I wriggled haphazardly onto the hook of T.S. Elliot's work, held out by lines of the expert fisherman* Peter Heller. With hindsight, I may be able to tell you I recognized the lure, a titillatingly tied fly that I bit on like a hungry, small fry. But it doesn't matter, both men's work make for mighty fine meals. I swallowed Heller's hook, line, sinker and the caboodle, and gladly got reeled up into the fresh air of the Four Quartets. And it's my own prompt drowning that I mean to imply, for what else does fresh air do for a fish?
Nevertheless, it was a great, small and short death. You know how it is, to bite into a slice of your own heaven: with some degree of unconsciousness, you pull off the shelf your favorite book or movie, despite the dizzying array of choice; or before you even realized you yourself punched their numbers, you sigh with the pleasure of hearing your friends' voices on the line; or after setting off for an adventure you find yourself setting foot on your favorite, familiar trail. Sometimes we are our own Rupelstilzkin's; we spin and weave our own gold, or at least we know where to find it in a place, or with a love, buried in wonderful words, soaring in music, seen in a painting, I dare suggest. When you go into such a Counting House, of course you go in expecting something good, but you always come out bearing a treasure of such weight that even you are surprised.
Well this was my latest haul.
In The Painter, Peter Heller quoted four lines from Little Gidding, the last poem that Elliot meant, with its salvific themes, to summarize his Four Quartets (1942). But Little Gidding also works to summarize and outline an exit strategy from my own late year. Sure, it's already 2016 but still I'm in need of some summary of What Just Happened and some perspective on the Days to Come.
The last two months alone of my 2015 were so full: the opening and closure of the Skylines series; both my children's birthdays; the Paris attacks; the most recent tallying of mass shootings for the year in the United States alone- that are never far enough from my front door; holding my son through long days and nights as he was the sickest he's ever been in his short life, doing the same a few days later for my daughter; my choice to rearrange over half the furniture in my house and and all its inhabitants to establish a more secure studio area for myself; then pulling on, what I'm finding to be the dregs of, the Skylines themes to complete the last few commissions; finally, there were these little blips called The Holidays which required some gift wraps and bubbling drinks, and allowed for an amazing get-away and all-too-swift return thanks to an ambitious jet-stream.
But regarding the Days to Come and my work specifically, what am I looking at? The emotions that pulled me all last year to the Skyline images are lingering but taking on new forms, and ironically there's some anxiety over moving on from them and seeing what they'll become. I handle transitions about as well as my kids. They're a bitch. Yet there's a welling up of hope and excitement as I approach this new year and new work. I know it's all a tidal system: the ideas come and go, as does the peace; there's a shifting and pulling but the waters' wells are deep, and dilution happens ever so minutely; sometimes turbulent, some times green; sometimes blue, sometimes serene; and with the storms roll up new shells, weeds, even corpses.
Speaking of weeds and corpses, if you are one of my local friends, you'll be sharing my sights of all the deadheaded grasses along the canals and the bare-limbed trees, some left behind by the drought. These days we luxuriate and dare to hope with the rain and chill, but still in amazement afresh since just weeks ago we were languishing in the dry heat and bleating electric road signs for water conservation (where have THOSE gone, by the way?); the return of spring we anticipate fairly shortly, and perhaps gladly already. Like the landscapes around here- the way the land and sky holds the heat or retains a frosty coolness- we are never far from one season or the next. So too, the visiting joys and sorrows of one year alter their form and knock again. Like Girl Scouts' cookies and their order forms.
So, it's with a wiser-Scrooge-like nod to the latest events and expectations of repeated themes, that I offer you these excerpts from Little Gidding to tempt you into looking up it up in its entirety for yourselves.
Midwinter spring is its own season
... When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
... In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers...
...If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, ...
...It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, ...
... what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
... Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfillment. ...
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
...If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. ...
... In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
...I met one walking, loitering and hurried
...I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember."
And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. ...
... For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
...See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, ...
... All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
... And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
.... We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
... Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
*For whom fishing, is a particularly fitting metaphor, if you read his work.