I was going through piles of papers and drawings in my studio this morning, and I found a lot of written material that should have been filed long ago as well as many drawings done during the past few months when I didn’t think I was producing much work at all. Since I hadn’t looked at the drawings for a while it was like discovering a treasure trove. Most of the work appeared more complete than I remembered it; some of it inspires me to take the drawing to another level of interpretation. This experience has made me realize once again that small efforts over a span of time can actually produce pretty satisfying results. It has also caused me to question why I must keep rediscovering certain elements of my process which has always included the importance of perspective when assessing my work.
Some of the written material consists of notes on the work of former students and advice to them about characterization and plotting, words I presently need to be reminded of as I tackle the writing of a substantial novel that includes a number of points of view. These notes from my former self, read by the person I am now, are instructive in surprising ways. Sometimes unsure in the past of my effectiveness as a teacher, my present perspective upon reading them is that of a student, and I find this immensely helpful. For when our nose is too close to the glass, what we strain to see is distorted. But if we step back, using the tools of space and time, the true picture will eventually emerge.
There’s a large red poinsettia plant sitting on my flat files. It survived my recent week away in Costa Rica with no problem, and besides a small Christmas tree that one of my daughters made from mussel shells and a clay crèche crafted by a friend, it is part of my meager Christmas display. As a child growing up in Southern California there was an entire wall of Poinsettias on one side of the house, and it seemed to bloom interminably. My mother, whose art form was flower arrangement, would bring some indoors, cut the milky stems and burn them in the flame of the gas stove to make them last. A native Californian, I did not fully appreciate the splendor of this mass of red leaves that cheered the balmy winters and often decorated the rooms of our house.
But like other things in life that were once experienced on a grander quantitative scale, I now cherish this one plant and its rich color and make sure each day that the dirt around it is kept damp. It isn’t lost on me that my enthusiasm for it is out of whack when I consider my former half-hearted interest in my mother’s treasured scarlet blooms or that my depth of appreciation for the things in my life has expanded as the number of them shrinks. In my creative life as well, where once I had paintings in process on a number of easels at once, now I usually work with one easel and sometimes draw on a flat surface or with a sketchbook in my lap. I don’t save everything, as I was inclined to do, and only develop an experiment that has some promise and that I truly want to concentrate on, the main criteria being that it pleases me. What pleases me right now seems to be that one intrepid poinsettia. Though I have never painted flowers or leaves (really) perhaps I will ultimately be forced to make an exception.