Tag Archives: artists

SIMPLY BEING WHO WE ARE

 

 

29th July 2017

I’ve been thinking about the blog for a couple of weeks, but have been so engrossed writing a new novel that I was afraid I might dissipate the energy needed for that if I shifted gears and came to this. But then, the other night, we set our dinner plates on the outside table and the evening light illuminated both the simplicity of the meal and the metaphor of it; the metaphor being that it symbolized all that we hold dear about living here.

The frittata was made with eggs from the farm on which we live, the zucchini captured in their rich mixture also came from the farm, ditto the tomatoes. The frittata was seasoned with herbs from the kitchen garden in front of the table. In other words, the ingredients of our dinner came from within a fifty-yard radius of our house. You can’t get much more farm-to-table than that!

And as I looked at our dinner, it occurred to me that I could write something that simple and that wholesome to post here That not everything has to be profound or provocative or pithy, unlike the writing one undertakes for a novel which must have all those ingredients if it is to be of literary worth.

Sometimes I find it amazing how complicated a simple life can be. And we do live simply here. Ours is not a villa. We don’t even own it. Our days are a routine combination of engaging in what it takes to survive. By that I mean we are not farming it out, apart from a house-cleaner once a week and a gardener who mows the grass, also once a week, it is we who shop and cook and clean and launder and weed and water, prune and deadhead, stack and carry firewood. And I’m grateful for all of this; for the physical ability to be able to do it and for the connection it provides me to engage with the world and feel my place in it. Where it gets complicated is when I am not creating something. If I am not writing or painting I feel myself to be next to nothing. In the space between creative projects I tend to focus on all that I haven’t accomplished in life and then the daily routine I just so fondly wrote of becomes a chore I resent.

People often ask “What does it take to be an artist?” (Insert writer, dancer, musician etc.) and I say, one doesn’t have a choice: you either are an artist or you are not. And if you are an artist then it will enthrall you and consume you, thrill you and torture you. And whether or not the world will want whatever it is you create you will have no choice but to create or feel worthless.

Does the farmer feel this way? That he/she has no choice? Is he born to it? We watch Vincenzo and Silvia work from morning until night year round. A never ending cycle of planting and watering and harvesting, of milking the sheep, slaughtering lambs, bottling wine, putting up tomatoes and on and on. Like creativity, it doesn’t always go well and when it doesn’t you see the strain and the doubt on their faces.

Why do we humans insist on our identity being dependent on what we “do?” And why do we separate some of what we do into the “worthy” column ad the rest into the “mundane” column? Why should the business of survival count for less than achieving fame of some sort?

Libera and Fortunato, wife and husband in their 70’s, live up the road from us. Along with Fortunato’s brother they farm acres of land; growing wheat and grapes and olives, plums and apricots and every vegetable under the Tuscan sun. In winter they prune and stack and mend. And every day I watch them going along at their rhythmic, unhurried pace, with nary a thought for celebrity or riches. They are the last of their kind and when they are gone they will take with them centuries of living to survive. And they will take with them knowledge that we don’t even know exists.

But we are each of us who we are. As much as I might wish to truly live the simple life I was born an artist. I have a need to communicate. I write because I will burst if I don’t and because through writing I can find my way to who I am and in so doing maybe connect with others. So, the not easy part of living this simple life here in Tuscany is that no-one here really knows who I am. I write in a language that nobody here speaks. And when I am not in the act of writing I can dwell on this and feel a lack of identity. So I am writing here, today, to say thank you to those of you who read me. To say, hey, I don’t have a lot to say today except, “Hello.” And I’m grateful to have this to come to whenever I want, because it’s not like writing novels. Or at least it’s not for me.

It’s been three years since I wrote my last novel: From Dusk to Dawn. I started it the year we moved here and went on its wild ride all summer. Then I spent months looking for an editor with whom I worked the following year. That was followed by months of submissions to agents, without success. So then I hired a copy editor and a text designer, working with them for months until I finally published my novel. Then there were a series of readings. And then my daughter nearly died and the novel ceased to exist for me. Only my daughter’s existence mattered. When she finally recovered enough for me to return here it was with the fearful eye and aching heart of a mother. The book was dead to me and I felt the likelihood of writing another highly unlikely.

I began to stumble, to doubt myself, to question the validity of living the simple life on a farm in Tuscany. And then, in the spring, unbidden, a fully formed character appeared to me, trailing a cloud of dust behind her. I knew her immediately. Her name is Felicity and every afternoon she and I duke it out at my desk. I have no idea where it’s going, nor do I care. I’m merely grateful to be writing with abandon, with no “success” in mind.

This is what it means to be an artist. And thus engaged, the artist is once again connects to the world around her, grateful for a summer evening, a frittata and salad and the realization that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it fully.

For when you peg the laundry to the clothesline you are pinning yourself into the fabric of that moment; the moment you will never have again; the moment not worth doubting or judging but simply being in. As Libera will be when she dries the seeds from this year’s tomatoes, hopefully to sow them next spring.

