Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Art is not bleached

In the wee hours, before the light, after the dark has long since settled, when the couch feels alone and cold, I read and the light is too bright from a screen but my own ideas are too dark to leave in focus

So I let my legs chill themselves into the cold colorless leather and read about women in a dust storm who don’t know their husbands are testing an Atom bomb.

When I think I can sleep, I creep back to my bed. Let myself fall further into a new mattress, the luxury of life sinking into my hips. It is hours before the children will climb on top of me and compete for my kisses and I will fold them into me, one tucked into each arm and me smiling and kissing with stale breath they don’t yet complain about. But not yet,

Now I lay there thinking of the blank of the page. The false whiteness of bleach and the way it hides the fibers of reality. The way I’d like a pen to cut into those fibers, slice right in, into the depth where you can see layers. Then for my pen to morph into microscope so I could tease out the idea fibers, dark and hidden within and under the bleached page. Why is off-white unacceptable to my printer? Why does it look strange as a document. My shirts are never that color. I don’t bleach reality out of our lives. I hide in the fibers, and look for the strains of dark. Soap gets all the cleaner life needs to be.

My husband and I talked about what art is. This is one of my favorite topics, art. I used to cringe at the association of writing with art. Art is out of my league. I’m not good enough, talented enough, cool enough to sit with the adult artists on the cool grass, a broken picnic table bench, splinters and sunburns our companions. The artists and I were once not conforming enough to sit at the cool blue Formica bench tables in the high school cafeteria. We dropped out, didn’t we? I guess I didn’t. I went on to college and so did they, but still, we’re still not at the same table. Weren’t then, aren’t now. But nod to each other in halls.

These days, I’m less skittish of the idea of art as words. I don’t make that cut yet, but I know the Haven Kimmels and the Barbara Kingsolvers and the Isabel Allendes are in the cool club, the cool grass, the cool breeze is between their toes, it comes through their pens, taps out in keystrokes with a rhythm and cadence of clacking, dancing fingers.

And what makes an artist then? My husband says the difference between enjoying a medium (songpaintingsculpturewriting) and it being art is in the darkness. Art doesn’t give into the darkness all the time but neither does it shy away from its realities. It’s not bleached.

It’s selective. It can seek to draw out the light but it does not bleach it out, does not seek to erase it, more to sun itself on a picnic bench. The songs of Michael Franti make me think of this. How we can make something wonderful that calls us all to be in light and let the sun burn the love onto our skin. Or it can be just another dance song, poppy, pixy-twit sweet and light. We like it. We down the sugar, but it’s bleached out white sugar. Not the rawness with browns and grays mixed into off-white.