When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.
Stephen Daedalus, in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
I felt an inner compulsion to read from Hemingway as I lounged beneath lush trees in a secluded enclosure of the Dallas Museum of Art late this afternoon. Thundershowers had cooled the weather, the light was dim, and the cool breezes were delicious. Inside, the museum was filling up, as it extends its Thursday hours to 9:00 p.m. Outside, my mind was filling up from the past two days of stimuli related to art projects in the near future. Taking a cue from Hemingway, I thought it best to empty out tonight, so I would have room to refill tomorrow. Each day seems to bring newer and fresher ideas, and I’m loving this surge.
As I sat reading and scribbling thoughts in my companion journal, my mind’s-eye memory drifted back to the yellow caboose watercolor lying on my drafting table back home, and the power plant situated in the right-hand background of the composition. I had a little trouble getting started on it when I got home from school. After staring at it for a few minutes, I finally took a deep breath, crawled inside the building, took a look around at all the jumbled confusion of girders, cables and pipelines, then just shook my head, re-emerged, sat on my drafting stool, and decided just to fiddle around with geometric lines and assorted shapes. Long ago I decided: if you can’t copy it, abstract it. I could only hope that the result would resemble an east Fort Worth power plant and not a piece of Deconstructivist architecture.
Once my thoughts returned to the Hemingway reading, I found myself perusing his handwritten manuscript for A Moveable Feast. I always liked his way of reassuring himself when writer’s block threatened:
“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
I don’t struggle with painter’s block very often, and I’m seldom bereft of new ideas. But sometimes I do worry about stale art and overworked ideas. When I was in my teens, my creative psyche was fragile, no doubt. And it probably still is, but I’m thankful that I got to spend some years in graduate school, and have been allowed to live long enough that when the dark moments come, there is enough experience to fall back on, and find reasons to believe in my abilities. Hemingway wrote most eloquently of the travails of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his fragility:
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think. He was flying again and I was lucky to meet him just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life.
Rising from my reading feast, I realized I was physically hungry, and noted with dismay that my timing for dinner was not good. The museum cafe features live jazz music on Thursday evenings, and listeners fill up the tables, even if they are not eating. And the museum does not allow food to be carried out of the dining facility–not good planning on my part or theirs. But I had forgotten that food trucks line up north of the museum on Thursday evenings, alongside Klyde Warren Park. And the weather frightened away all the patrons, though it was no longer raining. I found a table beneath the trees and enjoyed a piping hot pastrami sandwich.
As my stomach filled and the museum neared closing time, I sighed, realizing that my college students are now taking my online final exam. It was time to head home, look over the test results, and make sure the grade book is up to date. Another spectacular day, thank you for spending some of it with me.
I paint in order to remember.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.