“Lucio: I believe thee; for I think thou never wast where grace was said.
2nd Gentleman: No? A dozen times at least.”
~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act I.
This summer is surely conducive to writing outdoors, and on a fine day aperch it occurred to me that La Vie Graphite is now twelve years a work in progress. Noticing this reminds me of how I fill a journal book and set it on my bookshelves as I begin another. A filled notebook always feels somehow heavier than a blank one. In 2006, I hadn’t yet purchased a digital camera, and began with writing short paragraphs in a blog application easily available on MySpace. With the development of Blogspot shortly after, I moved some of the original blog to this venue, and began the exploration of reflective essays and poetry. Adding digital photography to the still-film media with which I had made a career since high school, along with scanning typed and handwritten pages, the blog’s ambience formed. The title I gave to the blog is my longtime nickname for idea-jotting in pocket notebooks. Holding a thought and recording it begins with a few words scribed in pencil on a palm-sized page. Subsequently, as time permits, those graphite sparks of life become essay elements.
The little books of pencilled ideas are in a parallel continuum with two other strands of journals I maintain- one in fountain pen ink (the “full-dress” Journal), and the other by typewriter. Indeed, creative processes are essay themes in themselves! Separately from these, a small box of index cards is reserved for “BTs,” known as Big Themes. There’s still plenty to write about; surely more ideas than time permits these days. The essays continue, and albeit at a slower pace than I’d prefer, the commitment remains. Recent years have required some additional and major commitments involving basic economic sustenance, housing, and caregiving. As a writer and artist, it’s been all the more vital for creative pursuits to continue- even in smaller measures.
Many of you that reflect and write know how even the most peripheral memories stick to our thoughts. My elementary school is called P.S.13 (New York City public schools are numbered), and our school newspaper was called The Baker’s Dozen Review. Well then, my baker’s dozen year of essay blogging is now underway. On this embarkation, the number 12 does need its due. Twelves and dozens are identifiable across literature, history, and measurement. If it makes little difference to you, you’ll take six of one or a half-dozen of the other. The philosopher Cassiodorus liked how the number 12 referenced twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Disciples, wind directions, signs of the zodiac, hours of the day, to name a few. He also famously said, “He is invited to do great things who receives small things greatly.” And with this, I return to the expressive potential of the written word and the photographic image. These are the still, small elements that are needed to compose and communicate thematic works. The small things to be greatly received are the nascent ideas, the inspiring glimpses, the graphite jots that can be built into the greater things. With time, the journey becomes increasingly unique as well as voluminous, and thus the value of our narrative is able to intensify.
As the days proceed, so must the writing. A faithfulness to journal writing opens paths in a number of ways. Though I cannot claim major successes as a writer (at least not yet), I can speak for profound satisfaction. Expanding my journal writing into web-published essays began as a way to “bring out” the work to the public, as many of my fellow visual artists seek to do. Some of the consequent fruits of this work have manifested as published pieces in print, lecturing, reading to audiences at events, travels such as an extraordinary invitation to sojourn at the home of my lifelong favorite poet, a writing and study fellowship at Oxford, along with a continuing string of retreats and residencies, and the grace that I continue to love to write. Without the practice of the written word, these doors would not have opened for me. I’m certainly grateful for the milestone efforts, but more importantly there remain ideas to formulate and the will to carry on.
Artists, generally speaking, dedicate their energies to their art media for the purpose of expression. We create because we want to explore. I’m among those that has always needed artistic exploration, even since childhood. With these forays into words and images, there is the parallel line of exhibiting the work to be received by others. During an online interview, I was asked about what is essential to personal writing. My answer was that writing must be honest writing, no matter the emotion, recollection, or subject. I recalled this comment while teaching a journaling class- something I’ve been doing for two years. The latter is another grateful outworking of writing and exploring, and it has coincided with having begun teaching philosophy three years ago. The two intertwine, and occasionally the lesson plans affect each other. Regarding philosophy, I want everyone to consider and articulate, discovering their sources of inspiring thought. With writing, I want the burgeoning writers to observe and write with the fluidity of the spoken word. These are all things I want to do myself. And get the writing out. It’s very important. As for me, I’ll add here’s to more. I’m still looking for the audience that is looking for what I’m writing. There are many ideas and angles to flex with my aspirations.
Below: Happy Clock Face.