I have decided upon the theme for my classes next year (Taos and St Meinrad are posted: http://www.lauriedoctor.com/new-events/). For a workshop to be meaningful to me, and hopefully, to my students, my teaching has to address fundamental questions about how to operate: How does one work? How do you paint? How do you know where to begin? What holds your work together? How and when do you put together image and text?
The theme for next year is absence and presence. The blank page, the white canvas– these are universal symbols of absence for the writer, painter, calligrapher, or maker. Fear and doubt often rise to the surface. It is humbling. How, I wonder, can I ever improve on the possibility inherent in this nothingness?
The urge to fill absence with presence impels every urge to write, draw, perform, paint and tell stories. Absence is the creative force, the initiation, the spark, for the making of anything “new". Without this, we are just “cranking things out”– which is a temptation, as it seems much easier, and often quicker. Still, I know that cranking things out depletes me– while allowing something to emerge from the presences that gather around absence is confirming on the deepest level. It is this that leads to an (albeit unpredictable and fleeting) effortless flow in my work.
Emptiness is a bowl of receptivity and possibility. Often the first impulse, too quick to notice, is to fill the gap- and then it gets crowded with all kinds of replacements: busyness, self-importance, lists, talking, TV, email, scrabble, or concern for what the crowd will think. I think about absence in regard to conversation as well. I am much happier when I resist darting in with my own thoughts, and listen instead to the silence that opens before responding. Waiting, active waiting, allows for a more meaningful interaction with people and things. Have you tried playing with the idea of consciously making more space when you walk into a room– instead of taking up space? And welcoming what comes with curiosity, as if it matters?
The practice of emptying, of becoming an open vessel, is a ritual that requires discipline and daily renewal. Being present to the work, and what it “is trying to be”, requires releasing the mind of expectations, pre-conceptions, and judgements. The curious thing is that emptying, allowing absence, leads to a new sense of presence.
My aim is to begin each day, and each piece of work, by clearing myself of notions of beauty, worth or value. Just because I aim for it does not mean I am much good at it. But my belief that the simple act of bringing in a glass of clear water, lighting a candle, or sitting quietly– the conviction that these acts alter my experience as a maker– is steadfast. I know a response will come–
…and what’s coming next, will come, with its own heave and grace.
Meanwhile, once in a while, among the quick things, I have happened upon the immutable.
What more could one ask? (Mary Oliver)
Absence is associated with loss, impermanence, and emptiness. These are principles that we avoid in our culture, but they are portrayed in the universal darkness of every creation story. In the beginning there was darkness upon the face of the deep. This is where we humans begin and end– in darkness, in the Unknown. The practice of opening to absence is rehearsal for the big departure, and fuel for living now. This cycle is mirrored in the moon, that disappears into darkness for three days each month, before beginning again in the slimmest sliver. The awareness of this pattern of loss and renewal as the everlasting turning of this big wheel, is the realization that Rilke refers to when he says:
Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.
What discoveries have you made about absence, loss and the blank page? I'd love to hear from you.