THE ART OF ART: To Begin Again September 2018

"If Goethe had been stolen away a child, and reared in a robber band in the depths of a German forest, do you think the world would have had Faust or Iphigenie? But he would have been Goethe still. At night, round their watch-fire, he would have chanted wild songs of rapine and murder, till the dark faces about him were moved and trembled."                                   -Olive Schreiner, as quoted by Tillie Olsen in her book SILENCES, copyright 1978


Starting from the age of about ten and lasting well into my twenties, I had a recurring dream. It grew so familiar to me that when it visited, I could feel, from deep within the recesses of sleep, a serenity overtake me like a heavy fog rolling in. The dream was simple: There was a very large and beautiful book upon a table. Text on the pages was in my own hand. All I could see was this tabernacle of a book and my writing in it; the pages turning ever so slowly, as I filled each leaf with my words.


The dream always comforted and soothed me.


The Book of Life was there in front of me to write.....and write I did, for many years and through many ages and lifestyles: poetry, short stories, a play, a novella, more poems. I published a small chap book when I was 18 and another at 55, but there were too many wordless days and months.


Not for a lack of love for words, but for the time and discipline and thoughtful solitariness that writing well-- or painting or dancing - requires, it was challenging to maintain. In the truth-baring, no-holds-barred book, "Art and Fear" by David Bayles and Ted Orland, they tell us that "ninety-eight percent of art students are no longer practicing art five years after graduation..." What a commentary about where we place value and how challenging it is to create and maintain a support system for our art making.


I got impatient writing alone to no known audience, and began other enterprises. Writing became a tool in which to enhance other work such as press releases, short blogs and copy for flyers and posters. Writing, and the rich, delicious comfort words brought to my heart, faded into thread-bare descriptors and I became a copy writer for my projects instead of a writer of my life.


Tillie Olsen, an early American feminist, writer, and mother of four daughters, and whose long life spanned from 1912 to 2007, wrote a book in her sixties called "Silences" that had a profound impact on my life. Wikipedia has this to say about the book, published when Olsen was 66 years old: "Olsen's non-fiction volume, titled Silences, published in 1978, presented an analysis of authors' silent periods, including writer's blocks, unpublished work, and the problems that working-class writers, and women in particular, have in finding the time to concentrate on their art..... Olsen researched and wrote this book in the San Francisco Public Library."


On my second reading I began seeing personal repercussions. If there was a Book of Life to be written, what was I waiting for and would it wait for me? Would there come a point of no return; a point of no time? If I waited too long, would the baby ever get born?


Most of us don't like to feel pressure but so often do on a daily basis. Most days there is an articulated voice of anxiety dogging our thoughts about what we have left undone or what we have committed to doing. The struggle is often over what we want to give and what time we might have left over for our own. With 'what's left over' I will try and build a story, plumb the depths, tell the truth. Truth-telling takes effort to get through the defensiveness of daily life. It's hard work requires space and silence.

Silence has been on my mind for years, especially with my husband. I know our dance intimately; our quirky dance.

"I would like a day alone."

"You're kicking me out of the house?"

"I just want a day to....write..." (good enough?)

"Well, ok, if you're really going to do something worthwhile (I'm very understanding)....but it's still an exile."



Wikipedia makes a point of recording the anecdote that Olsen wrote her brilliant feminist book on the creative lives of women (herself) at the San Francisco Public Library. Can you imagine trying to sort your thoughts, illuminating the good ones and discarding the distractions, while surrounded by people in a public place? I mean, yes, if I really stretch my thoughts, I can barely imagine it. Out of necessity. Out of the deepest necessity there is inside a woman: the need to create: the deep, juicy, solitary need to pursue the velvety darkness of the mind, our bodies, this life.


"Silences" describes the potential mortality of a life's creative expression. That our Books of Life might never be written filled me with a desire to keep moving toward the dark silence, to keep moving toward it, at whatever cost. No four children for me: One really good one, and the pressure of "ok, you've got the silent house (for three hours), you've got the time (because you hired someone to work your shifts), now P R O D U C E.


"...At night, round their watch-fire, he would have chanted wild songs of rapine and murder, till the dark faces about him were moved and trembled." Make no mistake, Goethe would still be Goethe, but stories round the watch-fire is just the beginning. It is in each of us to lead ourselves through the dark wood with a good story, told truly.                                              


And so I lay the gauntlet down, again. This time, as an ode to age and the pockets of unclaimed courage still alive in me. We need time in our own silences, owing nothing to no one except to do our best in the dark chamber.


And, when emerging, light stinging the eyes but guiding the heart, there is a welcome party at the edge, calling me to the watch-fire to tell my stories of murder and pillage, to our mutual delight.


Keep Making,

Paula Estey


Paula Estey