The Artist’s Journey, #17
The first stages of my own artist’s journey were lived out in a town called Carmel Valley, California. Carmel Valley is not far from Big Sur. The presence of Henry Miller was vivid there. I had friends who knew him (I never did myself). People told stories about him. He was in the air in that part of the state, as was John Steinbeck a few miles north, who came from and wrote often about Salinas and Monterey and Cannery Row. I’ve quoted Henry Miller three or four times in The Artist’s Journey because nobody I’ve ever read articulates so well that crazy passage from the real-life “hero’s journey” to the inside-your-own-head “artist’s journey.” I used to copy passages out of Tropic of Capricorn by hand, just to brand Henry Miller’s stuff into my brain. His books are not as popular today. They should be. They’re bibles for all of us on that same journey. Here are links to previous posts in this serialization, in case you missed them and want to go back: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. And Part 15. And Part 16.
83. THE ARTIST BELIEVES IN A DIFFERENT REALITY
Did you ever see the Meg Ryan-Nicholas Cage movie, City of Angels?
In City of Angels (screenplay by Dana Stevens based on the film Wings of Desire, screenplay by Wim Wenders and Peter Handke), human characters go about their lives, oblivious of the cohort of angels—all handsome, male and female, dressed in stylish, duster-length coats—who attend upon them and are present about them at all times, often standing invisibly directly at their shoulders.
That’s my world.
That’s what I see.
Everything I do is based upon that reality.
84. THE ARTIST GROUNDS HERSELF IN A DIFFERENT REALITY
When an individual “gets saved” (or when an alcoholic or addict makes the decision to get sober), the ground of her being shifts.
Her psychic core relocates.
Her identity no longer centers itself in her ego. It packs up and moves to a different quadrant of her psyche.
For the artist, that level is the unconscious, the Jungian “Self,” the Muse, the superconscious. Henry Miller again:
I didn’t dare to think of anything then except the “facts.” To get beneath the facts I would have had to be an artist, and one doesn’t become an artist overnight. First you have to be crushed, to have your conflicting points of view annihilated. You have to be wiped out as a human being in order to be born again an individual. You have to be carbonized and mineralized in order to work upwards from the last common denominator of the self. You have to get beyond pity in order to feel from the very roots of your being.
85. THE ARTIST SHUTTLES BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN REALITIES
Have you ever observed your mind as you write or paint or compose?
I’ve watched mine. Here’s what I see:
I see my awareness (another phrase might be “platform of effort”) shuttle back and forth, like the subway between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal, from my conscious mind to my unconscious, my superconscious.
The Stargate image is very close to what it feels like. Sometimes I stick just my hand through, sometimes my whole arm. Most of the time my whole body goes through.
The process is to me one of those everyday miracles, simultaneously mindbending in its implications and common as dirt. Like the act of giving birth, it is at the same time miraculous and everyday.
Another image I like is of a child sitting beside a shallow stream. You, the artist, are the child. The words you will write, the pictures you will paint, the photos you will take … those are the bright, pretty pebbles sitting right there before you at the bottom of the stream. You reach down, through the surface of the water (you can’t see exactly what the pebbles look like because of the refraction of the light), and you pull up a handful.
The stream bottom is one reality.
Sunlight and air is the other.
One is mysterious, the other matter of fact.
One requires faith, the other reason.
We plunge our hand through the surface, not sure what we’ll find.
We pull our hand back and examine what we’ve got. Good? Bad? Worth keeping? To be put where? Utilized how?
In a four-hour working day, the writer shuttles between realities a thousand times, two thousand, ten thousand. So does the choreographer, the editor, the software writer.
This shuttling is her primary skill.
It’s her bread and butter.
It’s what she does.