When I think of Maria and her spirit, I think of one of those blindingly colorful and spinning kaleidoscopes, they turn and turn, and every time they turn, they show colors and forms and symbols in a different way. Maria came up to me the other morning, she said she wanted a photo of herself wrapped in her most recent quilt, which she called “Trust.”
She made the quilt four or five days ago and it didn’t sell immediately, which bothered her. Maria doesn’t care about money or success, I think she sees each of her works as a child, a wonderful foster creation in need of a home.
She doesn’t quite rest until it finds one.
She is fortunate, then, in that almost everything she makes finds a home quickly. She had this idea to wrap herself in the quilt, and I didn’t ask her any questions. Maria has many creative impulses, and she can get grumpy if asked to explain them, they come from voices and images dancing in her head, it is not within the realm of vocabulary to describe them in detail.
Living with an artist is not really like living with anything else. It is art in living form.
Somehow, I thought these photos captured the soul of an artist, they spoke to the relationship between the artist and the art she creates, it is so person, she literally and figuratively wraps herself in it. Of the phots I took, this was my favorite, the soul of an artist peeking out of the artist’s creation.
Oh, she sold the quilt shortly after this photo was taken.
Ed Gulley and I met on Sunday night to record part two of our video series discussing his inoperable brain cancer and how he and his family are dealing with it. Ed has a great sense of humor, and I work hard to lighten our talks about, but today’s conversation was difficult and very real.
It is just what it is, and it might be painful for some of you to see and hear.
Ed wants to share what he is learning and feeling in the hope it may help others “in a similar situation,” as he puts it.
Ed describes the inexorable march of his cancer, taking a little bit of him away every day, undermining his confidence in his ability to control his body. It never stops, he says, he knows he cannot stop it. For the first time, he talked openly about his death.
He says the cancer is relentless, he must be conscious of it every minute. A powerful, active, engaged dairy farmer and artist, he is, for the first time in his life, confined to a relative small space, going to the bathroom – a dignity issue for him – requires planning and careful thought. “I’m not used to doing nothing,” he said, “it is hard.” He is also aware of the toll this illness is taking and will take on his family. That is a sobering thing.
Ed and I love one another and we talk easily. When I am with him, I put on my reporter’s hat and ask questions. He likes being asked specific questions, he says it helps him focus.
When I am home, it is hard. I keep thinking about what Ed is going through, this most active and engaged human. Sometimes empathy is not a gift.
This is also a very worthwhile thing for me to do, Ed has asked me to share his messages with the wider world, and you can also follow them on the Bejosh Farm Journal. We are planning part 3 tomorrow.
Ed seemed especially somber this afternoon, he is facing a new reality, and he is not one to experience such a thing quietly or without thought. His eyes are wide open. His body is failing in in small but growing ways. Ed has enormous self-awareness. He has a lot to say, and a lot to share, and I am grateful to be able to help him do it.
He is loving sketching and drawing, it has become an important outlet for him. Ed and Carol Gulley love receiving messages, even if they can’t answer or acknowledge all of them. If you wish, you can e-mail Ed or Carol. Their e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robin’s art turn has jolted me out of my lethargy, Maria and I are going to Brooklyn to spend some time with Robin. I ordered her a bunch of art supplies last week, but they seem to have been delivered to the wrong place, so I’m going to get some more and bring them with me. If Robin is a creative, I’m going to get her some tools.
I might even get to do my first baby-sitting, Emma and Jay are going to be demonstrating on behalf of the kids separated from their immigrant families. I found a cheap hotel nearby, I’m looking forward to it.
(P.S. I’m feeling okay today, I can even eat something.)
The poet Mary Oliver wrote that the most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
Joseph Campbell, who taught at Sarah Lawrence College for many years, said the saddest students he had were young women called to the creative life, but derailed by the men in their lives, brothers, fathers, husbands, lovers. Men, he said, are often terrified of creative women, creative power cannot easily be controlled, once unleashed.
He warned those students that if they turned away from the creative call, they would be living substitute lives.
Maria and I are bound by many things, perhaps the most central is our commitment to a creative life. Creative lives are different from other lives.
Pope Francis says we are all called to choose between a life of obedience to God or to money, creatives choose fulfillment over creativity, risk over certainty.
They must always be discerning in the interruptions and intrusions they allow, otherwise they will corrupt the mental, emotional and spiritual privacy from which inspiration arises. This sets them up in conflict with the very people they depend on to live.
Creativity conquers and channels the great uprisings and upheaval inside of me, without their release I would surely have gone mad or be dead by now. I almost was.
Creatives are tormented by the necessary torment of avoiding social distractions in a time of intense distractions, of choosing worry over the safety of a regular paycheck, creatives are predators by nature, they are always looking for ways to survive, they are aliens in a world that moves in the other direction. You will not see a creative on cable news, or in Congress or the White House, they live on the edge of life, never in the center.
In her wonderful weekly blog for the mind “Brain Pickings,” Maria Popova quotes from the writer Rainer Maria Rilke, another great poet who wrote thoughtfully about what it takes to be an artist.
“Go into yourself,” he wrote to a young aspiring creative, another poet, “and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at is source you will find the answer to the question: whether you must create.”
If one is a creative, they they must create. It is not really a choice. I’ve been a book writer much of my adult life, but I think I really became a creative, or an artist if you will, when I began taking photos and when I started my blog.
This blog is my liberation, it is the first place in my life where i could be free write what I wished in whatever form I wished. I have no editors or marketers to answer to. I communicate directly with my readers, we often spark off of one another, it is healthy and creative.
I write longer pieces that I am supposed to, about different things than I am supposed to. I write to think and encourage others to think, and my photos help me to see the world anew. The blog has stretched my mind, nourished my creativity, kept my inner light burning.
Jennifer Egan wrote that writers and artists must avoid the trap of approval. “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly..Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”
I share Anne Lamott’s essays on why perfectionism kills creativity: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
I would add that perfectionism kills more writers than any oppressive dictator could. I know too many people who can’t write because they are afraid they will make a mistake, or mess up a subjunctive clause. Writing is not about perfection or grammar or spelling, it is about heart and soul and feeling. It is incomprehensible to me that someone would be so paralyzed by the idiotic teachings of creativity that they would stop writing because they can’t spell well.
“To write well about the elegant world,” wrote Italo Calvino, “you have to know it and experience it to the depths of your being…what matters is not whether you love it or hate, but only to be quite clear about your position regarding it.”
Isabel Allende believed that writing brings order to the chaos of life. “Show up, show up, show up, and after awhile the muse shows up too.”
I am grateful for my creative life, and the miracle of finding someone eager to share it with me. It is not a perfect life, it is not a simple life, it is just my life. I have not lived a life free of troubles, but I have given my creative life power and time, and I escaped the fate of joining the ranks of the most regretful people on the earth.