The choices we make, the paths we follow
Tunes for a Monday Morning

A little touch of grace

Hillside 1

One last post on work/life balance, this time focused on visual art, with passages from Daybook, the journal of the American sculptor and painter Anne Truitt (1921-2004).

At this point in Truitt's journal, she is the single mother of three children (aged 14, 16, and 19), supporting her family on the proceeds of her art and a small inheritance. She has just had two major retrospectives of her work at The Whitney Museum in New York and The Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC, and yet the earnings from her work are still barely enough to fund the expense of making sculpture and to her family going. Truitt consciously strives for balance, and weaves in and out of that state of grace as studio life and family life rub against each other, smooth and rough by turns:

September 10, 1974

"The familiar strain of sustaining the various demands of daily life," Truitt writes, "is once again a whine in the back of my mind. As I move from cleaning the house to ironing to cooking to working in the studio to helping the children with their homework, even in the atmosphere of satisfaction these activities evoke, their inexorable sequence jerks my body into a faster pattern of response than is natural to it.

Hillside 2

"I could lower my standards, but in doing so would sink with them, taking my children with me. It is not necessary for us to have candlelit dinners every night. But the ceremony of meals has always been important to regard. Where else can children learn so easily and pleasantly, and at such range when guests are included, what it is to be grown-up? The world of children is fascinating but very personal. The presence of adults in the full cry of conversation, with opinions, interests, engagements, and responsibilities discussed, crisscrossed by agreements and disagreements, laced with rhetoric, is so pungent with variety that children can learn without harm to their self-respect that they are, for all their interest to themselves, on their way to larger definitions.

Hillside 3

Hillside 4

"Doing my duty as well as I can, is essentially self-serving. It is only be attending to tasks and responsibilities as they arise that I can prevent myself from feeling angry that I cannot work in the studio as much as I want to. This is particularly true now, fresh as I am from the time at Yaddo when I was free from all demands other than those I made myself. Anger at once excites and deadens my mind. The only answer to it I have found is efficiency. So I have tried to train myself always to keep abreast of the household routine in order to set myself free for clear concentration in the studio."

Hillside 5

October 7, 1974

"All told, I now have available about one hundred dollars in ready money. This is too low an ebb. Yesterday my heart pounded all day and my left eye is jumping and jerking. The struggle is to hold myself submissive to a process of diminishment. There is a point at which lack of money feels like a draining of bone marrow. I begin seriously to contemplate taking a routine job of some sort but am loath to do so. Not out of laziness but because I fear the sickening failure implicit in betrayal of self, the spending of my energy drop by drop instead of into the waves that lift my work into existence."

Hillside 6

October 8, 1973

"André Emmerich [Truitt's gallerist in New York] has once again come to my rescue. He has advanced me a sum on a prospective sale."

Hillside 7

October 9, 1974

"I am sick again. The tension mounted yesterday, unbearably. I got everything ready for the children's dinner and went to bed. This morning I have a sore throat and a cold.

"The insecurity drained me below my level of endurance. It is an interesting process to watch, and this time I did reasonably well, I think: my savings and then my daughter Mary's savings, which she sweetly lent me, and then eking from day to day, no bills owed except a recent one for $92.00, and all with a fair degree of equanimity. It's my habitual pattern to do all right in a crisis and then to have a reaction. Each time the pattern repeats, the strings of my being seem stretched further into weakness. Or could it be that my sight is too short to see those strings which are strengthened? Perhaps it is a realignment of energy. I keep hoping to learn. But I get discouraged because I don't seem to have learned fast enough in the past in order to forfend draining in the present."

Hillside 8

Hillside 9

November 1, 1974

"Last night I sat in my quiet living room with deep contentment. A light hand seemed to have touched each object, leaving it refreshed. When Sam finished his bath, I went upstairs to mine and to my peaceful dark bedroom, all open to the night wind. The tangle of the last two months is unraveling. I marvel at the ease and speed with which events take place after such a blockage. Like brook water relieved from matted weeds, they positively gurgle.

"The studio is moving in orderly fashion toward serenity as one finished sculpture after another stands free in its coat of glassine paper to await its future fate. The children and I thread smoothly in and out of one another, each on our appointed rounds in the winter routine. The garden is raked, forked, turned, and mulched, muted to dun, quiescent. A rhythmic exchange is making everything move easily. Every demand is met and matched by an appropriate energy. There seems to be nothing I can do to make this happen. I can only be alert to the current and make sure to ride it when it does happen."

Hillside 10

November 11, 1974

"This winter I cannot make new sculpture, as every penny goes into the household. There are advantages. My health is better because I do not have to balance long hours of heavy work with other responsibilities; I actually feel buoyant some of the time. And distance from it changes my perspective on my work. That's all very well, but I miss the flow of daily production, the pleasure of moving ahead a step or two each day toward the realization of a concept."

