Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Memory & Identity:

"...I can see how meaning begins and proceeds from memory. Back-seated children able to find only boredom beyond car windows - if they're looking out - are nevertheless laying a foundation for meaning to arise one day when they'll need significance far more than experience."

William Least Heat-Moon

I think I've reached those days, and, luckily, the foundation was laid extremely well. Not that I'm planning to minimize experiences, but, in the Bachelardian sense, my time, as I work on You'll Always Come Back, seems to be opening into mysterious depths, extending, via imagination, beyond the site of my emergence. This, in one sense, is the gift, unpredictable as it may be, of the ancestors.
More like an exchange of energy perhaps; extension for extension - giving shape to their persistence as I articulate our mutual identities; as one, and as a different one - a new one come out of the old ones, as we like to think of it.

I can remember a couple of rare occasions, all connected with performance in the theater, when I happened to catch a glance at myself in a mirror unawares and was transfixed at the strange seperateness of the being I glimpsed. Mostly I was bemused at the odd creature, so driven by passions and so unaware, in many ways, of being watched, even as I prepared myself to be seen. In my favorite Christmas movie, Fanny & Alexander, the (awful) Bishop tells his wife, an actress, "You have many masks. I have only one, but it is burned deep into my flesh." Prescient that, since he'll soon be burned alive and become yet another family ghost - in this case one that Alexander cannot be rid of; in exchange for removing the Bishop from the physical plane, he's stuck with him in the far more troublesome metaphysical one.

A few weeks back I was taking photos on my morning walk to the mailbox and to that end left my camera on the table by my bed. I usually leave the house just before the sun rises, but this particular morning I awoke with golden rays pouring in through the Christmas cactus, hanging, for the winter, in my window. The pattern of gold and shadow on me was so wonderful that I picked up the camera and took a self-portrait of the artist as projection screen.

The Christmas Cactus came from the Old House, and according to my sister Phyllis it is at least 70 years old. (Its ancestors came from Brazil, but that's another story...) I connect it with my Aunt Gladys, who was its caretaker, not the Gladiator, who married my father's brother, but his older sister. She was, as they say, an "old maid" ~ and for much of the time I knew her, she sat in a rocking chair in The Old House, holding court on sunday afternoons. There was an ancient set of time-darkened wooden blocks on a little board that I could play with, while the clock on the mantle ticktocked the endless hour of visiting, the sun, and all his sunny world outside, was barricaded by old lace curtains, and the silhouette of the cactus. It wouldn't take much for me to begin calling the cactus Gladys.

I was shocked to learn, in my 40s (!) that Aunt Gladys supposedly had a long time intimate woman friend. It was known, but not spoken of, like so many of the secrets of The Old House. How differently I would have thought of her, in my teens, if I had guessed her secret. Now I think back to my conversations with her and wonder at them anew. I thought I was clever, but no doubt she guessed more about me than I did about her. The cactus only flowers when certain conditions are met - long cool nights mainly. During the rest of the year it is an odd looking plant, a chandelier of flat segments bearing soft spines that wouldn't scratch a baby ~ it's only the darkening of the year that calls forth the lovely cerise blossoms, shaped like ones magicians make out of cut paper cones.

Gladys was the family geneaologist of her generation ~ in a time when that meant writing letters and waiting, not just clicking a search function on ancestry dot com. She knew so much that is exactly what I would like to find out for You'll Always Come Back - but, as a teenager I did not yet have the power either to say the password, or enter the room - my light was too unfiltered then.

6 comments:

Apifera Farm said...

This is the most, beautiful, somewhat haunting, bittersweet post..."artist as projection screen" I love that. I also understand the whole moment of seeing one's self in a window, and not really connecting the imae seen with the actual body and mind/thoughts within. Reality is a sureal grouping of minutes.

Dan Dutton said...

Thanks! I've been contemplating this particular conjunction ever since that morning & just this morning finally found time to peck it out. The connections of individuals across time in geneaologies is starting to give me ideas of how to approach painting from a new direction - making layers and then cutting through them to reveal things hidden below the surface. I still have a lot of thinking and planning to do before I can start, but now, at least, I know that I will do SOMETHING. (!)

& it makes me glad I've waited, albeit not so patiently...

You & Martyn were MUCH missed this past wknd, so we just talked about you. Cathy had mentioned a slurry phone call, but then we forgot and danced to Egyptian club music...

Cathy said...

I have sent Katherine links to all the photos. She and Martyn were most definitely presences during the weekend!

SBD said...

Were they ever! How many times did we say Katherine and Martin and I haven't had the pleasure of meeting them in the flesh. Come soon, dear friends, the spring's cool water is calling you home.
The first thing I noticed when we arrived for the birthday visit was the Christmas cactus....Dan, your photo is other worldly. ghost like.

SBD said...

Martyn,,,,,excuse me for misspelling your name!

Dan Dutton said...

I meant to show you guys that it was in bloom, something that Cebah noticed first.

The gold light that morning is something which I associate with The Old House ~ if only because of the song "Floating in the Light"...

I agree that K & M MUST visit dandyland ~ Spring?