Tuesday, November 30, 2010
It's a problem I know I share with virtually every other creative person on the planet. Oh, I know there are some writers and some artists out there whose discipline--obsession?--is such that nothing will ever distract them. They keep at it seven days a week, rain or shine, holiday or no holiday, despite family and friends. I'm not among them. Actually, the truth is that they kind of piss me off! They hold up an overly polished mirror in which I readily see all my imagined faults. There is some part of me, I confess, that's out to shame me for not sharing that dedication. The part that nags at my conscience, whispering "you should..."
Should I? I have to ask myself what I want for myself as a writer. Is there some truth in the argument that to be the true artist, the successful artist, I must abandon every other aspect of my life, including family and friends, and dedicate myself exclusively to my art? The stories of such people are legion--and legend--along with the havoc they wreak in their own lives and the lives of those they love. When I feel envious--and there are times I do--of writers whose names are better known than mine, and whose bank balances are much healthier, I ask myself if I would have met with more success had I chosen to follow their example.
And I do think that may be what it takes to achieve true greatness--the pursuit of one's vision to the exclusion of everything else. It's just not something I'm built for. Family means a great deal to me, as does the time I devote to pursuits other than my writing. For me, then, it's a balance; and like all balancing acts, it requires constant vigilance if I'm to avoid toppling over and falling off the wire. I do need awareness if I want to "persist" in the work I'm given to do; I need to watch my mind when it attaches to the distractions that inevitably come along, and bring it back gently to where it needs to be.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
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So, yes. The Doors. It was The Doors, wasn’t it, who did the song? The door is the great, abiding metaphor for those occasions in life when we stand on the threshold of something new, when we are asked to risk dropping the baggage we have brought with us thus far and step on into the unknown.
The greatest of all doors in my own life opened for me in the mid-1980s. It was a terrifying and exhilarating moment. Greg’s question of the day is this: what inspired you to create a career outside the confines of the corporate world? Well, to tell the truth, I was never in the corporate world. I was in academia. Does that count? Perhaps it does. Academia, sadly, has become something of an industry these days, something of a sausage factory where fresh, raw meat goes in… and comes out at the other end neatly processed, packaged and labeled for the market place.
Am I too cynical? Perhaps. But I spent twenty-five years in academia, and I do know something whereof I speak. It has now been almost another quarter century since I was inspired to take the chance to be the writer I had always known myself to be, and I have not regretted that choice for a single day. I describe myself these days as employed more full-time than I ever used to be—though usually without pay. It works for me.
Okay, that “inspiration.” Again, that’s not really what it was. I had been “inspired” since the age of twelve. I knew then that all I wanted was to be a writer. I just got side-tracked—by the social expectations operative in those days, back in the 1950s. By parents. By my own inhibitions and fears. By thinking that poetry and money don’t mix (I started out as a poet, and poets notoriously don’t make much of a living.)
So I went first into grammar school teaching. I was attracted by the long holidays, when I’d be able to do all the writing that I wanted. In my ignorance, I did not take into account the fact that teaching is an enormously demanding profession; that by the time the long holidays came around, I would be so depleted—physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually—that I would not have it left in me to write. When I discovered that truth, I migrated into academia. Onward and upward, I thought. I was too naïve to anticipate the same result!
“Inspiration” came finally in the form of sabotage. I had a series of truly wonderful jobs in academia, and I sabotaged them all. I was a professor of Comparative Literature at USC; Dean of the College (and later Acting Director) at Otis Art Institute; Dean of the College of Fine and Communication Arts at Loyola Marymount University… At LMU, it was my privilege to have the job of creating a whole new fine arts complex for visual arts, music and dance. My inspiration to leave came when I found the Academic Vice President in one of my brand new painting studios, pacing it out to see how many desks he could fit in there for academic classes. I went back to my office, called my wife, and asked her how she would feel if I quit my job and went on the dole…
It wasn’t so much inspiration, then, it was reality that popped up and slapped me in the face. I was always meant to be a writer. For years I had been trying hard to kid myself that academia was an okay option, a way to keep bread on the table for the family and money in the bank. I could always do the writing “on the side.” But the writing didn’t get done, or only in small, frustrating doses. And I chose, for all those years, to deny the hard reality of the spirit and soul: I was devoting my days and weeks and years to doing something I was never supposed to do. In my heart, I knew it. I just didn’t have the courage to recognize—let alone to act upon—the truth.
I quit. When it came to that point, it was really no longer a choice. It was a recognition and embrace of who I am. I like to describe myself, these days, as an academic in recovery. I have kicked the habit, but I still miss some of the perks. A steady income, for example. Health insurance. Retirement benefits. And even, yes, in part, the identity. Because when I stood at that threshold, that was the baggage I had brought with me, and it was hard to give it up. What I have come to understand since I crossed that threshold is that it’s always necessary to leave some part of myself behind when there’s a new one waiting to be born. And that it’s all about freedom, and the joy that comes with finding it, piece by precious piece.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
And her hunger for beauty embraced seemingly everything. To feed that appetite—and, importantly, her art—she was a voracious collector. She collected colorful baubles and images, scraps of material and pages from obscure, esoteric texts, buttons and ribbons and sequins and anything else that sparkled, glittered or shone. Her studio was a storehouse of these objects, organized and categorized on hundreds of shelves and drawers and plastic containers, all within reach for the moment they were needed. The bulletin boards were an always changing collage of the images that caught her wide-ranging eye, and the walls hung generously with whatever Miriam happened to be working on, or whatever she might need to have in her line of sight in order to find inspiration.
And she found inspiration everywhere. Typically, her art was an assemblage of images and objects that reflected whatever was in her heart and on her mind at any given moment. Her talent was first to find them, then to allow them to come together in both consciously created patterns and intuitive bursts of action from the unconscious mind...
She drew not only on the brilliant sense of design she developed early in her life as a top New York illustrator and designer, but also on the dreams she was devoted to exploring in all their richness and depth. She was able effortlessly to combine her fascination with science—both its history and its cutting edge of contemporary discovery—with an unembarrassed love of kitsch and a refined taste for the highest achievements in art, from which she learned freely and sought tirelessly to emulate.
A visit to Miriam’s library made it clear that she was at pains to be knowledgeable in a vast range of topics, and made no bones about pouring everything into her work. She loved books, with or without images, and brought everything she learned from them back with her to the studio. Her work was an insatiable search for meaning as well as for beauty. Call it "metaphysical," because it is at once intensely physical in its use of—and appeal to—the senses; and at the same time transformative of the physical world in which it so delights. Call it "rococo," call it "baroque" in its passion for ornamentation and its uninhibited excess.
There is a dark side to the aesthetic of exuberant excess and of this, too, Miriam was unafraid. Her work is as much about decadence and entropy as it is about the proliferation of life. Eros and thanatos thrive there together as partners and complements...
The skeletons, the anatomical prints and cross-sectional studies of bodies—whether human or animal—that appear so frequently in her work are a reminder that the flesh is transitory and that life is short...
Miriam, I am convinced, was more in tune with the spirit that informs life than the rest of us. She saw what we did not see, and heard what we did not hear, and understood what the rest of us did not understand. She saw, particularly, that death is no more than the flip side of life. Her gift was to share those insights in the art she left behind. And that is quite a legacy.