Monday, 13 April 2015

Bon courage

Bon courage – what a beautiful thing to say.
We don’t say this in English, wishing another well in overcoming difficulties, like: “Good courage!”  

Reading a blog interview by Sion Dayson of writer Jessica Levine (both Americans living in Paris), Levine describes what it takes to live the creative life, and to have become a novelist as she did in her 50s. Her list is topped by qualities of confidence and courage:

“Creativity requires qualities—self-confidence, courage, spontaneity—as well as conditions—time, financial ease, mentorship or positive role models—that are not always available. It took me many years to overcome the destructive inner critic…”

This applies to being an artist. What does it take to be successful in art? Success meaning not only having the courage to make your art, but having the qualities and conditions to publically exhibit and continue the practice, day-by-day, to even earn your living from this. Currently, with SSHRC fellowship support, I have the conditions. My stumbling block right now is exhibiting my visual artwork. Production has not been a problem for me. I have the work, ‘to make’ is a matter of my being. I could put my lack of exhibitions down to pre-occupation in other areas, like writing, parenting, and my involvement in collective artistic practices, but I’m aware that it’s not just that.

Three years ago I was here in Paris, on a preliminary trip for this research. I found a good place to stay, but I couldn’t explore much. I was here, here. But so physically and emotionally fragile it’s a wonder I even got on the plane to France (my youthful habit of being the adventurer kicked in?). I became very ill on finishing my PhD, and whether due to my fragility, or provoking it further, I was battling/greeting the worst of my mother’s monsters. The ones she had always offered me, the ones she wanted me to take, maybe to relieve her own burdens or to create more, who knows? I knew on an intellectual level that they weren’t mine, but emotionally, experientially, another process was at work. I had been coded, marked, through repeated exposures. I had to let them pass, each horrendous one, in a process of separation.

All my life, my mother’s monsters dogged my path, along with my fear of these engulfing me. I had been singular in staking out my own identity. But I felt, and was repeatedly reminded by my mother, of the sharp edges of family traps and traumas. Traps and traumas can become transformative fuel for art. For Cixous, it is the wound itself that writes. On my previous trip to Paris, I was completely heartbroken, with even physical pain in my chest. Were my mother’s monsters family inheritances, hers alone, or the works of mental illness? A mix of all and more. They had finally caught up with me in a visceral way. I was facing each one, acknowledging the depth of the wound in order to pass through the gates (I'm getting an image from Harry Potter here, all those death-eaters coming at you - it’s a good analogy). And the gates were very real. I had to pass through large wrought iron ones each time I entered or exited the grounds of my Paris abode. Weaving my body through these entrances/exits each day, the metaphor was not lost on me. Some of the gates were not passable, being always locked. The gates became an extended meditation on both my own condition and the work of Cixous, whose gates in writing life are most always open. She passes through. 

In a kind of poetic justice, I was beginning this “work” in Paris. Though armed with remedies, medications, and meditations, I could hardly go out the door. My life at that time was one of surrender without choice, and a practice of ‘extreme’ self-gentleness in tending to the wound. Though I felt the reality of death, this was an equally painful birth-giving process. It was June, and rained almost every day. In my disability, marked by pain, fatigue and anxiety, all I could do was get groceries, barely – step by step. I carefully walked the parkland of my surroundings in the Paris rain. The highlights were getting to see my friend and her new baby, snuggled onto her chest. We walked around the park as she recounted and I listened to her Paris home birth story. An intense and beautiful birth (they are all intense - and beautiful, a doorway for the force of love and life to come through). And then a hemorrhage, saved at home by the midwife - step by step. The birth story, my favourite genre. 

The other highlight, I attended a daylong seminar on Cixous’ book “Partie” (1976) - departing, leaving from, arriving to (in the feminine). I was in just such a state of feminine arrivals and departures. The language of eggs and regenerative birthings in her text hovered about, my destiny as unclear as it ever could be. To return now, again, is a gift, a new mark, a code for birth in being.

And so “courage.” Yes, courage. Bon courage!

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