to get involved in. Kids know this instinctively — if you want to solve a problem, you must give yourself permission to play around and try a few solutions, knowing that some of them are going to be ridiculous.
Human beings need creativity and play. It is the thing that makes us human.
The part of Cleese’s speech that I have been ruminating on is the second time point– the idea that the most creative solution is unlikely to be the first answer. I have a very full life, for which I am deeply grateful, but I haven’t left myself much time for just sitting around and mulling over things. I’m the first person to jump to the page and start writing, instead of sitting over an outline until the path is clear. In Nanowrimo, this is called seat-of-pantsing and it has led me to write a full novel’s worth of words painting me and my plot right into a corner. Twice.
After all, the first thought is unlikely to be the most creative thought. It’s also unlikely to be the best thought, though I’m glad to have had the experience of having done that to myself. My characters have done so many things in all the pages I’ve thrown away that I know them better than I know myself. And before I return to the sheep and waterfall covered tundra of my novel, I want to spend time giving myself enough time, because my characters deserve to know where they’re going.
When I was young, I used to spend hours and hours in walking around the neighborhood and telling myself stories. I’ve found myself thinking about all that time that I used to give myself to solve puzzles and think, about how I used to intentionally miss the bus home so that I would have the long walk to myself. It’s a habit that I should incorporate into my life again.
[rating=4] I have been fighting off a pretty intense allergy attack this week that had me home sick from work on Wednesday and working from home on Thursday. I was so sick, in fact, that I watched a movie without anything in my hands, which is an event that should be marked on the calendar for its rarity. I had heard good things about the latest rendition of Les Miserables and I really like a lot of the stars, so I rented it, even though I have a love-hate affair with the musical. The characterization drives me absolutely nuts, because it is so shallow. Sure, but it’s a musical, you say.
Watch Camelot, I say, to see how it can be done.
Let’s start with Marius. I think we are supposed to like him, but he bothers me. Aside from hiding his rich family order to better fit in with les pauvres, his treatment of Eponine is so blind as to be offensive. He’s so unaware of her feelings as to be cruel, asking her to further his liaison with Cosette, who he falls in love with after just one glance. And Cosette, of course, because cooincidences rule the day (apparently there about five people in all of Victor Hugo’s France), happens to be the young girl that Eponine’s parents abused all of those years; our darling bland Cosette. Marius is even worse in the novel.
And poor Cosette. We’re supposed to pity her because her foster family made her go out in the dark and get water from a well. In the book there’s a great deal more, but in the musical, she sings a sad song about a castle on a cloud (uhm, yeah), has to get a pail of water in the dark forest, is saved by our hero Jean Valjean, then lives a nice life with her new rich Papa, while Eponine continues to be cursed by her godawful parents. Beyond that, Cosette is always an angelic blonde. That is the end of her characterization. I have a hard time understanding why she’s important at all, because she’s one of the most boring characters to have hit the stage in a really long time. Yet much of the plot revolves around her happiness, which I don’t care at all about. She won when Jean Valjean showed up in her life.
Eponine I care about. Eponine I want to grab by the shoulders and say, “Girlfriend, grow a spine and tell him. If he says no, he didn’t deserve you.”
It goes on from there. Potentially Jean Valjean could be really interesting. He’s our good guy archetype – the giant man with extraordinary strength and a convict past. But he’s such a good guy that we find out that he only stole out of desperation to save the life of a child. That’s what he does. He saves the lives of children. Even when his inaction and distraction leads to Fantine turning to prostitution and dying of consumption and exposure, we sympathize with him because he regrets it and goes off and saves Cosette.
The play would be better if we discovered that Jean was a big liar and never had a sister. Or even if he had a bit on the side. Something. Anything! And then, without any concern at all, he just accepts this stranger that Cosette has fallen in love with and sets her up to marry him, without a single question. Again…say what?
One of the best characters is Javert, who is supposed to be the bad guy, or at least as much of a bad guy as a French writer can manage. He is a really sympathetic bad guy, clearly blinded by his own fanaticism, blinded so clearly so that you rather pity him. Javert has blind faith in the law and it is his entire purpose. There are no shades of grey in Javert’s world until Jean Valjean goes off and does his angelic good guy thing and saves Javert’s life, which forces Javert to recognize that morality can be ambigious. Javert’s faith fails him and it actually destroys him. Now that’s a character I can get into, even if the play gives me nothing other than this one fact about him. Likewise, the other fanatic, Enjolras who is more brave than wise, but dies keeping his beliefs to the end.
Tell me that you don’t want to get up on that bridge with him and talk Javert down and give him a hug?
My problems with the characterization aside, the music is powerful, with a few pearls of lyrics that are well worth sitting through it. There are a number of songs in the musical where you have opposing characters singing rounds that are pretty amazing. And this staging of Les Miserables was certainly the best one that I’ve ever seen. I thought Russell Crowe was a brilliant Javert and from time to time, I even forgot that Hugh Jackman was Australian. The cast was excellent and the music was well performed, with no weak points at all. The filming was gorgeous, with an opening scene that I won’t forget for a long time.
Today is the commonly celebrated birthday of William Shakespeare. You know he’s one of the greatest playwrights because someone told you so, I’m sure, but there is a lot to be admired and respected in his work. He also had the writerly foresight to die on a day that’s commonly celebrated as his birthday, as an additional goulish mystery. How clever!
