This morning I am finally going to work in my studio after a long absence. I am like a bride in her pristine lacy negligee approaching the marriage bed for the first time. I am filled with a sensation of apprehension combined with joy and expectation. It has been too long since I permitted myself to create art; it is who I am, an artist. The last four years I have worn the hat and mantle of author, spending every waking moment it seems attached to my computer like some weird permutation of a Stephen King or Koontz combination creature as I complete my memoirs.
It’s true, this has been a phenomenon of my own invention; knowing my proclivity towards procrastination and the insatiable lure of my craft I had made a pact with myself, more like an ultimatum. After my first encounter with cancer, a looming sense of mortality and foreboding lurking over me, I had decided that it was now or never as far as finishing my story went. I had been working on it for forty years, and the idea that I would leave it behind unfinished filled me with disappointment and regret, and not a little fury with myself for neglecting to complete it. So the ultimatum: you may not work on any art or go into your studio until the story is complete and published. Now four years after that memorable day the thing, grown like Topsy into four books, a trilogy with a sequel totaling nearly two thousand pages in all, is out and done and completed. Not that the drama doesn’t continue, but I am done with it.
So here I am in my precious studio, and although my first steps were tentative I am right back into the thick of things. My dreams of late and for a long while have been of flinging thick viscous pigment onto huge welcoming canvases, creating evocative figures and lush beckoning flowers, thick rock formations and textured mountainous compositions in earthtones with sensational purple depths; gluing odds and ends of spindle and rotted wood, rusty machine parts, toy cars and beads and so much more onto assemblages…multiples of them…and those mosaic fountains left unfinished as my muse pulled me into the strange world of the assembling of words, the construction of verbal images.
But like a well directed robot I have returned not as a novitiate, wandering around and wondering what to do next but as a focused automaton with a solid goal. This re-entry thing had been completed when Eliska and I spent that time re-organizing and cleaning up. It has always been my modus operandi to commence the most productive of art times with menial tasks. So the preparation for the planned book launch and studio open house was a kind of prelude to the main action of this opera, and here I am, charged and ready to go. Still, I am compelled to begin with a menial chore albeit one of monstrous proportions as necessary to the necessary warm up mode.
It is this mosaic table top that needs to be repaired, not any normal mosaic table top, but one that I designed and created back in ’97 that first summer in the Sag Harbor house. The table sat on the rear deck overlooking the pool and garden and vast woods; it was a crappy white plastic top that Bruce Friedle, my sculptor and inveterate dumpster diving buddy had gifted me, ‘Here, take this thing, I don’t want it, you can do something with it’, and I, never one to turn down a promising freebe acquiesced with visions of projects vying for supremacy in my mind. First, it was going to be the back for one of my toy assemblages that were my passion at that moment, and then, after Bruce gave me that gorgeous wrought iron table base as well, I wondered if I might convert it into some kind of art form table top to go with the base.
The ultimate decision was not yet there until that day I found myself returning from the court complex in Islip where I had been called by an attorney whom I occasionally assisted in those awful always unjust and ugly divorce, custody, false allegations, spousal battery and sex abuse cases; I had never been able to resist because of my own history, painful as they always were, horrific as the memories they recalled were bound to evoke. This day had been a particularly ugly and painful session with remarkably unsatisfying and unjust ramifications and I was completely bummed, a state of mind that was not helped by the quantity of bumper to bumper traffic that had mysteriously waited for my voyage home to appear. But I know my way around this island, and I always had a plan to counter this sort of thing, short cuts and tantalizing places to stop and pass the time of day, fabric outlets, junk stores, art supply places, nurseries…
This time I noodled up service roads until I was forced by a dead end to maneuver strategically up and down side streets to reconnect with the right road and there it was. A yard sale in the middle of the week, who knew? It just appeared there right in front of me like an oasis, promising refreshments of all kinds. One never knew what would be found at one of these. So I parked and wandered over to peruse the offerings, enjoying that faint quivering sensation of expectation that is never quelled until everything has been reviewed and there is no hope left; this was a particularly uninspiring presentation, and there was no one there supervising, so I almost turned tail and left.
