Monday, June 20, 2011

Eddy Izzard and James Taylor

Recently, I watched two interesting documentaries. One was, "The Troubadours: Carole King / James Taylor & The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter" and the other was, "Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story." James Taylor had been one of my faves since his album, "Sweet Baby James." And my eldest son turned us onto Eddie Izzard when he appeared on HBO many years ago. We all have gotten a huge kick out of him ever since.

Both documentaries and both artists were compeling. And each said a line that struck me. Each described a moment of clarity in the midst of intense insecurity and in the absence of any indication that their work would lead them to success or become so in sinc with who they really were. And it was realized alone. As though drawn into an embryonic sack, at once given validation and the air of existance by its own awareness, they were suspended, consciously waiting to be and to become. I would never have considered that either of them, James or Eddie, would have had much in common. And would have thought even less that we shared a common denominator. But I recognized immediately that this was the very substance of what I have experienced too.

Beyond what any one else recognizes about us; at some point the artist must get to that quiet place where complete failure and nothing else is apparent. When rejection slips and "Its powerful stuff." or "I love your work." and "You are an amazing artist or you are a great poet or you are a...." become nothing more than a rambling of syllables that fall and crack on the cold hard slate of subsistance. And still, without waivering and with no sellers or buyers afoot and poverty more than a welcomed guest, you know you must stay true to the love of your life.

When all of the practical choices you should be making to earn a living leave you feeling unfulfilled and dry, there is this urging inside that says, I must be true to who I am. I must work, even if I pay the ultimate price and live in poverty.

And then it happens. Long after others have acknowledged that you are an artist or a writer or a poet, a musician or a comedian; it happens. A determination, wells up inside you that tells you if you want to continue to breathe you must shake off all of the practical reasons why you should pursue a sensible career and instead you must jump into a creatively unclear and unknown way of living. And with no evidence that there will be a footing beneath you, you must find the courage to peek through your fingers and look out past the end of your nose and say, it doesn't matter. If acknowledgement never occurs and if you never sell anything or another thing, you know in your heart that you must stay true to your first love and create something out of nothing.

You must imagine and believe that you can play the guitar and then do it. You must believe you are a comedian and then work your ass off and become one.

I wondered if I had ever reached that moment, that consciousness when I made a decision to believe I could be an artist and writer and then ignoring all else, determined my next step toward that end?

For so long I had been living with the consequences of this decision. And though my every waking hour and all of my work has clearly revealed this awareness, had I ever belonged to that moment?

I was very young when I began to write poetry. Young when I joined the peace movement. Young when I first wrote stories that amused my peers. And young when I first created imagery.

Those avenues of expression had always been a part of my life. Like breathing. Like growing new cells and getting taller. But had there ever been a consciousness that went along with the next breath? An anticipation of how tall I would grow? Or where my feet would take me?

Or was it always a part of who I was; its mass indistinguishable from the particular? Had this realization, "I think, therefore I am," dawned on me with the same kind of disassociation that I felt when I looked in the mirror, after my brain injury? There was an awareness that I was looking back at me and at the same time a sense of an inexplicable separateness then, which was as real as the mirror itself. I couldn't remember if there was ever a decisive moment when I knew, I have to do this. I have to write a book. Even if no-one ever reads it. I have to paint, even if no-one ever sees my work in a gallery.

I think with me it was more like my life's work had been my constant companions through life. Some times they gave me great satisfaction and comfort and some times they left me frustrated and feeling like a complete failure. But there was never a time when I thought, I should leave them behind and choose another lover. I should continue to work and make a living doing something else was a choice I made often but after a certain time even that choice wasn't an option.

When I was telling my grown children about these documentaries and the quotes of James Taylor and Eddie Izzard which went something like this.... I had to believe that I could be to become.... it was with a certain understanding we had all shared, growing up together, that our conversations continued. They growing up with an artist and writer as their mom and they also realizing their own creative paths.

And I said, this is what I've been talking about when I've said life as an artist is like the moment in that Indiana Jones movie when Indiana Jones must take a step outside of a cave, over a steep abiss, to prove that he is worthy. And when he does take his leap of faith an invisible path appears and it holds him up and delivers him. Yes, this is the kind of faith that gets us through when most of our lives we work without any evidence that anything will come of our work.

There have been many times when I have chosen to continue on even when it seemed nothing was going to come of my life's work. Not because I was at a loss for what I could do instead. And not because my heart was longsuffering for my craft. I wasn't looking for some kind of validation that determined my direction. I was merely compelled to take one more step.

When I first became an artist or writer I was always who I am right now. It has made no difference whether I was ignorant at five or ignorant and fifty-five.

I suppose part of that ignorance and that ridiculous tenacity came from something I had noticed early on, all great writers were men and all artists in museums were men. So I never dreamed that one day I would accomplish anything like publishing a book or selling my artwork. I simply grew to love, completely, my muse and dedicated my life to laying bare the thrill of its company.

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