Composition: the artist as impostor
Composition: writing like a visual artist
When I start a new piece, I throw myself into writing, a sensual, wordy mix of hand movements — fingers tapping, or moving pen — and the heady intoxication of words, like a visual artist drawing and cutting lines through space, always falling short of the depth of each perspective, each frame, and the grades of light and shadow. I don’t know what is going to happen. I clutch an idea, something between a prop and destination. I propel myself beyond foolishness and prophecy. I, unfailingly human and impostor, am representing life, the world, something like that.
The words themselves have histories. Composition, put together. Impostor, put upon. Grade, measure, step.
If I stick with this, I’ll lose myself, probably you as well. Where is the idea? Seeded in two layers of ordinary life: routine joy, and the tree outside my window, which means the window, the tree, the street bounded by humped cars and brownstones, shadowed stairs and arches, and my eyes catching the light, filling the continuity of that farthest wall through the opacity of branches. My sketch captures only lines and the barest wispy movement of leaves.
I started the sketch because I wanted to do some fresh writing again, after months of revision and reading. Not my fourth work yet, there’s more revision to do. Just a short piece, a blog post. On what? Nothing in particular pushed to be thought, to be written. My thoughts are bucketed, moving forward in orderly ways. Those gentle buckets shepherd my unruly feelings as well, expand to give them space, and hold them. After many years of change, my life has fallen back into a routine in which I am loved and loving, some people honor words I utter in writing or in direct relationship, and my coffee is good. There is a routine joy in my life. I laugh more easily. In the gaps between working and loving, listening and caring, I step out with an easy frivolity. It’s a happy feeling. But wait, how much can I write about that? It doesn’t hold the meaning of life — whatever that is — and I know its evanescence, I know some — many! — of the shadows below it, it being that routine joy.
Presupposing the limitations of that routine joy, I couldn’t start that new writing and so, itching and driven to do something, I sketched the tree in my window, which, as I have already said, is not just the tree.
I was sketching again after an even longer break than writing, about a year and a half. As with the blankness that met my fresh writing intention, there was no particular shape or emotion that revealed the subject-object of the sketch. But I love looking out at my street from that window, and that tree is a mirror; also beautiful, with some dead branches, and changes with the seasons. So the tree, of course!
I anchored the sketch with the fire-escape and now one might say the sketch is of the fire-escape, anchoring as it does everything that’s also in that gaze.
This was a very frustrating sketch. I have no illusions about myself as a visual artist — I’m just a scribbler — but I couldn’t capture the range of perspectives that my eye does, that I can sense! Does the photograph capture more than the sketch? It has more shadows. Or does the sketch, with the shiftiness of my eyes and the frustration of my hand, capture more than the photograph? As representations they are both my impositions, my sorry expressions of what I sense and feel and think. But, sorry or not, they are also expressions of my life reaching out and touching life on my street. Spring is so beautiful. This same street has lived garbage, winter, storms, covid, solitude (both still and staggering), collectors of recyclables — the hardest working!! — and now, with me, routine joy, from me, but not just me, not just joy, but, yes, also joy.
As I cannot raise despair to flat, so I will not reduce joy to flat. I am alive with all of it.
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