I was listening to Bill Evans this evening and he reminded me You Must Believe in Spring. As he tinkled the keys, so spry and light, with amazing skill and beauty – I thought about Spring (which is here! and there! and everywhere on our North American Continent) and how it contains such promise, awakening, continuation, resurgence, life, wonder…oh my, the list is long for Spring. And I instantly found myself, completely and profoundly, once again (always!) filled with gratitude for artists – artists of all kinds, every stripe and persuasion, as they so deliberately delve into the grist of life, into the eye of it, into the mystery and horror and joy and sorrow of it, and render it transformed through their own unique gestation, offering it up to us, the viewer, or listener, or one engaged with it, that we might transform it yet again through our own individual experience. It becomes personal, to whomever it touches…so amazingly cool, huh?
Art is created for all. Art is created for one. Simultaneous.
Yesterday evening, I slipped inside the rich and expansive world of Terry Tempest Williams and her luscious birdsong of When Women Were Birds. Oh sweet marvel of all wonders this book! It is a journey through lineage; what (or who, and how) shapes an individual; how language (or lack of) defines the landscape of one’s life; how interiority can take flight no matter age, no matter circumstance – through the lift of wind from a loving, guiding heart(s) alongside your own. I feel this book is a gift to all women, to all daughters, to all who have mothers, to all who have children, to all who love birds, to all who question what it means to stand beside, and honor, what matters to you. To all who have struggled with decision. To all who love this planet. To all who have encountered mystery. To all who hold a love for language. To all who yearn to dance with the divine. This slim book is remarkable in its ability to expand the reader; I felt as if I were under the canopy of sky, standing out in the vastness of the world…enlarged somehow…more than…softened. Extraordinary.
A few days back, my dear sister Mary sent me a quote that she stumbled upon as she set out to read The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck wrote this as he embarked on his journey of writing what turned out to be The Grapes of Wrath, and as I read this, I was touched in a powerful way. It took me several days to understand and articulate the reason this had such a resonating impact on me, and it has everything to do with the responsibility one faces as they embark on the journey of creation. Here is the quote:
“If I could do this book properly it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book. But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability. I’ll just have to work from a background of these. Honesty. If I can keep an honesty it is all I can expect of my poor brain…If I can do that it will be all my lack of genius can produce. For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do. I am pushing against it all the time.” [from Steinbeck’s posthumously published Working Days]
I came to understand that what touched me so deeply in this quote from one of our most gifted and important authors, was this: Steinbeck was squarely placed on the path of what mattered most about this work was not him, as the author, but the work itself. Steinbeck yearned to do right by the subject matter of which he would write about, about the lives and individuals that he was honoring with this work; to make it as true and alive and honest and poignant and richly profound and complex as it deserved to be rendered. He felt an enormous responsibility, as the artist birthing this story into the world, to do it justice – and that is an incredible responsibility to take on…as is every act of creation.
But in truth, I don’t feel that every artist approaches their creation with this kind of self-sacrifice, or awareness…too often, there is a glorification of the Artist, rather than the awed respect deserved for the Art itself. I know, it’s complicated, because the Art IS the Artist, one could argue. But I believe that is true only to a point…we are the vessel through which the river flows…but we are not, and never will be, the river. There is humility with this realization, and acceptance, and Steinbeck’s humility as he approached his masterpiece, is…well, it’s beautiful and profound, and fills me with a strengthened desire to continue on my own path of honoring the voices, lives, stories that speak to me, knock on my door and ask me to birth them into the world. I too hope that I might deliver them with the grace and depth and truth that they deserve.
Create. Honor. Live. Love.