On Thursday evening I attended a gathering of 14 local artists. We watched documentaries about four contemporary artists. We also drank a little wine, ate and talked about art. It was good to compare notes. It is a strange business – this business of art – almost as strange as the business of religion.
Art and religion are similar in many respects. The impulse to create and the impulse to believe start out pure. They each provide opportunities for us to extend ourselves beyond the ordinary. Each lures us with a little bit of magic and mystery but then each becomes more and more complicated when the very private acts of painting and praying are taken out in public. Both art and religion seem to gravitate toward fundamentalism and an us and them mentality. We divide up into Christians. Muslims, Jews, Impressionists, Realists, Abstract Expressionists, and so on.
When my granddaughter, Kiersten, was little she said something that I will never forget. I was babysitting her on a Sunday afternoon after she had attended church with one of her other grandparents and I heard her in the next room singing, over and over again, ‘I’ve got salvation and you don’t.” Each time extra emphasis was given to you don’t. I know that she didn’t hear those exact words in church but her innocent little psyche had condensed what she had heard into what is often the essence of both art and religion. The attraction of owning original art is that no one else owns it. I have a Jackson Pollock and you don’t. Any religion that tries to exist without the you don’t aspect in its belief system is as wobbly as a human being who tries to stand on one leg. So the person who just wants to be good, do good, make good art is soon confronted with all the different factions, each with what they think are well justified reasons for why they are right. This leads to the following questions: How can we celebrate the ‘I’ve got salvation’ part without the ‘you don’t’ part. Can everyone be right even though some are more successful financially than others? Is praying a waste of time if there is no God up there to hear the prayers? Is making art a waste of time if the product is not recognized as being superior to someone else’s?
In Africa the Benin tribe has a different attitude to their art – the finished product is not important – it is all about the act of creating. They handle and care for their tools with reverence. There are no galleries or promoters or agents. There are no ego trips. It’s sort of like being good, not so that we will be allowed into heaven, but simply because it is right. Imagine if God decided that only the souls of people who didn’t believe in heaven, but who had spent their life doing good deeds, would be allowed in! That would certainly guarantee a lot of elbowroom in heaven!
Something happens to memories as a person ages. Memories seem to have a best before date and then, after that, they are as good 40 years later as they are 4 years later. When you are 25 the distance to childhood memories (15 or more years) seems long, when you are 55 the distance to memories 15 years ago seems short. By the time you are 85, 15 years must feel like a moment. Perhaps there is a formula that would explain or at least describe this phenomenon. As the age number increases the distance that it seems to the memory decreases. It’s as if memories are not lined up consecutively but are distanced from your ‘present’ like the spikes of a sputnik. Time and space have this in common. The memory of a place does not become less clear in direct relation to the physical distance it is away.
My mother’s Alzheimers gives me reason to think about the peculiarities of memory.
Yesterday when I visited her she told me that something strange happens when she re-reads the letters that I have sent to her over the years. “When I point my pencil at the words they rearrange themselves and become long words and the sentences become long and different.”
I was up again in the night prowling around. Sometimes I read, sometimes I write or paint or do housework. One time I painted my bathroom. If I am having an allergy attack I take a pill and drink tea while I wait for it to take effect. I sniffle and blow my nose. I’ve almost given up trying to figure out the cause each time. I’m allergic to so many things and if it’s not something I have consumed – there’s Quincy – I’m allergic to dogs and I am living with one.
I don’t mind my nighttime prowling. In fact, it can be quite special. If I’m at my house and the weather is warm I might go out on my deck and sit listening to the natural sounds of the river and the marsh. They are completely different from the daytime sounds. At Dieter’s I have sat wrapped in a blanket on his veranda and watched the moonlight on the waves. Quincy doesn’t know what to make of my nocturnal antics. She rolls her eyes at me as only a dog or a teenager can and goes back to sleep.
