I’ve been here for two weeks and haven’t written, but I don’t feel remiss - I needed time to adjust. It was only after I arrived that I realized how much I needed this trip to be outside urban surroundings.
The city is a place with which I am utterly familiar. And I don’t even mean specifically this city; I know parts of it but it is still largely unexplored, which is, of course, my own fault. But I am familiar with cities and I have learned over the course of my 36 years that I am slightly stifled, claustrophobic, and withdrawn inside them. They tend to be loud, of course. Too many people. Too many straight metal lines and no horizon, too little actual air to breathe, too much of people talking but saying nothing, too much hurry, too many superficial interactions and meaningless, muffling white noise. There is no calm, no spaces between, no deep breaths and no silence. When I am in the city I run more on nervous energy than anything else - I neglect to eat as much as I should or as well as I should (which goes hand in hand of course) and I also struggle to find the motivation to make meaningful, quiet artwork because my environment is neither. The energy feels superficial, shallow, and afraid in a city.
I used to think that I should be able to make the artwork I want, regardless of surroundings. But a residency in Assisi taught me differently.
It was five weeks in the middle of the Assisi national forest. In a converted barn house, I and four other artists were able to sit in the solitude and create. I went for day long hikes amongst green hills and rivers, I breathed the sweet night air through my windows, and the only sounds were the birds, the occasional rickety mail truck, and the approaching thunderstorms - never mind the food they served us. Our nearest neighbor was another farmhouse four hilltops away; but at night I could still hear his dog barking.
There I learned to create from an internal source which I hadn’t known was present. I was more productive during those five weeks than I had been in the two years previous. And most importantly, the work meant something to me. At the close of every day the other artists and I would have dinner, wine, and talk about our work. It was so deeply fulfilling on every level I have never experienced anything like it. I wrote poetry, which I hadn’t done in years. I woke up, present in my own head and my own body, and stayed that way. It was that magical line an artist dreams of: between being internal enough to foster an awareness of ideas and present enough to let the environment form and mold those ideas.
When I returned from that trip I realized that magical balance had tipped drastically away from the internal, and it was because of my environment. I no longer took walks every day amongst the trees and the silence just to take them, because in order to get silence like that I have to drive almost an hour outside the city, and I rarely had the time. Being an adult, especially one in a marriage, requires a certain level of responsibility and my day is usually broken up into mental and physical tasks which require me to break away from thought and deal with things at hand. It’s not a bad or good thing, it’s simply a fact. And while Italy was amazing in nurturing my artistic growth, it really didn’t do much for my expectations when it comes to living real life. I still haven’t managed to reach that balance in urban environments and I’m not sure if I am able, two years later.
I always surprise myself with the things I want to do when I am away from cities, in quiet, mostly solitude, and peace. I never let myself do them, because I am unaware the desire exists. The silence outside always helps me breathe into it and sink into my own identity, and let things float to the surface.
So, yesterday was the first trip we took outside the city. It was to a lovely national park, Muzeul Astral, which is large enough to wander through and make you forget it doesn’t just go on forever and dip off the edge of the earth. Enclosed by trees, and venturing far enough away from the main road, I was able to find my quiet. It began to rain gently. I broke off from the main group and began to wander through the trees. I actually heard the rain pattering on the leaves and the birds were echoing. The smells and sounds were magical and the sky was that lovely pale yellow white that makes everything darker, so it seems to glow. Muzeul Astral is a traditional Romanian preserved community - windmills and blacksmith huts, pastoral houses and a community kiva of sorts. It isn’t a lived in community, but a chance to show people how Romanian villages used to look and the arrangements of households. It was very scattered, the houses were quite small, and far apart. I walked for almost three hours without seeing another person.
At first I didn’t want to work at all. I was taking in my environment, physically breathing as deeply as I could, stopping to close my eyes and smile to myself. Every once in a while I came across my fellow artists, busily painting and drawing and in general being very productive with their time. Technically I suppose I was supposed to be working, as was the purpose of this trip, but the purpose turned out differently for me as I spent hour after hour just walking, slowly, taking a few pictures but generally just enjoying the solitude. This little guy was out in the rain, so I spoke to him and patted his nose a few times. And this lovely black cat was sitting on a balcony, completely aware of his graceful silhouette I’m sure.
Eventually I did feel like working. I let it come to me rather than forcing it and I realized I felt like drawing - which didn’t really surprise me because in Italy all I wanted to do was draw. As much time and energy and money I have spent learning to paint, I’ve come back to drawing again. Usually that’s what it comes down to, and I haven’t listened lately. Sometimes I feel guilty not wanting to paint, considering all I have done and learned to get where I am. But things change. I took my brush pen and my small sketchbook and began to organically draw compositions as I came across them - which were many, because everywhere I turned there was something waiting to be sketched. The light chased itself in and out, the wooden architecture complimented the curvature of the hills and trees. I began with a few lines on my pages and they quickly turned into full double spreads. This is easily the best work I feel I have made so far. Now I know I will be in search of the countryside much more often and am actually looking forward to the work I make; which is a big deal, considering I haven’t wanted to work at all in close to a year. But that’s another post for another time.