Thursday, March 29, 2012

Things in My Cabinet: A Box of Sky (Invocation for the New Year)

...Don't you know yet? Fling the emptiness out of your arms
into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, First Duino Elegy, trans. Stephen Mitchell

(Haven't you grasped it yet? Throw from your arms the nothing that lies between them
into the space that we breathe as an atmosphere --
to enable the birds, perhaps, in new zest of feeling
to hurl their flight through the expanded air.

trans. John Waterfield)

Admittedly, this is a post I left as a draft until it got a wee bit elderly, it being now late March instead of early January. But I still like what it says about the senses, and art, and flinging oneself open to the sky.

The first night of a new year, filled with the sound of the rain and the radiator gurgling away to itself in the dark. Here is a box I made, a few months back actually, a little afternoon project to fill a corner of the Night Garden with feathery paper wings. This evening, invoking Rilke, it seems right enough to have them along.

They're a bit blurry in the closeup; the only camera I had to hand was my grouchy old Canon point-and-shoot, which is beginning to make truly horrible crunching noises when I turn it on. Of course, I could say I did it on purpose, to give the illusion of flight...but I think really I'd rather make it clear that I at least theoretically know how focus works....

And Rilke -- oh, that image, seeing the whole sky resonate with the flinging open of your arms, all the birds afire with the opening of your heart! I think for me these lines more than almost any others carry the sense of the immensity of joy, its clarity and transparency in the moment of turning your face to the world and crying: I am so grateful. If I have a wish for the year that is emerging now out of the mists, it is for something like this, for a sense of flight, of giving my whole self over to the fantastical beauty of existence. For a long time I have been toying with the idea of becoming an artist, which is to say that I have been wistfully making things; because I am young, and relatively debt-free, and healthy, and without attachments, and very, very lucky, and because if not now then when, I am going to spend this year doing the audacious and mildly idiotic thing of trying to take myself seriously as a maker of art. Because either I have what it takes to actually make my way through the world by means of my creative fire, or I don't; and far better to find out now, when the consequences of failure are small (after all, I can always get another cafe job) and the meaning of success is astronomical (think of how much more of my life I'll get to spend doing what I love!).

My marvelous friend Rae, in her reflections for the new year, gives a lovely thought to the determination to immerse oneself completely in a meaningful practice. What happens then, she says, is transformation: i am not separate. i am not someone making art, i am art creating itself over and over again in every new moment with a distinct and precise mindfulness. from this process sacred objects are sometimes born and these are the things that we usually point to and call art.

The birds, hurling themselves gladly through space -- I want, this year, to open the sky for them.

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