Hillside 11

December 7, 1974 [after a professional engagement at the University of South Carolina]

"I did all right, I think, as a visiting artist -- lecture, class visits, seminars, critiques -- but I am left uneasy. The balance between artist and person is somewhere in question here. It is natural for me to answer needs, to meet them and to fill them. It is not the natural woman who is the visiting artist. I feel very uncomfortable. I betray myself. Yesterday in a seminar of senior and graduate students, a student asked me why I had given up psychology for writing and writing for sculpture. I told them in a personal way. Openhearted, falling into the pit of the cult of openness, I laid myself out, dissected like a laboratory fish for them to pick over. I could so easily have said, 'Because I found it didn't serve my purposes,' and that statement in itself would have been enough of a lesson.

"Where does the balance lie? The mother in me, the one who sees the students as if they were children wandering in a dark forest, wants to rush to them with whatever light I carry; I should stand, I now see, with that light, such as it is, and let them find me. They are not children in the first place, and not my children in the second. I can serve them better, leaving them more cleanly themselves and me more cleanly myself."

Hillside 12

December 9, 1974

"Daniel Brush, a young artist who is a friend, was able to take this trip with me and share the driving, and the last night before our return to Washington, we sat in his room and talked. He smoked one of his expensive cigars and I smoked cigarettes until we got these uneasy doubts of mine clear in our heads. I kept sitting and sitting, waiting and waiting for Daniel's intelligence to ferret out what was bothering me: a root buried deep in my muddy thinking about the artist in me. Sure enough, he finally rounded on it. 'Let's say,' he said, 'that someone else had made your work -- Beatrice Truitt, say. How would you feel about her?' Loyalty instantly rose in me, a wave of profound feeling about that person -- I could see her -- who worked day after day into dark winter evenings in her quilted athletic suit, booted and hatted against the cold, putting on "just one more coat" before piling the painty brushes into the children's old Easter basket to take them home for washing. In that second, it became clear to me: I was responsible to her, to Beatrice, to Anne Truitt, who had worked and worked, whose work, against all likelihood, had been recognized to be art of some quality. It was Anne Truitt who had been invited to lecture, to speak to students about their work, to share her experience, I, Anne, have other experience, private experience, as useful perhaps, but to be shared by choice in other contexts, never again to be confused with Anne Truitt's experience in art.

"I cannot say how relieved I felt when I finally returned to my own room to cherish my lightheartedness into sleep. Anne Truitt and I are together now, free of one another, at one another's service."

Hillside 13

December 24, 1974

"I feel a little pulled at the seams. Too much is happening too fast for me to integrate. Life unrolls like a Mack Sennett comedy. The film is so speed up that events threaten to splinter into nonsense."

Tilly and Terri Windling on Nattadon Hill

January 1, 1975

"The ground smells of spring. I am glad to be delivered once more from the dark solstice into the turn toward growth. January is my favorite month, when the light is plainest, least colored. And I like the feeling of beginnings."

Hillside 14

Hillside 15

January 25, 1975

"Two floors underground in the Washington Hilton Hotel yesterday afternoon, elevated by six inches of platform skirted with a red-pleated frill, I sat on a panel of five artists discussing how to endure in art. We said a good deal, but it all came down in the end to a stubborn feeling on our part that you just had to keep going, no matter what, and in the face of not knowing what the results would be.

"It was Jack Tworkov who said it best. 'Sometimes you finish a painting,' he said, 'you look at it and it looks all right and that's a little touch of grace.' "

Daybook by Anne TruittThe text in this post is from Daybook: The Journey of an Artist, the first of Anne Truitt's published journals. The poem in the picture captions is from River Flow by David Whyte. Photographs: a bright spring morning on Nattadon -- my first climb since my ankle has healed, and I'm very pleased to be back in the hills.

Comments

That touch of grace is what we all seek. Right now, all the demands of getting ready for a major showing of my art are paradoxically preventing me from actually working on the art that will in the exhibition. Somehow, today, I will make the time to sit at my board and begin to paint!

I loved and appreciated this week's posts so much. I'm still in school, so haven't yet seen how my life will unfold as a working artist & academic, but these are things I already worry about. It's encouraging to know that many have walked this path before me, with experience to pass on and advice to light the way.

Money troubles, guilt and angst. The blessed trinity of almost every artist.

Now that I know where I was meant to go, I look back and see some of the worst things,
mostly financial led me to doors I would never have found if not for the road I was sent to.

Now that I am old I still wonder what next? I have behind me a scattered life, ups, downs and in betweens. Nothing did , no road followed was wrong.

It is a pleasure to share this. In the end, we are always watching your life unfold.

Good luck and happiness to you.

OOOOOOOH, yes. Money troubles led me to know a lot about working with cooks, dishwashers, waiters and waitresses, since I live in a city, a chance to know people from
all over the world, Africa, Mexico, Souther America, China, India etc. Not to mention people from all over the map of American. Oh the different ways we speak and live.

Guilt, of roads not taken. Or making simple things as fun as wet knots.

