Monday, March 14, 2011

Trey's Days No. 7

Encouraging friends cheer, “Write, write, write.” “Glad you're on the right track.” “Wonderful, beautiful, keep writing.” But I was broke when the door handle in the car broke as I was returning from an errand intended to take me back to where I was before philosophy, before Dr. E's non-theist faith dawned, before “too much education”. The sagely Vajrayana mother said the symbolism of that broken door handle must not be lost. But country folk will tell you, “What's wrong with her is she's got too much education.” And they'll ask, incredulous, “What's all that philosophy for anyway?” Sitting there on a sack of seed the old planter admonishes “Yeah, but you gotta eat!”

Flannery O'Connor has the writer's mother say, “When people think they are smart—even when they are smart—there is nothing anybody else can say to make them see things straight, and with Asbury, the trouble was that in addition to being smart, he had an artistic temperament.....she had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do. Their father had gone to a one room school house through the eighth grade, and he could do anything.” Enduring Chill indeed! But that's not the end of our story.

How does the writer write? How did Carson and Flannery, Tennessee and Truman make it from mind to print, stomach growling pressed against the spine? Can we serve God and mammon? Rice and beans can get old when all there is is “too much education” and the spark of an idea. Then the angel Super Moon shining in the sky delivers the Sparkling Host of the Insatiable Mind and whispers “Fear Not!” And just remember, “There are those this very day that would be glad to get a little rice and beans.” Gratitude in all things is the salving balm.

A tiny quiet woman priest in Christ Church's pulpit hits me with a glimpse of Glory. Suddenly Annie Dillard's crash helmet makes sense. Lashed to the pew, a glimpse is all it takes, and the gentle deaconess reminds me to be grateful, and I am, for being thrashed about. I make a list, which starts and ends with my people, people who have been the hand of God through thick and thin, the banker hierophant, the physician deaconess, the councilor friend who help answer the call. Thank you all.

Thomas Hart Benton had a wife who made hats. She worked to earn money while he painted and drew. It was all he could do. Truman, Flannery and Tennessee with words painted too. What else could they do? Who supported their work? How did they make do? Someone will support the work, but who? And then there's that angel again with the Sparkling Host of the Insatiable Mind rising like a super moon in a biography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, reminding us to trust, to write, to make our art. Fear not, but wear a helmet. Nice timing--stomach growling. The angel in the form of Cartier-Bresson, in the form of an Appalachian bishop, in the form of a tiny priest, in the form of Annie Dillard's crash helmet reminds us to hold on, to trust and expect to be thrashed about. Oh, Japan! Holding out would not be possible alone, but we are not alone, Japan you are not alone—the angel reminds us—do the work and dare to dream.

It would be demoralizing if we got an education only to find that there's nothing to do but go back to what was possible before. Why would we go to school at all? Not for Profit by Martha Nussbaum rings in my head. The gift of the Sparkling Host is for the world. Give it! Give it now. Are we crazy to think that God will feed the belly even as She gives the gift of the Insatiable Mind? The angel appears again with that Sparkling Host. “Fear not!” Give it to the world. Just give it. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Bombs away--write, write, write.

It's the insatiability of the mind that fuels the art. When Thomas Hart Benton's wife had a friend visit from Missouri, the friend asked, “How can you stand to live like this?”--no heat, kerosine lamps in the middle of Manhattan, a dresser drawer for the baby's crib—Mrs. Benton replied, “My husband is a genius.” He painted what he saw, went back to Missouri and drew the people there. Blacksmiths, white hooded Klansmen, the “S” shaped curves of a blue black woman dancing like there's no tomorrow. Now we've got his murals in the Missouri state capitol and the Truman Presidential Library, and they call him the king of the Regionalists.

Thomas Hart Benton and Henri Cartier-Bresson saw it, and Flannery and Carson understood. Truman and Tennessee knew too. When the angel has delivered the Sparkling Host of the Insatiable Mind the old white bread of before will never do. There's no going back. Write, write, write. Trust, clean house, help others. And the angel said, “Fear not!”

When we heard the title “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow was not Enough” it rang. We knew! But the Sparkling Host of the Insatiable Mind might be more than enough. Glimpses of glory might be more than enough. Any more would blow our circuits. They're already smoking; keep a fire extinguisher by the desk. Sparks fly in the stream of consciousness where angels shatter the sun into Carl Parker's sundogs. Crash helmets strapped on, lashed to the pew-- thanks for the warning Annie. And the angel said “Fear not!”

Paul Newman said one time that if you hear someone who is successful in the arts tell their story and they don't mention luck, they're lying. He was humble and considered his success to be mostly looks and luck. Serendipity is a word that has been used to describe the way in which the artist encounters circumstances which enable her to do her art. Setting aside those materialist messengers who tell you to be realistic and trusting in luck means having faith. It's faith that tells us to trust that if we give our art breath and life the world will meet us half way. All the Nelle Harper Lees, Truman Capotes, Tennessee Williamses and Paul Newmans, the Thomas Hart Bentons and Henri Cartier-Bressons, and yes all the yous and mes, know all we need to know at a certain time when despair has run its course. There is a place in heaven for those who pray, and a place for the artist who trusts that daring to dream calls the angels. Fear not. Your time and mine is nigh. Remember, at first Moses said no. But Aaron came out to meet him and went with him back to Egypt and the words were put in their mouths; “tell ole Pharaoh, 'let my people go!.'” Just go!

If you are one as I am who ingests the Sparkling Host of the Insatiable Mind as it rises and hears the angel whisper “Fear Not”, know that your time has come. Trust, dream, make your art. The world—illumined by that rising super moon resting gently on the wings of the angel—hungers for the present of your gift.

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