August 18 2013
When we started this blog, nearly two and half years ago, the idea was to share our creative process as artists, as well as to give readers a peek into what it’s like to fly the coop at a certain age. At that time, we were beginning our discovery of Provence having been commissioned to make a book about it. The subsequent book, Provence: Lasting Impressions, was published in September of last year.
Between the completion of the book and its publication, we realized we had fallen in love with Provence and, having already been carrying on a love affair with Tuscany for nearly two decades, decided to really fly the coop and spend this year dividing our time between the two; an experience, like most love affairs, that has proven exciting, liberating and at times daunting.
We’re now in the dog days of summer in Tuscany. It’s Sunday and the two of us are sitting under the huge shade trees behind the house although by noon…a few minutes from now…it will be too hot even here. And then we will retreat into the cool of the house, most likely to our studio where we spend most afternoons working side by side on our individual projects.
Until about six weeks ago my creative process consisted of collaborating with Joel on the Provence book, writing for the blog, painting, playing pianoand decorating the two rental houses (here and in Provence) in order to make them “ours.” This summer I added gardening to the list, an experiment from which I have learned much about the Tuscan earth and its climate; what works and what takes too much work. As a result, I will never grow another petunia as long as I live. I have 5 varieties here, which means that in order to keep them lush with blooms I must deadhead approximately 500 of them daily. To which I say va fan’ culo accompanied by the appropriate gesture of a smacked bicep and forceful fist.
My most successful plantings reside in an old wheelbarrow, which when the brutal sun threatens to fry them, I wheel into the shade. The roses, as long as they are watered every evening, thrive here, as does lavender, geraniums and verbena. The nasturtiums had their moment of glory before battalions of black aphids devoured them. It didn’t help that I planted them in galvanized metal containers, which turn into baking tins by noon. Most of the herbs are a no-brainer, although surprisingly, basil is a bit fussy. However, my peperoncini plants, grown from seedlings, are loaded with their little grenades, enough fire to season soups, stews and sauces for years to come. Perhaps my proudest accomplishment is a tiny oleander that I found struggling in a pot. I decided to put in the ground in an area behind the house that could use some floral camouflage.
I dug it into the hard clay soil 2 months ago when it was a sickly four inches tall. I did cheat and add a bit of fertilizer and watered it faithfully the first month. It is now more than a foot in height and has already grown 4 new trunks. What pleases me about this is the Tuscan-ness of it. A hardy tree that once established needs no further care, it will be here long after I’m gone. But frankly, the rest of the garden is lucky that I have a hard time shirking responsibility because really there are times lately when I wish it would die overnight. Why? I’m writing a novel.
So, here’s the truth about the creative process, and it applies to every discipline whether visual arts, performing or writing: it is the most all-consuming and self-indulgent mode of employment. Many people over the years have asked me what makes some people artists, to which I reply, we have no choice. It has nothing to do with talent. It is a never-ending urge to communicate from the uniqueness of self; the need to express, sometimes, if rarely, to invent a new form or idea, but more often to find a new way of translating what we already know or feel. It is also the need to deconstruct; to tear away at beliefs, to expose truth and its oft accompanying shame. In the extreme, the creative process can insist on shock, which too often for my liking, takes the form of gratuitous vulgarity and violence. Whatever the form, once a creative idea takes hold, there is absolutely no way of cramming it back in the box…unless you’re a masochist or a coward, in which case you are not an artist.
History is filled with examples of the consequences of the singularly selfish business of being an artist: marriages, children, and often finances, suffer. I am guilty of all three in my past. So we count ourselves lucky to be in this moment of our lives: our children are grown and whole, our finances are simple and stable and our marriage, rather than suffering from lack of attention, is enhanced and supported by our understanding and respect of each others work.
The other thing about being an artist is that there is no down time. Everything you do, see, hear, think, feel and eat is grist for the mill. It is life lived both intensely connected and yet at a remove.
Having spent many years in the practice of dance, painting, and music, I can say that no matter what the discipline, the seduction is the same. But having spent 45 years writing, I can also say that writing is the most solitary of them all. With the other disciplines you are often, with the exception of the visual arts, in collaboration, and even as a visual artist you are capable of holding conversation and discourse with other human beings. But if you are writing fiction, it’s much more difficult to engage with people, because if you’re doing a good job with your novel then the characters therein are always more interesting than anyone you know.
I cannot wait to get to my desk each day to find out what my 6 characters are going to do and say. So I ask for your understanding and forgiveness for not posting as often as usual at the moment. In fact, please excuse me now…I must go to my desk.