“…time is your material.”

yellow

In the night I had to stop myself from getting up to come down to work on my current essay “blueprint”. thinking that it was high time I had a proper sleep. I didn’t go back to sleep right away but listened to the mouse that was making tiny sounds in the sunroom just off my bedroom and to the sleeping sounds of the cat (who brought the mouse in to show us the previous night and then dropped it in his excitement). I thought about the essay with a deep curiosity for where it might take me, and how. I know some things about it, of course, but I don’t know how they will come together. Because it’s partly a piecing together of how the plans for our house were imagined and made, I’ve made a little set of questions for John to answer, as he drew the plans. I’m not sure I remember exactly how I did the plans, he said yesterday as we sat by the fire after lunch. That’s ok, I assured him. Your not remembering is important too. He thought he’d done a lot of drafts on lined yellow paper and I’m hoping those turn up somewhere.

Our life here was never really planned. We met, married, wondered where we might live. There was a lovely old rented house but it was falling down around us and the owner had plans. We looked briefly at houses in Vancouver and realized it would be huge debt and we didn’t really want to live there anyway. We bought this land, thinking we’d camp on it, maybe forever. And then we realized that we could build something. And one thing led to another.

We had a baby and I enrolled in the MFA program at UBC. It didn’t work for me for a lot of reasons. I’d thought I could get that degree and perhaps teach. But that didn’t happen. I love Ann Hamilton‘s essay, “Making Not Knowing”, for its wise musings about how artists find their way into their true work:

You may set out for New York, but you may find yourself, as I did, in Ohio. You may set out to make a sculpture and find that time is your material.

I thought I’d teach, and write poetry. Instead, I helped to build a house and wrote prose. I’m still writing prose and although I sometimes miss the brief quick heat of writing a poem, I’ve learned that prose, particularly the essay, has a wide and generous capacity to hold everything you ever wanted it to. Everything you ever needed it to. Like the expandable string bags I first saw in France, pulled from a pocket in a market and filled with cheese, a head of chicory, a little pot of stoneground mustard, a baton or two, some butter wrapped in greaseproof paper, a melon, a bottle of wine, an essay will gladly perform the same function.

It’s important to me right now to think about my work and why it matters to me. I spent many years just finding time to write and now I have all the time in the world, though maybe not enough of it. I feel both urgency and patience. In a way it’s a perfect combination. I know what I want to do won’t go away if I let myself stay in bed rather than coming downstairs in the dark to write a page by lamplight. I used to think I wasn’t a real writer because I didn’t make outlines and didn’t work in a particular way. I’ve seen the photographs of sticky notes on bulletin boards and I know that it must provide terrific guidance for some writers but it’s not my process and I’m relieved to acknowledge to myself that I don’t have to do it that way. It’s a good thing I never taught writing, apart from a few workshops here and there, because I don’t have a system to pass along.

Imagine those bags, though. You hold one, wondering what you will choose at the market under the bright umbrellas. You didn’t make a list. But following your nose, you find the heaps of freshly-picked basil, a tumble of tomatoes so ripe you can imagine their juices puddling on the cutting board, little rounds of cheeses wrapped in vine leaves, spices from North Africa, brown eggs laid that morning, a tablecloth of brilliant yellow cotton printed with irises, branches of blossoming thyme that have brought bees from the hillsides with them, and somehow, somehow it all fits in your string bag.

But not knowing, waiting and finding—though they may happen accidentally—aren’t accidents. They involve work and research. Not knowing isn’t ignorance. (Fear springs from ignorance.) Not knowing is a permissive and rigourous willingness to trust, leaving knowing in suspension, trusting in possibility without result, regarding as possible all manner of response.

 

 

 

 

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~ by theresakishkan on March 24, 2019.

4 Responses to ““…time is your material.””

  1. Oh Theresa, this piece – this string bag of an essay – is as always lovely and wise and apt. I’m hungry after reading it and longing to leave my house woes behind and get back to writing work. Will think of you when I’m in the markets of France next week – with my own string bag perhaps.

    Incidentally, as someone who did get an MFA from UBC (half of it long distance, as we moved to Ottawa when I was half-way through), and does teach, I still don’t have a system to pass on to students, since I don’t have one myself. I just ask them to tell the truth at the deepest level they can and to focus on aspects of craft.

    • I’m glad there are good teachers out there, Beth — and I think you’re one of them! – but it turned out my life found another direction.
      And, oh, will look forward to following your time in France!

  2. I was just thinking of basil today–how I used to buy thick fresh bunches at the Chinese grocery store–sniffing and sniffing. I don’t know that I can describe it, though it’s such a strong memory. Lately my head is full of past events and people, sometimes tiny vignettes: a party in high school where I wore the wrong kind of dress and went home early. Interesting–some memories coming back–but not, for example, how I got home that night or what exactly triggered the leaving. I do think the essay is a capacious form and you’ve done wonders with it!

    • Susan, the scent of basil is so unique, so beautiful. (I bought some soap for the kitchen, hand soap, purportedly “basil”, but of course it’s nothing like the herb.) My head is also filled with the past these days, even more so after a few days in Victoria, where I was young. Everything so vivid in my memory — the streets, buildings, sound of gulls on Dallas Road…

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