In an effort to entice myself back into the studio, I’ve been preparing scraps of fabric for collage, willing myself to do anything, as long as I’m in the studio. And it works: even these mundane tasks awaken a new appreciation for the fabrics, and remind me why this medium has always felt like home.
These days I’m especially drawn to the fabrics with some degree of translucency, setting them aside for some future project I’ll work on at some future date I will have with my future self, when my days open up a bit.
Music has the same affect on me as the transparent fabrics, the way it wraps itself around me, penetrates me in a wash of bass notes and drumbeats. The notes lift me up and connect me to the singer. I imagine the performance, the edge of the stage like a cliff with a canyon below, and try to think how it would feel to be creative on cue like that.
In a crack of recognition, thunder shoots ions through the evening sky.
Years ago our son Keenan studied the cello with Nadene Bean, who required all her students to participate in recitals. One recital took place during a monsoon storm; lightning struck near the recital hall, and the thunder rumbled through the hall just as Keenan finished his piece. The audience gasped, then laughed. Keenan looked up and grinned. Performing on cue, indeed.
On the stereo, Lucinda Williams is wailing about being too blue, crying like the sky. The guitar echoes the sentiment, and then she’s back, so sincere. I have a hard time taking these songs seriously if the core doesn’t ring true, but most of the time Lucinda feels like the real deal.
The songs that hold my heart together these days contain a minor chord or two. They’re aimed at the corners of my heart. Those mournful tones layer over each other like cobwebs where the underworld characters gather. What I’m grieving is unclear, but the malaise persists.
In reality, nothing is absolutely solid and opaque. Experiences are clad in layers, and nuanced by history and selective memory. I believe events are colored by the stories we tell ourselves, in ever-shifting soup of perception. We tell ourselves we know what’s real, and even that is a lie.
Awareness of the shifting is a first step in the right direction toward creating something solid we can hang onto when our footing goes out from underneath us.
I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s book about her misadventures hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with practically no backpacking experience. On the trail, two days walk from anywhere, one of her too-small boots tumbled irretrievably down the side of a mountain. Her circumstances shifted drastically, but her mind shifted to accommodate her new reality. She lobbed her remaining boot over the edge and cobbled new footwear from cheap flip-flops and layers of duct tape. She hiked many miles, one foot in front of the other to the next station, where better boots were waiting.
Some days I imagine I’m hiking my own trail away from the familiar work I’ve done for many years. Venturing off into my own personal wilderness, every day offers multiple opportunities for misadventure that fortunately don’t involve hiking miles in duct tape booties.
On the days when I feel confident, I am possessed by the work. Other days, I feel I’m blindly stumbling along a narrow pathway, hugging the mountainside, trying not to chuck anything important over the edge into the abyss. My confidence only extends to knowing that the trail must lead somewhere good. What ‘good’ looks like is anyone’s guess.
Surely there are better ways of learning about life than journeying, but some of us have to leave to know what home is.
The layers of thunder in the distance remind me of one of the first art classes I took. One sweltering summer week in central Ohio, fifteen students came from all over the U.S. and New Zealand to learn from a thoughtful and gentle teacher. We discovered the power our attention could bestow on everyday objects. We discovered the power everyday objects could grant us. For five days we made powerful and personal work from cloth, a summer storm brewing all around us. The lightning was far away from that classroom, but the soundtrack was a slow, rumbling thunder that I can still hear.