Whenever I find a quote that strikes me, I write it on a sticky note and put it on my computer. Needless to say, sometimes my computer looks like it is decorated for Mardi Gras! Here is one that I especially like, by the poet Louise Gluck: “The dream of art is not to assert what is already known, but to illuminate what has been hidden, and the paths to the hidden world are not inscribed by will.”
There are so many ways this quote sustains me and grounds me. I need to be reminded that “The dream of art” is not my dream alone. It is a Tao, a way, a practice, that I am entering into. It is an everflowing river that I can swim in, but can never encompass. To engage in art is both an intensly individual act, and yet not an entirely personal one. This both delights and relieves me. It relieves my ego and my art of having to be GREAT! A dream has its own autonomy. We are not responsible for which images our dreams throw onto the shores of consciousness. We are only responsible for working with them when they appear. Similarly, the work has its own autonomy. We can’t predict where it will take us. We can only show up, ready to participate. At its best, to practice an art is to be always on the tipping point between mastery and mystery.
“….not to assert what is known, but to illuminate what has been hidden.” Dreams often show us what we have been unable to look at it in our waking lives; similarly, a poem or story may reveal what we didn’t know we knew. Or what we may need to attend to: an imbalance, an untended sorrow, a hidden yearning for wholeness. And, I think, the commitment to pay attention, to permit oneself to go into the darkness, and to suffer the loss of illusions, can provide a boon not only for the individual, but for the community. When I listened to Robert Pinksy read his elegiac poems last year, I was reminded not only of the very real loss of cultures and languages that he addressed, but also that in articulating those losses, he was retrieving something for those who heard the poems. We were gifted with an awareness of what was of value, of what to attend to.
“….and the paths to the hidden world are not inscribed by will.” Despite our belief in the supremecy of will, the truth is we can not create an agenda to find the hidden world. Once we think we know the path, it changes. As writers, we can work on our craft, we can show up, but there is no guarantee our work will “live.” How often the truly inspired prompting comes in the middle of doing something else, when the determined effort to get it right fails! To find the hidden paths requires a continual opening of ourselves, as in meditation, to what is. We may have an intention when we begin a poem or story, but we have to be willing to follow where the work leads us, without knowing the outcome. It is often those works we enter into with less confidence than take on a “life of their own.”
So, where does this leave us, as writers and facilitators? We live in a culture that valorizes certainty and will. Hitching our wagons to the star of art suddenly looks like a dubious enterprise. Or does it? Maybe it instead it is an exciting, inexhaustable enterprise, one that teaches us to find our growing edges and learn to be dance partners to uncertainty and change.
For a wonderful and humorous take on the “uncertainty principle” of writing, check out Chuck Tripi’s post “Notes from NJ-#5) http://haydensferryreview.blogspot.com/