Over my Christmas vacation I had a little reading party. I took pleasure in the company of Jim Stegner, title character in the novel "The Painter" by Peter Heller. Simultaneously, Jane Hirshfield and her poem also muscled past the doorman to join my fray. Together, they made for a heady crew, with whom I stare at the end of 2015.
So here's to my fellows at the pity-party. Cheers, with these two readings:
Nobody, not even artists, understood art. What speed has to do with it. How much work it takes, year after year, building the skills, the trust in the process, more work probably than any Olympic athlete ever puts in because it is twenty-four hours a day, even in dreams, and then when the skills and the trust are in place, the best work usually takes the least effort. Usually. It comes fast, it comes without thought, it comes like a horse running you over at night. But. Even if people understand, they don't understand that sometimes it is not like that at all. Because the process has always been: craft, years and years; then faith; then letting go. But now, sometimes the best work is agony. Pieces put together, torn apart, rebuilt. Doubt in everything that has been learned, terrible crisis of faith, the faith that allowed it all to work. Oh God. And even then, through this, if you survive the halting pace and the fever, sometimes you make the best work you have ever made. That is the part none of us understand.
The reason people are so moved by art and why artists tend to take it all so seriously is that if they are real and true they come to the painting with everything they know and feel and love, and all the things they don't know, and some of the things they hope, and they are honest about them all and put them on the canvas. What can be more serious? What more really can be at stake except life itself, which is why maybe artists are always equating the two and driving everybody crazy by insisting that life is art. Well. Cut us some slack. It's harder work than one might imagine, and riskier, and takes a very special and dear kind of mad person.
So anyway, best not to tell even your dealer that some masterpiece took you a few hours. (Heller, Peter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 310-313. Print.)
My Doubt, Jane Hirshfield
I wake, doubt, beside you,
like a curtain half-open.
I dress doubting,
like a cup
undecided if it has been dropped.
I eat doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.
I go to sleep doubting myself,
as a herd of goats
sleep in a suddenly gone-quiet truck.
I dream you, doubt,
for what is the meaning of dreaming
if not that all we are while inside it
is transient, amorphous, in question?
Left hand and right hand,
doubt, you are in me,
throwing a basketball, guiding my knife and my fork.
Left knee and right knee,
we run for a bus,
for a meeting that surely will end before we arrive.
I would like
to grow content in you, doubt,
as a double-hung window
settles obedient into its hidden pulleys and ropes.
I doubt I can do so:
your own counterweight governs my nights and my days.
As the knob of hung lead holds steady
the open mouth of a window,
you hold me,
my kneeling before you resistant, stubborn,
offering these furious praises
I can’t help but doubt you will ever be able to hear.