Sunday, July 31, 2011

Failure as a source of connectedness

This morning in Ordinary Magic, I am reading a piece by Carla Needleman on "The Work of Craft," and she says craftsmanship begins with disillusion.

"The object I am working on looks like me.  It is a mirror, an accurate reflection... and contradicts my ideas, my illusions, of what I should be producing, and it wounds my self-love to see it.  I think it should be better, and so I suffer from it.  But it is me.  I have worked as well as I could, and this object is the only possible truthful representation of that work.  Faced with the truth of it, I enter the state of disillusion...

Disillusion is an extraordinarily interesting state of being, having immediate and far-reaching effects...if the craftsman can bear to stay there, not to turn away, he begins to detect an opening in himself through which he can learn.

Disillusion, the recognition that I am not what I thought I was, that I don't know what I thought I knew, that I can't do what I wish to do, opens us to the creative dialogue."

I think this passage struck me because of my experiences with poetry this weekend.  Being surrounded by -- and listening to -- such an extraordinary collection of poets was both humbling and inspiring.  Humbling because they were really good; for the most part their poems were far better than mine, far more carefully crafted, stepped deeper into the human condition, and embraced a more open spectrum of experience.

In the face of that, I couldn't retain any illusions -- positive or negative -- about my own work: I couldn't deny the merit of the particular poem they chose, which I'd been working on for years, but I also couldn't deny that I've been mostly skating on the surface of poetry; that there were some deeper places calling to me.

And so, yesterday, I responded to that call, crafting (not just writing, but crafting) four different poems over the course of the day, all longer, deeper, and richer than my usual attempts.  And each of them, in the way it reflected me and my process, was both a source of disillusion and an invitation to go deeper.  And, in truth -- the whole experience was... exhilarating.

Needleman explains it this way:  "The repeated failure at a craft... wears me down, overcomes my resistance, brings me low.  But unlike any other experiences of being diminished by life circumstances that I may have had, it does me no harm.  I am, if anything, more intact than before.  And I find a new strength in myself coming from an unsuspected place... It feels a bit like the sensation of obedience, although I couldn't say what it is I am beginning to feel obedient to.  It may be that what I perceive as obedience is the first thread of real connectedness, of relationship with the movement of energies both within me and in the world."

What she calls obedience, to me, is more like getting out of the way.  I've often thought of it as a sort of clearing out of the pipes, getting ego out of the picture so that creativity flows through onto the page uninterrupted by our feeble attempts to control what it expresses.  But I do agree that it leads to a strong sense of connectedness -- and what a gift that is!


Maureen said...

I'm going to look into Needleman's book; it sounds like a very good read.

You have a Westie?! We have two. If it weren't for their "primal tug" I think I'd miss quite a bit when we're out walking.

Diane Walker said...

Actually this is someone else's Westie (though I adore them); ours is a Polish sheepdog -- same basic look, but about twice the size. I didn't have any pictures of him straining at a leash (and was too lazy to take one...)