Friday, October 31, 2014

a continuous I don't know

From an interview with Patti Smith in The Chicago Reader:

"A person can't really try to be an artist. I think that it's a calling. What you can try to do is become better at your craft, to become more disciplined and, by practice, become a better draftsman, but I think people are artists or not. I think that if you're an artist—well, whatever your vocation is, it doesn't have to be an artist, if we're really called towards something, it could be towards being a chef or a doctor or a parent or poet—you cannot not do it. You're compelled every day to do it. And that seems to be what your vocation is, a vocation sometimes that chooses you before you choose it. But we were disciplined in that we worked every day."

"Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It's made up of all those who've consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners - and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know."

- Wisława Szymborska

The above is from Szymborska's Nobel Prize Lecture, 1996.

She also says:

"Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world."

I think it's interesting that both Patti Smith and Wisława Szymborska talk about inspiration, making art, writing, as a calling. It seems an almost old fashioned way to talk about it, and yet, I think it still applies. How else could a person be so disciplined? 

When I haven't written for a while, I feel strung out, really terrible. I'm not very nice. 

I very much like Szymborska's insistence that inspiration is born from a continuous I don't know. Because, if we approach 'ordinary life' with this question in our hands, in our hearts, then there is the possibility we will see it anew.

I don't know is a pretty good mantra, actually, for artists.

There is a mantra that I picked up many years ago, which is also good: Are you sure?

From a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh:

"In each of us there is a river of perceptions flowing day and night. To meditate means to sit on the bank of the river and observe all perceptions. With the energy of mindfulness, we can see the nature of our perceptions and untie the knots that bind us to our wrong perceptions. All our suffering has its roots in our wrong perceptions, so please practice the mantra, “Are you sure?” Always refer to it, and try to look more and more deeply. Our views can be more or less wrong. When we have true understanding, we transcend all kinds of views, even our views of the Four Noble Truths."

The lines by Virginia Woolf on doubt, have likewise been a great help to me:

"It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything."

Doubts Creep In.

That might be something anyone writing a novel should post somewhere near their workspace.

In fact, I think anyone making something should probably worry if doubts do not creep in. If the process is not a fairly continuous I don't know.

The paint tubes in today's photographs belong, of course, to Rob. As the colour is seeping out of the world rather quickly outdoors, and I had a craving for colour....these seemed a good subject one day this past week.

The tea - always a good subject I think - is being served in Rob's grandmother's teacups which we were gratefully given when she was still with us.


  1. I think asking the question, "Are you sure?" is an excellent one. An excellent mantra that would do us well should we practice it. Great thoughts.
    Love that photo at the very bottom of Rob's paint tube. Perfect. Of that I have no doubt. Warm thoughts and days to you.


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