Saturday, June 4, 2011

If I Have

Odilon Redon: "Closed Eyes"
If I have included visibility in my list of values to be saved, it is to give warning of the danger we run in losing a basic human faculty: the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colors from the lines of black letters on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images.

- Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

I was first introduced to Calvino's writing in a graduate class I took at DePaul University taught by John Dominic Crossan. My life was forever changed.

* * *

The closed eye, the dreaming eye, the inner-vision, the inward space where we are each free to see what we will see, to think in pictures, to pattern for ourselves a visual guide to the meaning of our days is a gift beyond all measure. The danger for most isn't in what they'll imagine and create, but that they'll fall asleep and think that is their work.

Close your eyes and wake up!

Back in my happy teaching days at Columbia College Chicago we had a coaching for our fiction writing students that has an application far beyond writing: See it and say it so someone else can see it.

You feel me?

Calvino's warning about losing the ability to think in images has come true for each and every fucked one of you. If you are fucked it is because the images you think in keep you focused on your fuckedness. Stop. For just a minute stop and think about the images you keep in your head. What are they? Are they perfunctory desires (sex, money, prowess)? Are they allegories? Metaphors? Do they embolden you or frighten you? Do you pay any attention to them? Do they motivate or stymy you?

Think. What vision guides you?

Here's a hint: if you are fucked you have no vision, but instead are a "mere plaything of chance."

* * *

You don't have to be an artist to have a vision, to have the capacity to see with your eyes closed. In fact, if that is what you think you are more fucked than you know.

* * *

The desk I sit at is a 3/4 inch deck of plywood stained a dark brown and held together by two pine spines screwed into the bottom to keep it from bowing. It is large: six feet in length by forty inches in depth. It is capable of holding over four hundred pounds of weight. To my left is a battered dictionary that I have used for over thirty years. On top of that sits my copy of Calvino's Six Memos. To my right sit the stacks of pages from three different projects, each in various states of completion. A blue handled jack knife sits on top of the furthest pile as a paper weight. Stacks of journals, books and CD's press up against the wall on the back edge of the desk and two rustic, hand carved saints, one in red, the other in black, watch over me and my desk from behind those stacks. A horse pinwheel made out of cardboard by my oldest daughter almost ten years ago has the far corner. Bills and unopened mail cover most of the rest of the desk in a haphazard display of my disgust.

Do you see it? Do you see this desk? Can you imagine it? The desk you see will not look anything like the desk as it is, but you are tapping into this deep well of associative thinking and you are coming up with something.

Now, what do you see when you see your life? What symbols, images recur? These are the keys to unfucking yourself. Pay attention!


* * *

Saints and books and words and my children are the vision I live within, the vision I work to express so that I will have left something behind for those who come after. If I fail to say it so you can see it, ain't no body's fault but mine.

Find your vision. Think in pictures. Translate words into images. Hold an image before you as means of calling yourself into your name.

* * *

The first time I saw Redon's "Closed Eyes" I knew I could never turn away again.
The first time I read Calvino I knew I'd found my guide.

Go and sin no more.


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