I spent the morning on the phone with my father, talking about the old standbys: life and and love and what are we going to DO with our lives? We laughed about the idiosyncrasies we have in common: the need to understand, the need to plumb the depths, and the need to get it right. He joked about how channeling it into knowing that the cabin of the boat needs to be 3 inches longer is appropriate, other instances, not so much. (My father has a great mind and is, indeed, a boat designer—he really does know if the cabin of the boat needs to be three inches longer.) With my line of work, there are no absolutes, no rights or wrongs, nothing to measure and catalog, no way of knowing I am following the plan, no mathematical equations I can muster or master to make sure that this boat will float. It is all faith and persistence. My life seems wholly this way, all ephemeral, only able to be experienced via sidelong glances, in full color in the periphery, but to clasp it would only make it dissolve into dust in my hand, slip seamlessly through my fingers.
I have been obsessed with maps and patterns, the yellowed tissue of dress patterns, and of course architectural drawings/ nautical plans are deeply ingrained in my aesthetic. One of my first paying 'jobs' was folding plans, blueprints, for my father. He paid me a nickel a piece. I folded them up and he would put them in a big manilla envelope to send to someone who needed a plan, something on paper that would tell them how to make something. What a nice thing—directions, a promise, that if you just do it right, you will have this lovely concrete and functional object when you are finished. It will float and it will hold you up.
It has only been recently that I have come to see the thread between these aesthetic loves of mine. They are all just that, a promise of direction, of success. Maps, patterns, plans—they tell us how to do it, how to get there. We can locate ourselves, and have directions to get to where we are going, a series of steps to follow to get to a place we've never seen, make something that doesn't yet exist. A friend chuckled at me the other day, reminding me that I speak exclusively in metaphor. It's also how I see, it is what the world is to me.
In my phone conversation today, I described this new piece I have just finished. A chine colle of layers of pattern paper over thicker paper, the lines intersecting and pointing different directions, hints at what is supposed to be done, but no answers, not really, and then sewn text over the whole thing, let it be. let it be. let it be...
Meditations On Getting It Right, Chine Colle and Hand-Stitching On Paper
It has never been something I'm good at, just letting it be. I am accustomed to work, to doing and making and planning. He responded with a story, about his adventures as a young man. He had spent a long time fixing up a sailboat, charting the waters, planning for the tides, packing and organizing and then finally, sailing in to Canada.
"Another long day, but we made it into Canada! Quite an accomplishment; more than two years of dreaming and work, pushing forward… pushing forward… always pushing forward." (A snippet from his travel log, included in a story he wrote about the sailboat, Ode to the Missy.)
And then, he realized that he had arrived, that all of his work had led him to the place that he had planned for, and suddenly, he could just be. He told me he made a decision to just allow things to happen, not make any choices, how hard it was, but that when he allowed for it, things began to happen. He told me that one afternoon he was sitting in his boat, mending a shirt, and realized he had no memory of how he had come to choose to pull out the thread or the needle, or begin the work. It had just happened, easily and without force of will. We laughed that if one believed in such things, one could possibly call it something like a spiritual experience.
I think a lot about the ins and outs and struggles of piecing together an artist's life—a life at all—how much work it takes to get there, how much letting go it takes to make it work, the choices we make, the risks we take. It is terrifying and precarious, but wonderful and exhilarating all the same. Sometimes I wish I had chosen something safe, something easier, something with less leaps of faith, more foundation, something with a rulebook. There is always that cliff just within view. But I didn't. I don't. I chose this; I choose this. I chose to spin my life from the matter at the center of my heart, and to try to make peace with instability. So, though the life I've chosen often feels scary, though upheaval is always a little too close for comfort, I will try to balance the planning and the leaps of faith, the pushing forward, and the letting it be.
***New piece on view at SCHOOL/WORK: PCC Cascade Campus Art Faculty and Staff Exhibition. If you're in the area, come visit it (and me) at the opening this Thursday, 4-6pm