Angst. The abyss. Oh, hello, there you are again. Scat. Get away. Oh well, down there a
story or poem is struggling up from the gloom.

Hi Terri

I loved this post and the photographs that came along with them. I can vicariously share Anne Truit's sense of drained confidence, insecurity and need to strive and accomplish. I especially loved the line about coping through efficiency as part of the process that lets one filter out the disturbances, the selfless worth etc. But what really stood out for me was Jack Twokrow's comment about finishing a painting, judging it to be alright and accepting it for what it is -- a work of art, a personal expression but maybe without the ecstasy of feeling it's the greatest work, the fait accompli of the present. That is a "little touch of grace indeed".

This also brought to mind how as writers and artists we seem to feel less worthy/less accomplished when we can't seem to write/paint; or we try and have to throw away a draft or to. When we start a project with high expectations and realize it doesn't live up to the standards we wanted -- meaning we must discard and start again. We find it hard to accept that it's alright to have the lows and lulls -- and when we are remain uninspired -- its okay to take pride/pleasure in being normal. There is the grace of being ordinary
(from time to time) and becoming useful to those around us, to the land before us and simply to ourselves in some essential way. It takes grace to realize we are mortal with limitations and inevitable failures as well as successes and fulfilled dreams. I am always on a high , beautifully alive, feeling of worth) after writing a good poem or essay, feeling the day has been worthwhile and significant. But the other days, when the rhythms even out and there is simply the tasks and the thoughts of daily living, is when the guilt and doubt set in. I find myself wanting more and yet the miracle is the fact that I arose in a house with love and companionship, had the ability to perform all the necessary things and could relax with a glass of wine or cup of tea. Again finding grace in being ordinary from which stems a sense of gratitude. One my favorite poems that expresses this concept is Jane Kenyon's poem "Otherwise" . Her words take the ordinary and make it
extraordinary allowing us to understand why.

Otherwise

Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

For some reason, the poem by Jane Kenyon did not paste well, it cut off in the transition. So here it is again
in its entirety --

Otherwise

Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon's poems are like whispers. She was not here very long and left us many shadows.

That sums it up perfectly, Phyllis!

Goodness... I must read this book! Thanks!

Balance

There is a grace in balance,
the teeter as well as the totter,
the child's stumble as well
as the old person's splay.

There is a grace in acceptance,
the hand held out for water,
for welcome, for wisdom
even when none is given.

There is a grace for work finished,
the curl of fiddle song,
end of a chapter, the last dot of red
on the mostly green page.

There is a grace in leaving,
through the open door,
across the long bridge,
over the hardest mountain.

There is a grace in saying no,
as there is in saying yes,
the true grace is finding
the balance between.

©2115 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Beautiful Jane. And wise.

Thanks, Stuart. I am working hard to achieve my own balance as the weeks and months hurtle by.

Jane

I know exactly how you feel; novels and pictures are both making demands!

This:

"'Let's say,' he said, 'that someone else had made your work -- Beatrice Truitt, say. How would you feel about her?'"

is very, very helpful and a damned good question.

Oh, that is perfect reading today, and really touches my soul. I love Jane Kenyon. I have her "instructions for writing" pinned above my desk:

Protect your time.
Feed your inner life.
Avoid too much noise.
Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.
Be by yourself as often as you can.
Walk.
Take the phone off the hook.
Work regular hours.

...These are words I live by.

Another one for my door, Jane! The perfect poem to read as I enter and exit the studio. Thank you, dear lady.

Isn't it just? We're often so much kinder to others than we are to ourselves, which is counterproductive (at least for me). I need constant reminding to protect myself, my work, my time, even though I'd do it automatically for any other loved one within my sphere.

She published three journals, Valerianna: Daybook, Turn, and Prospect, and I loved them all.

It is one of the frustrating truths of working in the arts that all the business and practical details that must be managed continually threaten to gooble up all the time and energy we need for the creative work itself. I struggle with this constantly.

Here's another passage from Anne Truitt's Daybook:

"There is an appalling amount of mechanical work in an artist's life....This tedious, detailed work, which steadily increases if the artist exhibits to any extent, had been something of a surprise to me. It is all very well to be entranced by working in the studio, but that has to be backed up by the common sense and industry required to run a small business. In trying to gauge the capacity of young artists to achieve their ambition, I always look to see whether they seem to have this ability to organize their lives into an order that will not only set their hands free in the studio but also meet the demands their work will make upon them when it leaves the studio. The 'enemies of promise,' in Cyril Connolly's phrase, are subtle, guileful, and resourceful. Talent is mysterious, but the qualities that guard, foster, and direct it are not unlike those of a good quartermaster."

This is true in writing as well, of course. And, judging by Howard's work, of theatre too.

Indeed Terri,

They are words to live by and write with. Thank you for reminding me of it! We lost her too early and it was a tragic shame. But her word live on and so does her spirit and beliefs.

Thank you,
Wendy

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