Last night it was full moon. I sat on the deck for about an hour listening. I could see the moon, filtered through a light fog, but I couldn’t see the ocean. It was the softness of the night air and the gentle noises that I enjoyed. The waves on the invisible beach sounded like distant traffic and the occasional cry of seagulls rose from the direction of the wharf. I guessed that the slight slopping sound from the base of the cliff must be water against the rocks. It was good to hear the fog horn.
It hasn’t been functioning for most of the summer but there was comfort in the repetition every minute of the two notes, an optimistic ascending note followed by a discouraged descending note.
A grasshopper became trapped in my kitchen. I found it perched on the handle of my patio door. At first I tried to photograph it. The structure of a grasshopper has always fascinated me. It appears to be a green skeleton that was never fleshed out, a prototype for a small animal that escaped before completion or the attempt of a popular mechanics class to design an insect – all hinges, joints and googly eyes.
It hopped away and I forgot about it until the following morning when I found it jumping against the glass of the patio door, smacking into it and falling backwards, gathering its composure and then trying again. It would sit in between attempts, “ What’s happening here? Why do I keep coming up against this invisible wall?” It was getting discouraged. I opened the door in the hope that it would make a dash to freedom. It wouldn’t budge. It had tried and tried and was not going to be fool enough to try again. I took some papers and tried to coax it to out. Have you ever tried to control the direction of a grasshopper’s hop? Finally I got it on a paper and carried it out. I checked on it a few minutes later and it had made its way back to the patio door, from the outside and was now looking in, meditating perhaps on the pain of existentialism. I think I am related to that grasshopper. I’ve been there man!
Dieter frowning over his new Bosch drill instructions
Dieter was reading the flyers the other evening and I commented on the pleasure he seems to get from them. He responded, quite joyfully, “There are so many things that I don’t need!”
My friend Dorothy Moses died recently. Dorothy had a rather solitary lifestyle that gave her time to ponder. On first glance she appeared to be removed from the world. She chose to keep apart – never made a good follower – and yet she was more engaged in the ‘workings’ of the world than most people I know. She was interested in nature and science. She didn’t waste her mind on ‘junk mail’ but collected things that were worth remembering. I tend to read to forget, amuse and to escape. Dorothy read to acquire.
I learned something from Dorothy not too long before she died. I had expressed amazement that her memory was keen, even at 92, and she told me that after reading something she reviewed it again and again in her mind until it made a memory. I have always told myself that I have a poor memory but perhaps it is a matter of me not investing in the quiet time of reflection that is necessary for remembering. Too often I immediately hurry on to something else. However, I have come to recognize the advantages of having a poor memory – I forget, for the most part, unpleasant things and painful times. Some people can’t do that. They dwell on every insult or injury. The cumulative effect of such things can make a person weary. It’s called baggage. I try to travel more lightly.
I found a shard of old china in the gravel at the edge of the road yesterday as Quincy and I walked to the beach. It was about 1 inch square, similar size as two other shards that I found a month ago. The first two were in the soil on the corner of my property where the power company had recently put in a new pole. The third one was one and a half kilometer away. Intriguing. Last fall a great deal of work was done on the Cape St Mary’s Rd. It’s possible that all three shards came from the same source – wherever the gravel came from. I feel like I should combine them in a piece of art but am unsure how. And so my mind travels back and forth between the mysteries of the past, – where did they come from? What are their stories? To the mystery of the future – what will I make of them?
I live a scavenged life, (it is a wonderful thing), crafting papier-mâché from bad news, reading rain clouds like gift cards. It is as natural to me as the accommodating twist of a branch around a boulder. I collect things like a bend in a river. I redefine debris. I’m captivated by rot, enthralled by rust, spellbound by the magic of seeds. I can go either way- death and deterioration, life and growth. Either way it is change; inanimate objects compelled by unseen forces to reconfigure themselves. Nature showing its multi-disciplined creativity.