Yesterday it rained. It was one of those days that you know, before you’re even fully conscious, that it is the perfect day to stay in the warmth and coziness of the bed nest. Unfortunately, there are those of us for whom nature will not abide cool rainy mornings at the end of summer. I had to get up and pee. I had to get up because I had an appointment for a massage. How hard can it be to get up and go for a massage on a Saturday morning?
I can make hard work of just about anything. The reason I have so many unfinished projects littering my life is that I make all of them into something so vast with so many layers of complexity that I just cannot work up the energy to complete any of them. Granted, I love nothing more than to get into one of my creative projects, the kind that has its intestinal parts strewn from the front door through the front room, into the living room and onto the large kitchen table. These are the projects that I love to live with for days and sometimes weeks on end.
I can visit them every morning in various states of undress while on my way to the kitchen. We see each other in all our unadorned incompleteness. There are days I don’t make it to the kitchen for hours because of a conjugal visit with one of my projects. This is not always a good thing – to commit to art before caffeine.
When I was sculpting my triptych of the three phases of a woman’s life, I spent many mornings working in my underwear in the living room. Not having the luxury of a studio, I had the pieces arranged in the living room. The piece I was working on at the time, The Maiden, was giving me all manner of psychological and spatial fits. I wanted her emerging from the earth among the roots of the tree I used as a connecting force for the pieces. At first she was strangled by the roots, she was in completely the wrong place, even though she had a face Matisse would have loved.
I had to learn a serious lesson in art with this piece. She had to be freed from the roots; she had to be moved. My instructor, Ski, took one of my tools and made huge gashes through her beautiful face, her hands, the roots, through other sections of the piece.
“ You have to move her from here, to here. You can whack or you can whittle.”
I chose to whack. Mainly because I couldn’t bear to live with those gash marks. I moved her and in the process freed her from the root prison where I had placed her.
It hurt me to remove her beautiful innocent face piece by piece, scraping the grey Roma clay from her bones, pulling her hands apart and laying them piece by piece in a new location. Like a forensic scientist, I reassembled her, centered her, and freed her all at once. It seemed like an incredibly long process. After a few hours, her face was almost completed; her bones were covered with the new skin of youth and she was emerging once again from the clay like a face emerging from the surface of still water. Ski told me the process changed me from a woman with a project into an artist.
Artistry has its price as well as its process. You have to be willing to live with frustration and undergo regular visitations with pain. It’s almost like living with cancer; the best you can hope for is survival.
The Maiden sat on the inclined artist table in the living room. She beckoned to me each morning of that summer to come work on her, to finish the whacking job with the finesse of whittling. The whack or whittle thing is really not a choice, regardless of which you choose, you still have to, or end up doing, both. Many mornings, in the rising warmth of my old house I paused, picked up the tools and began to whittle. I worked patiently on the hands. I wanted them to evoke both softness and strength, a delicacy of self love and a fierceness of self protection. I held up my own hands, inspected the photos I had taken of my daughter’s hands, I whittled into the heat of the summer mornings.
By the end of summer the hands embraced but barely whispered over the skin of the Maiden’s face, long slender neck, gently curving shoulder, and rising breast. On my sleepy-eyed journey to the kitchen I would pause to inspect her. I felt a mix of pleasure and uncertainty – there was something terribly wrong and I just couldn’t place it. The face had matured under the plastic surgery of relocation; the hands became more real, free and loving rather than struggling out of the roots. What was the problem?
Some problems are hidden in plain sight; they await discovery with an abiding anticipation. My hidden problems are often like those pictures hidden under a repeated graphic – no matter how long I stared, no matter how many different ways I scrunched up my eyes I could never manage to see the picture hidden in a plethora of small designs. My children could not comprehend my particular form of blindness.
Some problems are just sensed rather than seen. They defy a full on stare; they flicker through the periphery of our consciousness until one day we realize there is something flying through wearing fuchsia pink tights, orange brocade shawl, and burgundy pumps. It demands our immediate attention. That’s how it happened. One morning on the way to the kitchen, I didn’t stop, but I saw it, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the full deformity of it all.
And, it stopped me in my tracks.
There’s only so much you can do when faced with a self-created monstrosity. After staring for a long time in complete disbelief, after checking to make sure I was finally seeing things as they really were, I began to laugh. First it was an embarrassed behind the hand titter with a check to ensure that no one else was watching. Who would be watching into the life in my living room? Then it was a full on laugh, followed by exasperated sighs of frustration. I picked up the tools and began to work. How had I managed to do this? How did I miss seeing it?
Epiphanies are like that – surprising and simple. I want to believe they are also timely but sometimes I wonder if the Gods simply want something to laugh at. I had managed to sculpt two beautifully constructed right hands on my self-embracing Maiden.
I have learned that it is easier to whack at mistakes rather than whittle away at them. Even if they are resurrected in a new deformity, they provide the possibility for future learning. And that, I guess, is what happens to some of my days, especially the cool rainy ones. Yesterday my body did not want to participate in the day but I dragged it to the luxury of a massage and ultimately it was grateful. The day that remained rainy saw me in a chair, not doing a whole lot, allowing the massage to permeate every cell membrane, playing with my laptop, watching for a break in the rain over New York so the tennis could actually happen.
The rain didn’t stop. I didn’t do anything creative the entire day. I didn’t do anything that exerted brain or body the entire day. I lazed and I dozed. I read a book. The only mistake was that somewhere along the line, I berated myself for doing nothing much of anything for the day. I know better than to abuse myself that way.
There’s a large gash in the clay of yesterday. My perception of it has to be moved. It needs to be freed from the prison of my busy little internal “doer” who every now and again will arise to pee on my parade, usually the parade where I am well fed and cared for and carried on a lush litter through the day.
Written while awaiting the final of the U.S. Tennis Open.