Tuesday, May 02, 2017


consolation prizes

Hi friends.  Apologies regarding the dearth of posts of late.  I am having the hardest time finding my motivation.  I say that, even though I actually am getting tons of things done.  Just not here.  Instead, in my painting studio, and soon to be out of my studio.  That is to say, I am nearly ready for my next solo show (details on my painting blog).  Sixty paintings.  I deliver them to the gallery in two weeks.  I also have in hand a 24-page color catalogue for the show, and a pdf of same, if anyone would like such a thing (send me an email).  During these final stages of preparation I have been deeply grateful for whatever internal mechanisms we humans have that allow us to move forward, toward our dreams, even during difficult times.  Which these certainly are, in so many ways.  I want so much to stay in bed with stacks of books and snacks and funny movies to watch, and shut out the ringing telephone and emails and alarming feeds from twitter and facebook and the terrifying news cycle.  But there they are, clamoring for attention and energy and sucking so much of the joy out of our lives.  For many of us, I should say.  I keep hearing that some voters - fellow citizens of this great country of ours - are apparently fine with what's happening in Washington, D.C., and approve of the decisions being made there.  How about that.

Anyway.  Here we are.  Some days I feel able to cope, and I do, and other days, not so much.  At my best, I am outside planting lilac bushes and spring flowers, and off painting, and in reading and watching uplifting films and shows, and listening to great music, and being with wonderful people I care about.  All those things that make life worth living, no matter what.  And I've found I can wring every little drop of consolation possible out of any bit of uplifting information within reach, when I remember to reach for it.  Such is life - often a strange battle, of advance, retreat, advance retreat.  And surrendering to circumstances - waving that white flag - I give up, I give up - then rising, and taking stands once again.  With consolation prizes firmly in hand.

All the books I've read lately feel that way, or seem to be about that very thing.  Struggle-struggle-struggle, then uplift.  Repeat.  Adversity shaping experience.  Adversity working as an engine to propel.  And, the stronger the adversity, often, the greater the propulsion.  In my own life, my determination to create things and have them matter to people other than just myself is very strong.  I'm not going to go into why, even though I have that (mostly) figured out at this point.  Since I'd rather talk about other people and their much more successful efforts.  Besides, they illustrate my point better, I think.

And now I'm struggling to come up with how to do just that - the books I've read in recent months have been all over the place, subject-wise, and yet still have this common theme, and I am not sure how to frame it into some digestible, sensible, logical, mini-essay that will become the final version of this post.  I guess I will say that the stories I am gravitating toward are all the same, in the end.  They are all about human beings experiencing adversity, processing it somehow, and then, at the very least, living through it.  Or, best case scenario, out-and out-triumph.  Maybe that's what many great books are about, though...?  Or simply what I need to see in them.  My own takeaway after reading, which then helps me navigate my life.

Examples?  Okay.  One, today.  I did finally finish reading the published diaries of Frances Partridge.  Remember her?  We spoke of her last fall.  I loved her diaries, they really have it all, and then some.  I don't think I'll be giving anything away when I write about them and say (spoiler alert, just in case) that she lives through harrowing times and experiences.  Long story short, here we go.  She falls in love with Ralph Partridge when he is already committed to a love triangle with Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey.  Carrington and Strachey both die tragically, and Frances and Ralph live on.  As conscientious objectors, through World War II.  They have a son.  The war ends.  Ralph dies.  Then their son dies.  And Fanny lives on for decades.  Mourning, and living.  And writing.  And taking pleasure in whatever she can, barring physical love, because for her, Ralph was it and anyone else just wouldn't be.  Her seven volumes of diaries and her accompanying memoir of earlier days Love in Bloomsbury: Memories (Little, Brown 1981) are fantastic.  Life in London and around Europe, days filled with friends and music and art and literature, and behind that, always, loneliness and her decision, made over and over again, to keep living.  I took many pages of notes from her diaries - copied them diligently into my own - but it seems too long ago now to go back and root them out.  I've let too much time go by and the loose ends would simply lie there and not tie themselves together neatly, the way I hope to do when I write.  I will say that I keep her books in a tidy row next to the diaries of James Lees-Milne, on shelves in our upstairs hallway, and whenever I walk by them, which is daily, my heart lifts a little.  They feel like a primer in how to carry on, on how (like I've already said) to find every little bit of consolation going and make the most of it.  Right now, when I'm trying to follow suit, that means a great deal.

p.s.  I had to go find at least one quote from Frances Partridge, to end with.  How about this, from volume VII, Ups and Downs: Diaries 1972-1975 (pp.90-91, Orion 2001):

"Feeble efforts to fight back at life, but it's a tough adversary....  Pleasures:  listening to Brahms' First Piano Concerto; reading, remembering suddenly very vividly the extraordinary feeling of a door opening on to a fresh landscape full of spreading paths when one discovers a new author."

I can't say I've been listening to Brahms, but I certainly know that reading-feeling.  A way forward.

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