Monday, April 28, 2014

Notes From The Writing Life

This afternoon, I visited artist Katherine Kadish in her studio. On a wall, a large painting made of smaller paintings, each one a two foot square-- nine in all. Katherine is known for her use of color, something that has become even more important as her eyesight wains. I love Katherine's references to the natural world, vines, twigs, petals. Katherine explained that each painting worked independently; yet, all nine formed a whole. I couldn't believe what she was telling me, couldn't believe our work was converging like this. I blurted. "That's exactly what I'm doing."

But I couldn't have articulated that until that moment.

Katherine pulled out two chairs. "Tell me, more."

I spoke of my essays, each part travel, part history, part memoir, and each one written to stand alone. Yet, I was understanding that each essay was part of a larger whole. I'd thought in terms of traditional narrative, looking for an arc. But somehow I knew that wasn't right. Now, I knew I wanted a book that would work as Katherine's nine squares worked, individual squares speaking to one another, and at the same time, forming a whole. The essays are related through repetition of characters, time, place and theme. They will flow as Katherine's vines and twigs flow, as the thoughts inside our heads flow, as art and writing flow inside the same stream.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Notes From the Writing Life

My blog resurfaces, here at the the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). It's taking a new form-- less formal, more like musings. For the month I'm in residence, I will post notes from the writing life. 

I have spent the last two days letting the well fill up. The well. A reference from Virginia Woolf. I suppose she meant letting the subconscious seep into consciousness. For me the well is both internal and external. Yes, the subconscious along with every cell in my body. The well fills as I sit in my studio staring out a window at the red soil, the metal roof of a wooden barn, two horses in a pasture, fills as I read, essays by Phillip Lopate, fills as I read The History of Anti-Semitism, Volume 3 by Léon Poliakov, a French historian who died in 1997. I've been interviewing Germaine, his widow, now 95, and Aline, his step-daughter, a woman about my age. When I arrived here, I thought I was writing a love story about Léon and Germaine. Now, I think I'm writing about Jewish identity. Soon, I hope, the work will let me know. In the meantime, I'm filling the well, thinking, writing notes, words, phrases--and I'm staring out that window letting myself feel the fullness of emptyness.