Monday, April 28, 2014

just do your work

"If everybody likes you, you’re pretty dull."

- Bette Davis

"Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn't, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink. That is the grace I'm given. Because when one can control things, one is limited to one's own vision."

- Kiki Smith

From an interview with Kiki Smith:

Lynne Tillman:

Do you worry a lot about the meaning of your work?

Kiki Smith:

I try to keep something like faith that I’m making my work from a deep place inside me. And that it is benevolent toward me.

So it turns out that even after seeing one's ninth book into print, the questions, however muted, are still there. Is there enough meaning in it? Is it worth anything? Is it good? Will it be liked? Why write?

There aren't answers so much as a return to that faith one must develop as a writer or artist, the faith that the work one produces is also benevolent - a benevolent force, the thread that runs through my life. The thing is to keep writing, to travel forward, into the work. To answer to the work itself.

And. To go where the work takes you - sounds a bit flaky, but think of the faith one requires to do just that.

As an aside, when we were in NYC, at the Metropolitan Museum, we saw the famous Kiki Smith sculpture of Lilith. Chloe, in particular was quite taken with it. More on Lilith here.

As writers and artists, we have no more control over how or where people experience our work than we have over the kitchen sink, as Smith says. How will they approach it? From what place in their lives, their days? What are they going through? The same, I know, is true for this blog. Are you thirsty? Bored? Bereft? Joyful? Content?

The following poem is by Adrienne Rich, from An Atlas of the Difficult World

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

This weekend was very full. Sometimes I'm amazed by how much it's possible to stuff into a weekend. Lunch with a friend, a visit to the Douglas Udell Gallery to see the spring show in which Rob has two pieces, along with the usual glamorous cooking and cleaning and dog walking, and even the beginning of some long overdue spring cleaning.

But yesterday, after looking out at the brown and grey world (still brown here, very brown) and craving a patch of something spring-like, I went to the florists.

Do you see that one single pink rose? She gave it to me because it was such a depressing day, she said.

For an appetizer, I made phyllo spinach cups. Quite fancy don't you think?

Even though it's still gloriously light out at dinner, I lit this candle given to me by a dear friend, faraway now.  Lovely isn't it?

Dinner was a veggie mac and cheese sort of affair - the sauce made from cauliflower, red peppers and carrots, along with cheddar cheese. Not sure why I ever made cheese sauces without veggies, before.

And that was the weekend. Now, a return to the work today, this week. A return to the quiet, I hope.


  1. Dear Shawna,

    The only thing flaky here is that phyllo cup (and me, of course!).
    I cheated a bit, on my Calm Things reading, tempted too much by Asking. Now I'm off to do a little Guerrilla Gardening myself :) Have a lovely day.


    1. Can't wait to see how your Guerrilla Gardening turns out!

  2. Lovely posting. Enjoyed the beautiful photos. And your musings of work and other life matters.

    Wishing you glimpses of beauty in unexpected places...

  3. well . . .
    one thing i finally accomplished this weekend . . .
    i ordered the book 'calm things' by my friend shawna lemay.
    i love . . . make that LOVE awaiting little fantastic gifts i give myself!
    and not to sound mundane here . . .
    but i got a laugh when i followed the link on lilith. and found out she's a demon.
    'fraiser' used to be a favorite of mine. and lilith was the name of his nemesis of an ex~wife! LOLOL.
    thanks for the accidental grin.

    1. Tammy - what a dear you are! Thank you.

      I also thought of Frasier! Loved that show. Loved the Lilith character :) Brilliantly acted.


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