“It is odd to realize how little we know ourselves.” -Oscar Wilde
“What is sometimes simply needed is just a gap of pure time, an insulating period, between the making of your art and the time your share it with others.” – Art & Fear -Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Art Making
I will put these two quotes together with my usual brevity, clarity and skill in just a few lines. First though I want to clarify something. I do not consider myself an artist or call my writing art. At least not in a conventional tortured artist sense. We are all artists at something We all do things with ease that others can’t. Consider parallel parking for a moment. Many people hate it. However, I am gifted at parallel parking.
I remember one time when I was living in Chicago. I did not own a car but had to parallel park the rental car of a visitor in a space on my always packed street. I grabbed the keys, took the wheel without much thought and put the car in the unforgivingly small space on the first try. Then, I jumped out of the car quickly because the look on my visitor’s face was one of amazement. At first I thought I had hit something. But no. I had parked the vehicle without backing once, leaving about a foot or so of space on either side bumper. That parallel parking job was a work of art.
“Such respites allow the finished work time to find the rightful place in the artist’s (there’s that word again) heart and mind – in short, a chance to be better understood by the maker” –from Art & Fear
How well do you know yourself?
I am working though my fourth work of long fiction. It is called Altonstreet & Philpatrick, a novel set entirely in a pre-Starbucks era coffee house. I am using a series of short stories I wrote over the years as flashbacks which allow the entire novel to be set at a coffee house. Hey, I was coffee before it was a thing so why not leverage that? Anyway, I am going to make it as fun and funny as possible. I say that because I am having a good time writing it and making it funny. Plus, I love comedy and humor. Why not leverage that?
I am getting to know myself through my art- writing, that is
The other fun part of working on Altonstreet and Philpatrick is that is I am getting to know myself better, in much the same way I did as I reworked Ironjaws, Back outta the World and even Tripio. Thank the creator for that “insulating period” mentioned above. In looking at myself from a distance as I move through the work, I can smile at my foibles and faults as embodied by the Altonstreet character.
To be fair, I wasn’t that bad. The Altonstreet & Philpatrick stories themselves are all set in and around my collegiate years. I lived in rental double and commuted to the university. As such, it was a challenge to make new friends, especially female friends. The university in question was big enough but since it was a commuter school there was not much campus life, not many chances to meet and mingle. But, I uncovered another valid, more personal reason for my introversion in an excerpt written around those very years that I just came across during the revising process.
Altontreet remembered an incident early last fall when he was navigating the masses in halls on his way to class. He had met eyes of a beauty who was doing the same. She wore a red sweater upon which fell a bouquet of thick black hair. For just that moment their eyes held each other’s. The rest of the students at Commuter U vanished. The next moment Altonstreet’s steps took him into the wall just next to his classroom door. He had literally walked into a wall. Goodbye raven-haired beauty, confidence, and social life.
Getting to know myself a little better
There are a million directions I could take that expert. But I want to keep it focused on getting to know oneself. In my own case that excerpt gave me a chance to consider myself from a safe distance. The next line of that expert is-
‘Hello Philpatrick and the Trier.”
In context of the novel, it helps clarify why the two aspiring but clueless wanna be writers end up spending so much time together at the coffee house (The Tasty Trier). But in real life it made me wonder if the humiliation of walking into a wall in full view a beautiful woman sent me into coffee house seclusion, into loving coffee and into an fairly introverted pastime of writing. A bit of a stretch perhaps. Maybe not. One could easily lose their way in self reflection, or even walk into the occasional emotional and spiritual wall. But as Socrates once said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”
Be your own best friend
That may be a little harsh. Maybe he needed a little insulating period himself. In my case, the insulating period presented in my fiction allows me to look at myself less critically and seriously. I can reach back to Altonstreet and tell him “It’s OK that you embarrassed yourself in front of the beautiful young women, dumbass”. As for the work, piece, project (I’m determined to not use the word art here as I refer to my fiction), I think the insulating period gives me a chance to do something similar. I can enhance the story of A and P without the pressure and stress of the moment, which is so influential these days.
Back to “that word” to close and unify this post. I do think that there are folks who are gifted in music, painting, sculpture, and poetry in ways that others have chosen not to be. Of course these folks could be cutting lawns, balancing the company books or making bread instead. The point is that whatever we do do, no matter what we do, the most beautiful, difficult and meaningful work is to create a better you in a self-loving and ego-free way. Now that is art.