At that moment, a scruffy elderly man wandered oh so slowly from the rear of the home, and I instructed myself to leave quickly in order to avoid a futile and boring potential conversation with him, but I was too late and the usual puerile empty pleasantries ensued. Soon, after I asked him if he had anything else and he asked me what I did, I mentioned that I was an artist and his face lit up and he asked me if I had any interest in mosaics. Did I! Yeah. So he put his hand up palm facing me as if to say wait, and disappeared for a long while into his garage, returning just as I was thinking about how to sneak away without appearing rude. He carried a huge carton, and when he set it down I saw that it was filled with jars and coffee cans laden with Venetian glass mosaics of every color, somewhat dulled by years and dust and filth, leaves and pine needles and mouse droppings. Ugh. But Tantalus drew me closer, and before I knew what I had done I had asked him how much he wanted for it all.
Two hundred dollars, he stated matter of factly, and although I knew that what he had there was worth closer to thousands, my financial status of this moment did not allow even this reasonable amount that he requested. I began to say my “I’m sorries” and “good byes”, but he stopped me, “wait”, he said. “I can see that you would really like them, and I have no use for them at this time, so you might as well just take them…Make me an offer I can’t refuse”, he said. So I asked him if he would accept fifty dollars, feeling just a little shame, and he surprised me by saying yes. I allowed him to carry the cumbersome carton to the car, took my treasure and left, feeling a tremendous sensation of joy and fulfillment, drove home in the by now slightly alleviated traffic, singing all the way home in accompaniment with the radio.
I unpacked the boxes and jars and cans, soaked the tiles in soapy water laced with clorox, humming all the time, dried the little treasures out on old bath towels, sorted and re jarred them, my head spinning with ideas. Mirror frames and bottles to hold candles and, and, and, table tops. Soon I was out there on the deck arranging colors onto a design that I had just drawn onto Bruce’s plastic table top; the design and placement took hours and hours, but the gluing of the tiny tiles took days. Soon though, it was complete and grouted and sealed, and was the star attraction in my new garden, despite the other artistic wonders that were deployed all around. We enjoyed it throughout our residence at that house, and later moved it to my new garden in East Hampton where it appeared well at home in a small circle in the woods surrounded by a wall of river rock, a border of hostas and pink dwarf spirea, pink carpet roses, electric blue hydrangea, mauve rhododendrons, and white pine. It enjoyed those first few years, I am sure, was well shined by rain and watering system in summer, well wrapped in quilts and tarps each winter.
But the year the cancer came back and I had no strength or will after more surgery and radiation to do anything at all except cling in desperation to my laptop I depended on errant gardeners and handymen to fulfill the tasks to which I had always been coordinator in chief and main instrument of labor. So Pascual decided that the table top would be best protected if he placed it face down onto the bluestone patio floor that winter as he closed up the garden, and distracted by pain and ennui and weakness, I never noticed, not even the following spring when he returned to open the garden and lifted the table top to see that most of the mosaics were left on the ground. He and his assistant, like good employees, swept up the debris and disposed of it. By a stroke of luck I suddenly noticed what was happening as I glanced with desultory ennui from the window, and ran out to discover to my dismay that the table was ruined. Some of the tiles remained, although they were loosened, many of them were gone. “Where are the tiles, I asked with dismay and horror, my heart sinking into my stomach, where did you put them?” Pascual shrugged, he didn’t know, but I rifled through all the trash and was able to save a good number of them, stored them once again in jars and coffee tins, carefully placed those sections still adhered to one another by grout and pure luck carefully stacked onto a wide plate where they remained for these last four years until I determined that yes indeed, this was the year I was going to resurrect my table top. It seemed a futile project, one without merit or reason, but I was determined. The top itself was in dire straits because a thick glass round that had protected the pitiful remnant what was left of the intricate tile work all this time, also a gift from Bruce, had been cracked this past winter in the midst of one of those awful storms that appeared in some circles to dispute global warming if you took them literally instead of confronting actual science. I had carefully brought it inside and set it up in the studio, planning its resurrection as soon as the books were complete, and here I am.
So drowning in the depths of profound inertia and sudden disabling depression exacerbated by the recent postings by Tracy on Facebook that celebrated her family, her family that does not include me, inspired by my fantasies of creation I determined to resurrect my life and ventured into the studio this past Monday morning.
And that is how I came to be cutting and trimming and cleaning and restyling my table top. I am a bulldog clenching that steak in my teeth, refusing to let go. Despite creaking aching back and arms I am persevering, completing this chore. I will finish fixing my table and it will be better than before. It’s completion will be a symbol of my return to my art, will be the first step in my determined quest to complete all of the works that have been already done in my mind. I will not be deterred.