Saturday, January 14, 2006

preparing to paint

Things have been coming to a head. I’ve more than lost my mirth. I turned off the lights and lit a candle and stared into it. It has been a very long time since I’ve done such a thing. The storm has dulled me, caused me to seek out whatever can numb me, and I spend hours every day engaging in numbing activities. I have to change. I am tired of quieting myself. I am tired of relenting. I am tired of the easier path of sadness. I am tired of being mindless. I want to live again.
I decided to paint. I’ve never painted. I went to David Art Supply on Veterans Highway in the dreaded Metairie and bought $60 worth of stuff – eight tubes of acrylic paint (including "hooker green"), two long-handled paint brushes with fat bushes of white bristles, a pack of disposable palettes, and a piece of un-stretched canvas, three by six feet, and I nailed it to the wall. I went through my photographs, which in and of itself was an event and revelatory, and picked several to consider – two of Penny, one of my old dog, Maggie, one of a spider. Is it best to work my way up or down a canvas? Will the painting develop best from the top down or from the bottom up? I think I’m a one who works from the top down, though that seems too obvious to me. An artist would probably tell me to pin the damned canvas up and see where it feels right to start. And isn’t that part of why I’m doing this? To try something I don’t understand at all?
It’s this or math. Math is next.
It’s not that I wish to accomplish some kind of reward. It’s that I wish to delve into what I don’t understand. That’s where the life is. It’s the mystery I love, the unknown. It’s what I love about being human, that we just fucking keep on striving toward the black unknown. I live for that. It is perhaps why I have not the proclivity toward settling in with another human. I love being always on the edge, going toward someone, something, somewhere. It’s perhaps why I cannot ever align myself with a group. I’m not as interested in the solution as I am in the question. I love looking. I don’t love finding. That’s I guess relative to why I write.
I picked the photo of me and Penny galloping on the levee. Painting is different from drawing. I think painting involves a sense of the subject, not a picture or an idea. This photo is all about movement and Penny’s distended nostrils. She’s on a left lead and my body is leaning into her lead. I look wide-eyed ecstatic and she looks solidly alive and thriving. It’s like we’re riding through a magic door and entering into something. We look like we’re completely in the moment and headed straight into the next one, which is really this one. Like we’re the center of energy.
And now I realize something about myself: I love writing about processes. The book I wrote about traveling in Europe is about the process of one person figuring herself out as she’s figuring the world out. The book about Douglass is the same thing. Everything I write is about discovery. Now I want to paint and I’m writing, attempting to discover the meaning of what I’m about to paint. So I wonder if painting will be the same experience, of attempting to discover meaning? It seems not to be. It seems that a painting is the being there, even if the "there" is just a moment in the process. It’s like taking a word and illuminating it. Catching a moment and depicting it and it seems that a good painting will make the moment be representative of something larger. Like that photo of me and Penny. The lake is on our right. The barn is on our left. It feels like we’re riding forward into the future. And we’re both joyful, each in our own way. I am exuberant. She is resolute and moving. I am happy. She is not "happy" exactly. She is alive and doing what her nature tells her to do. My nature doesn’t tell me to do anything. My brain, my feelings, they direct me. And I guess me and Penny connected. Her nature told her I was hers. Maybe my nature did direct me because I know she was mine, that we were complete together. It was not my mind or my heart. My mind and my heart responded to what was in front of me: her.
Again I say it; I have yet to put that relationship between me and Penny into perspective. I can’t quite place her. She’s more than a mother to me. She’s my life force. She made me able to live. She brought the forces of the universe together into a form for me. She was a gift, a perfect collection, a manifestation, a creature with breath and blood who also held somehow the mystery and who also was a higher form the chaos made. She became a port, a point of light, the place where I felt my heart beat. She was the center, the focus, the collector of energy. It was to Penny I went for recognition. She affirmed my existence. She reflected me and made me know I was real. Even in the flat brown of winter her eyes shone and I could literally see my face in her eyes. But under the sheen of me was the darkest deepest depth of life to its origin, and she was there and I was there because she brought me there. I think maybe she was the manifestation of God for me.
And so here it is, the beginning of the new year, after a hurricane that almost killed my home, after a life’s worth of work and questions and joys and toils, and the one who points me toward home is a short brown horse with the world in her eyes. She’s not a Buddha or a saint or a child or any kind of human love. She’s a horse.
And all of this started because I was watching Orange washing his face and I thought about how that is a way the cat retrieves himself from chaos. And I’d been thinking about how the candle flame erupts into too much air where it breaks up but then falls back into itself and flames on, still and bright and quiet and fat, a drop of fat fire. And all that because I haven’t looked at a candle in a long time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Melanie,
I don't know if I get nailed to the wall as I read, or become the candle flame, or the breath that jumps from Penny's nostrils--or all these things as I surrender to the storm of your discovery. You teach me that Penny doesn't "become happy" running. Penny becomes completely Penny. And you--you become completely Melanie or Clothilde or the cello song vagabond. It's not a mood, but an essence. Nothing in the way. Completely shorn of external justification--that skin falling away because something complete emerges from within and sloughs off all that is not you.

Thank you for this.

8:23 AM  

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