Tuesday, December 4, 2007

on grief and creativity

i have been writing a review of Eileen Tabios's new book, The Light Sang as It Left Your Eyes: Our Autobiography and it moved me in a kinda major way. i wrote about it on friday in my journal, and i wanted to share that with you (with minimal edits).

sitting on the couch after baking this afternoon, i read eileen tabios's account of watching her father die. it brings me back to those cold december days of driving into boston to watch mom slip from confused sick child to comatose belabored patient. i wonder what mom would say to me, right now as i struggle to be the artist none in her family could be. almost everyone has had the training--endless music lessons, from piano to violin to koto. among those in my mother's family, there were poets, performers, potters, painters. i say that as if she wasn't one of them. she was.

over my piano--the one i have played since i was a child--hangs the last oil my mother painted. i consider it her best--dynamic and haunting, a pastoral scene that seems anything but. yet as much as everyone who calls/ed mom family has been an artist, none have done what i am doing now, giving up livelihood and respectability to claim their career as "artist"--on their tax forms, at dinner parties, in their own minds.

none of them have had the courage (stupidity? naivete? desire in the first place?) to do this. tabios let her father's time of passing become fodder for her art. she writes of her discomfort, her dissatisfaction with doing this. but it marvels me. i recall how mom's death marked a sudden dearth in my creative life. until that day she vomited her last real meal, i had been rapidly creating and exploring.

then it stopped.

for months--years actually--i found no solace in creating, no meaning. i tried. i would touch pen to paper and force out lines, only to drop the instrument and spend the next two hours staring off into space. i couldn't even cry sometimes. but when i did, i lost all faculties. unable to keep from spewing all the liquid in my body from every orifice. shaking, uncontrollably until i was just too tired to continue. finally, last january, six years after my mother's death, a grant opportunity forced me to revisit that era of creative famine.

i wrote a proposal for a solo opera about cancer called "una corda."

yes, it took the grant--the possibility of fame, prestige and money--to integrate the most defining moment of my life into my art. after failing to submit the proposal, i've worked on it very little since. but reading eileen tabios has forced me to wonder, what would happen if i just grit my teeth and walk down that path? who would i meet, and what would they say?


kiita said...

there's a lot of layers here about the losses that allow creativity to flourish, or even demand a creative response. perhaps finding an alternative route to livelihood via the grant gave you the permission to create again?

EILEEN said...

Thank you.

All the best on your path,