“And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.” –Norman Maclean
A friend of mine recently survived a life-threatening trauma the likes of which few seldom recover. I’m happy to say that he did. During his post surgery recuperation he experienced what he described as “bouts of consciousness.” Those rare, lucid moments that stood out in his stupor of drug-induced dreams that were inspired by the many medications he was required to take to keep him sedated. Sometimes, there were only seconds when the fog lifted, and for a very brief time he could see things clearly. The swarm of butterflies and moths seemed to be less dense, and vision– true vision– was possible.
His explanation made me aware of my own creative, albeit a working fog– but nonetheless a fog. It’s a nameless thing for me really; an inaudible cry, a languorous waiting. All of it while working on something that has the possibility of being something very special, but isn’t quite there. And yet I’m very aware that I’ve settled into my own brand of of passive observation. I’ve suited up, and showed up, and brought my equipment. The work is okay. Average. Maybe even borderline good. But it’s certainly not exceptional. And I sense that all my efforts are not quite breaking through. I’m waiting for the moment when the loose strings fall together and form a cohesive, meaningful knot and the all of it is something rare. Not common– rare.
Robert Henri spoke of it in artistic terms and bears repeating: “There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.”
I believe Henri was, at least in part, speaking of a bout of consciousness. A time when you are seeing everything right, and your artistic vision seems to be clear and unencumbered.
I’m not certain that my friend (in his traumatized state) had these special artistic moments of inspiration or enlightenment, but these bouts of consciousness certainly ring true for me as an artist, and maybe they do for you.
“Moments in a day where we seem to see beyond the usual.” Moments where we see things as we should, or always wish we could. Moments when our vision is acute and we seem to see all the transitions between one plane and another; how one rotates behind and the other comes forward. Even the spaces in between take on meaning, and outline disappears; the light is perfect and the shadows profound. Those things we struggle to see most of the time, are there– right out front. Obvious. Easy. *
Isn’t this where I should be all the time? Isn’t this the way I should always be seeing? Shouldn’t this be routine? Life?
Why yes, of course . . . . But no.
Moments of enlightenment and clarity are oftentimes just that— moments. And, as the poet said, they cannot last.
So, It isn’t long before I drift off into another realm, my mouth drops slightly, and a few more moths and butterflies arrive to greet me. My eyelids thicken. My tongue. I give second and third thought to everything. I’m painfully self-conscious of my own labor. It sometimes happens slowly. Sometimes, all at once.
Careful! Beware! The fog is rolling in!
The solution? Get back to work.
Norman Rockwell, so often pressed by a deadline, not feeling it at all, focus lost, even severely depressed by some life event— “worked through it.”
Force yourself to find the moment that was just there. Struggle, pray, work and wait; enduring the mundane moments and hours, plodding through them, practicing your craft as best you can. Do what your hands find to do with all your might, until, when you least expect it, the next bout of consciousness comes along and you can declare, “Aha!” I’m back again where I’m supposed to be!” Or, “I see!”
Back in the moment, whatever it is. Whatever it holds. That illusive searching moment that truly sees. That special moment of clarity, the one that cannot last.
Until then . . . I have work to do.
So do you. Get back at it. It will come.
Aha! I feel another bout coming on.
* (In other writing I have referred to this as The Groove.)