Saturday, March 2, 2019

In Which I Describe How I Became an Artist

When I listen to music, I always find the harmony. It's a strange (and beautiful) thing that my brain does - it hears the alternate melody every time. To make matters more fabulous, I can sing the shit out of that harmony. When I listen to music, I'm confounded by the mystery of everything - as every musician is, I have to assume. Because everything is right there, being pulled from the ether by one's connection to subtlety. This is why music can bring you to the edge of all feeling.

Not to dwell - though if ever I were going to dwell, wouldn't this be the perfect topic, what with its innate optimism? - but when I listen to music I hear math. Never in a zillion years did I think I could ever make such a statement because, truly, I'm still so scarred by Grade 13 calculus that I swear to God, if you paid me, I couldn't tell you what one uses calculus for. I cannot remember a damn thing about it except that I cried through my entire exam. Quietly. And all of my classmates (all 17 of them) felt terrible for me because they couldn't understand how I could be so far from connecting the dots - interpreting logic. I couldn't understand it either.

When I learned to knit* (for the second time, 8 years ago), I started to feel math in my fingers. Allow me to restate this, to belay any confusion: I'm not that girl who grew up "getting" math and seeing numbers metaphorically scribbled in the air. I avoided math my whole life. Math found me and it found me in the form of art.

Admittedly, it muscled its way in there. My father is a math person. I studied piano, 'cello, voice - all numeric on some level. Cooking and baking are mathy arts (and I have never spent 3 seconds being concerned by this - if that's the price of pretty food, math away). I was always making things, things you could eat or read (ah, cadence). I wanted a chemistry set so badly - until I realized baking was a chemistry set you could use for eating purposes. I'm nothing if not practical. (Also, it didn't freak out my parents the way sulphur would have.)

When I listen to music, I'm enveloped in the vast buoyancy of the creative spirit. It's like when I go to the art gallery. I look at a painting and I feel the brush strokes as they were applied. Don't ask me how I know. I am frequently driven to tears, feeling what the artist felt in her fingers (esp when I listen to piano and 'cello), back-pedaling through the history of human emotion. You may say: Kristin, you have no fucking idea what that artist felt. I tell you, I do. Because it's not a timeline, it's mindline. We've just tapped into the same well, momentarily.

Artists connect with a place that's hidden from many. The reason I love The Mists of Avalon so much is because it explains my relationship with art as magic, magic being its own art. Artistry is a deep, remote plane. I knew I was an artist from the get go. Words would form in pattern. Textures would call to me in a strange language. It's what I imagine "healers" feel. They connect with a vast well of human reckoning. That's what I do, only the energy I reckon with is the beauty of form.

I was out for lunch the other day; you know that Scott is monitoring me carefully and we sometimes go down the block so that I can achieve my daily exposure to stimulus. We went to our place that doesn't stress me out, down the block, a place that we've been frequenting for 20 years. While talking with our server, the convo gradually turned to her life. She's a student at OCADU (our art university in TO), a painter, and she showed me some photos of her work. I was blown away, btw. She's got talent (and I don't go out of my way to say this). I'm going to buy one of her pieces, though I can't say when. Eventually, she asked me what I do. Natch, this is a strange moment for me to be confronted by that question, but - with nary a pause - I said: I'm a textile artist.

I don't where it came from but I was not horrified in the moment when I said this. It was the truth. I no longer feel that calling myself an artist is nervy. The universe has been holding a special space for me in the plane of art and I've refused to inhabit it because, on the one hand, how can I be something if I don't earn money doing it? On the other hand, artists are so very special. How can I put myself in that elevated domain?

Let me tell you how. I work constantly on my art. It starts off mediocrely. I improve it via research and reading and deep observation and becoming, on some level, its form as I make it. I start with an idea and I refine it into an object. I feel it in my fingers before it becomes something. It is a part of me and a part of something much beyond me. But when I make it, for a brief moment, I touch what's beyond me and it fills me with spectacular joy.

I have no idea of what to make of this, but when we talked, we talked the language of art and I was authentic. I will leave parts of myself behind in my work as the women of Shetland did. I will continue to cast spells in all of my garments as I have since the beginning. I will continue to sing the harmony.

* In a huge irony, the woman who taught me to knit when I was 12 - my next door neighbour Judy - was a brilliant high school math teacher?! She also happened to teach at the school where my (longest-standing) friend Hilary's mother taught drama - all the way on the other side of the city. Judy told me about Hilary before I met her at French summer school (our public school learning on the topic was not adequate and we were both joining SCS in Grade 7, so extra school it was). While intense education upended my knitting options in adolescence, I have so much gratitude for Judy who, in retrospect, taught me much more than I ever could have imagined at the time. In another irony, I found myself working with her daughter-in-law 10 years ago - the partner of the baby I looked after in my teens. And this was determined, bizarrely, because my name was written on a piece of paper than France (the DIL) brought home from work and Judy saw. I haven't seen Judy in 30 years. This is what I mean when I say TO is a village!