You should love Shakespeare, though, even if you’ve never read another playwright in your life and aren’t sure what the fuss is. The major reason that people go gaga over him is the way he put every line into iambic pentameter (listening to him speak in real life must have been something to remember) and made poetry out of the most mundane speeches. A difficult accomplishment at best. What I best like about Shakespeare is that you don’t see him at all in the play. His characters are so flawed and so human that you never know who exactly he’s cheering for. If Hamlet is a hero, he’s a difficult hero, who is desperately slow to act and wanders through four acts of indecision. Not exactly your go getter swash buckler. And if Claudius is just a villain, why does he seek to pray and repent? You know that he is ambitious and capable of great cruelty, but you still have a grain of sympathy for a character who can name his own sins. And this is true for all but the fools in Shakespeare’s plays. As a writer, I think this is harder than even the iambic pentameter.
And then there were his sonnets. My word. If you can’t spare the time and mental energy to see or read a Shakespeare play, take some time to read a sonnet or two. It’s worth it, I promise you.
So, to you, Shakespeare. Even if it’s not quite your birthday.
I have been head down and busy in preparing for Camp Nanowrimo, which begins on Monday. I have an aggressive goal and hope to complete the first draft of the novel-length piece of fiction that I’ve been working on by May first, or at least get it close enough that I’m filling in pieces, not missing major scenes. I have about 40,000 usable words already written, with a total word count of about 110,000 as a goal. Camp Nanowrimo should get me a lot closer, but is going to be demanding all of my attention in April.
I’m looking forward to it. I’ve successfully completed two Nanowrimos in the past, but this is the first time I’ve gone into it with such a mature project. I didn’t do Nanowrimo in November, since we had no electricity because of Hurricane Sandy, and trying to write it by hand in a freezing house was just too much to deal with at the time. I am thrilled at getting an opportunity to try again without having to wait for November. The setup of Camp Nanowrimo is a little different too, as you’re paired with a small group of writers, so I’m interested to see how that’s going to play out.
I’ve been considering whether or not to give up the photography while I’m focused on writing, but my inclination is to keep the challenge going. I’m now nearly ninety photos into it and the challenge of putting a photo out into the world every single day has been an inspiring one. I can’t say that I think of the majority of my photos as necessarily very successful, but every once in a while, I manage to catch one that really pops and makes it all worth it. It does take a certain amount of time, but I’m learning how to take better pictures, and how to visit the world with a photographic eye. I am worried about being able to manage with the writing and my music going on, but it might provide a nice mental break. Trying to write without any other activities to fill the brain often leads to uninspired writing.
Art, art, art, art. There’s a few other things going on that normally I’d be obsessed with worrying about, but thinking about making art and creating it is helping to mitigate the anxiety that’s associated with it. It’s such a healing force in my life. I really don’t know how I manage to get through the days that don’t incorporate it in some way.
Lately I have been having trouble with my knitting, in a way that’s a bigger metaphor. Normally I am a focused knitter, with one project on the needles at a time. I mark my next project with delight, but don’t pick it up until I’ve finished with the one I’m on. Sometimes I’ll have two projects going; one mindless, the other something that requires concentration, but never three. Discipline is something I’ve always been good at.
But lately I have been floating, unable to concentrate on any one project. I haven’t actually been doing much knitting outside of my knitting circle, which meets once a week for a few hours. I have a few things on the needles; a short row scarf in mohair, knee-high color work socks, swatches for the vest I’ve been saying I was going to make this winter. (Notice, it’s March.) I finished a pair of fingerless mitts, but can’t find the motivation to even look up the pattern for a matching hat. I’ve started Level 2 of the Masters Knitting Program from TKGA, but after knitting the first few swatches and blocking them, I’ve put them down in the same distracted manner. I have no ambition beyond the current projects and every time I go to look at patterns, I feel very little other than stress at the idea of taking on another project.
I did some weaving and spinning in February, but like my knitting needles, the loom and wheel have also stood idle since then. Can I blame the traumatic end of the Season Three of Downton Abbey? Did all things die with —– ——-?
I admit that some of this has come about because I’ve been overwhelmed enough artistically that I’m feeling the need to justify the time expenditure of various hobbies. Outside of work, I spin, knit, and weave. There’s always something with string for my hands to be doing. What began as a hobby to keep me busy while other people watch TV near me has turned into something that demands regular thought and attention. On top of that, I take piano lessons, which means fitting in half an hour of practice as often as I can. I enjoy making music and I enjoy having the knowledge that I’m acquiring there. Music is worth doing. But then there is The Writing Project, which is taking up so much of my consciousness that everything else feels like an infringement on the time I can spend there. The end result seems to be that my brain is always on, with very little downtime. Well. It’s no small wonder that I’m having trouble focusing.
Daniel Chester French has a sculpture that I love called Death and the Sculptor. The narrative of this sculpture is that a beautifully rendered marble angel visits an artist in his studio, as he works on a carving of the Sphinx, and stops his hand mid-strike, before the chisel can fall once more on the work. The sculptor looks up in surprise, clearly interrupted from that zen place of artistic absorption and focus. He is out of time and the work will never be completed. There will be no more sculptures. I talk about this all the time as a terror of mine, but it wasn’t until I was showing it to an artistic friend that I realized why I’ve been so drawn to this sculpture for so many years.
It’s a particularly touching piece because the sculptor is young. There is nothing but potential in the smooth and neat lines of his body. The angel is beautiful – you don’t want to stop the angel from its work, but to watch the sculptor stop with his chisel in the air, not being allowed to let it fall against the marble one last time – it is a mournful, sad thing. I feel it intensely, because it is my biggest fear, beautifully memorialized.
Terror is not a conducive way to produce art. I am feeling the stress, as I’ve side-lined everything in favor of The Writing Project, but also the disconnect. It’s not a creative block, but a difficulty in sitting down to do the writing, pick up the camera, work the needles, because I feel like there is so little time that there’s not much point in it. I write in quick blasts – half an hour here, half an hour there. I long for that sculptor’s penultimate day, where the work has been flowing and he has gone to bed satisfied, knowing that tomorrow will bring another day.