With love to you all,

Maggie

THE WHOLE TRUTH

1st August 2015

book of questions

Is ‘blogging’ a form of artistic expression?

Does having a Masters degree in Creative Writing qualify one as an artist?

Is one an artist only if one is creating something from the imagination e.g., a novel?

I turn to the dictionary and find that as a novelist I qualify as an artist; as a blogger, no. And yet, for me, the process feels the same in that I’m creating something that didn’t exist before. But where blogging and writing a novel differ is in the ingredients: a novel is made up of fictitious characters and places…even if somewhat based in autobiography…whereas personal essays for the blog are made up of autobiographical facts. Then again, it must be argued that autobiography is laced with half-truths, because, lord, one must make truth acceptable not only for oneself but for one’s readers. What if the truth is boring? Or offensive? Or painful? I am no different than most; when it comes right down to it I play it safe out of fear that to tell the whole truth will result in rejection.

I have an essay that’s been sitting on my desktop which I wrote for the blog 2 years ago but then decided not to publish as I was afraid it would be too grueling to read. But I feel, now, that to really be an artist is to dare to paint or dance or write the stuff that is distasteful, disappointing, maybe even disturbing to others. If it turns many away, yet reaches one person who needs to see or read such expression in order to feel whole, then surely it is worth the risk. So I take my courage now and go forth.

erasable questions

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the birthday of my stillborn daughter, Amy, who would have been 43 on July 18th. As in most years, I expected and embraced the sadness that accompanies that date as well as choosing to believe that while she never took a breath, her spirit is an exhalation, a gently sigh that has accompanied me all these years. But this year I was unable to shake the sadness and over the ensuing two weeks the sadness entwined with the desolation I have felt at being unable to find anyone who would  help me get an agent, never mind a publisher.

Then, this past Tuesday, I logged onto the NY Times and found, in the Health section, a piece about stillbirth. The article was comprised of perhaps 50 stories from mothers whose babies had been born still. I started reading these stories. All of them gave the date of the babies births, many of them were accompanied by photographs of the mother, and sometime the father, holding their swaddled babies, looking down at them with the fullness of love. Some of them wrote about bathing their babies, sleeping with them, holding them, christening them, photographing them, burying them. All of them said that if this should happen to you, you will be forever changed.

But none of them said what it would be like if you never saw your baby. If, after hours of labor, already knowing your baby was dead if, when she slipped out of your body and you sat up and reached for her to hold her, to kiss her, to gaze upon her that the doctor would put a gas mask on your face and all would go dark; that when you came to in the recovery room, someone would be holding a clipboard over you asking you to sign something. That you wouldn’t know it was an autopsy form. That when you next came-to you would hear a baby cry down the hall and realize it wasn’t yours.

white question

As I scrolled through the stories, the majority of them from the last 15 years, I started looking for dates in the early 70’s, or earlier, expecting to read a story like mine. But even in the one dated 1950 it wasn’t to be found; in that story, when the nurse started to take the baby out of the room the mother called out to hold it and the nurse turned and placed it in her arms. I was looking for my story and I couldn’t find it. But surely, I thought, surely other women suffered the same experience as me? I couldn’t be the only one this happened to. And so I scrolled down to the end of the article thinking I’d be able to add my story there and in so doing help mothers like me feel less alone. But there was nowhere to put it. Closed for publication it said. And I felt an enormous horror; I called out to Joel, “I can’t even get my dead baby’s story published.”

Over the next few days I experienced a hopelessness and emptiness like never before; so vast and all encompassing it was beyond my comprehension. I really couldn’t believe it; that after all these years and all that work I could still end up in this place; a place where I veered between total absence from self to feeling filled with lead. It took me 5 days to understand that I chose to feel empty because I was terrified of feeling bitter.

It took me until today to realize that what I was unable to put into words before, is that I have lived for 43 years keeping at bay what I thought would be too nightmarish to feel, never mind say: that both my baby and I suffered rejection at birth; a sort of howling kinship from which neither of us can comfort the other.

As many of you know, I am on my way to self-publishing my latest novel (today I got the ISBN #) And now, it would seem, I have another story to publish. This one. Today. Here. The story of Amy Katherine:

She lived in me for 9 months. She had a room and a crib and clothes and toys waiting for her. She had my arms waiting for her. My breasts made milk for her for 3 weeks after she died. She had a father and grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. She had 2 Labrador retrievers and a cat. She suffered at the end of her life; the placenta not functioning properly for the last month did not feed her adequately. She was fully formed but underweight and so did not have the strength to free herself from the cord which strangled her 2 days before she was born. Except for the doctor and delivery room staff, she was unseen. Color of hair: unknown. Color of eyes: unknown. Length of her fingers and toes: unknown. Was her nose like mine or her dad’s?

disappearing question

 

Her spirit, too gentle for this world is palpable nonetheless. She, like all stillborns, was an individual, unique human being who left us before she arrived. She, along with all the lost souls, deserves recognition.

I ask those of you who can, to please help me honor her life. Light a candle. Pick a flower. Sing a lullaby. Say her name.

 

Amy Katherine

Died 16 July 1971

Born 18 July 1971