BY JUDITH WALCUTT
January 14, 2015
The holiday season came and went in a blur of twinkling lights and crumpled tissue paper, didn’t it? Time at this time of year has an eerie, Dali-esque, melting quality—the days are short and sometimes don’t ever change from a dusky shade of twilight, which makes getting out of pajamas on a Sunday almost impossible to do.
Do I wake or sleep? Is it dawn or late afternoon? The sky is showing us her cloak of invisibility; she is appearing and disappearing the things of this world, before our very eyes—and we are seeing that which is and that which isn’t at the same moment, a mental koan to challenge us like a crossword puzzle for the soul.
Like snow, these thicknesses of fog seem to me now a physical manifestation of the invisible world that is with us all the time. My friend Joni Takanikos the poet, quoting Li-Young Lee, came to mind today, when she told me, paraphrasing Lee from an interview, that the true, most important job of the poet is to “chart the invisible.”
I would venture to say that it is also the work of writers and artists in general in all media—to bring to light the invisible—to, in fact, enlighten the subject which is always invisible, until it is revealed in lights, camera, action on a screen or seventeen syllables on a page. I guess that’s my job, these days, making that which is invisible—an idea, an inspiration, a concept, a story—visible, discernible to the body, the mind, perhaps even the soul.
I mean, let’s face it––everything we humans know about was originally invisible until someone thought of the ways and means to make it visible—whether poured in concrete or words on the page, smeared across a canvas, or carved away from some beautiful piece of stone, until the shape of the thought in the mind of the artist is revealed or, some would say, the shape that the stone contained was cut away from the rest—whatever way, the invisible becomes visible in the rendering, through the hands of the artist, the dreamer who makes things up and then makes them real.
I suppose I am bringing this up now as I have just spent a good bit of time over the holidays with our one son Preston, a soon-to-graduate philosophy major at Bard College. At the moment, he is very keen on discussing invisible ideas as though they were things you could hold in your hand. Also, being a Son of the Firesign Theatre, he is delighted to ask and try to answer that age old query: What is reality?
Meanwhile, our other son, Orson who was also home for the holidays, is trying to build a career around his ability to simply make up any reality, out of any materials necessary or available, to make whole worlds exist, but on screen only, through a cine-magic light show. How’s that for making the invisible visible––in the most literal sense of the words! While others have been gnawing on actual candy canes, we have been savoring the sweet and sour flavors of entwined ideas.
Speaking of that which is visibly invisible here, at the beginning of the year, many of us, myself included, are wondering what invisible thing will come to be a visible reality for us in the coming months. For people like my husband and myself who work project to project and, as with many other non-profit organizations, must raise funds out of thin air to do so, I am looking into the fog and trying to see the future—the job, the work, the idea, the medium for the idea, in which my capacity to make invisible things visible will best be used, for the highest good, this year. Because until we actually make things happen-—put the words on that page, build that platform, make that show—until the thing is somehow tactile, what we have is about as real as the fog obscuring the trees, whiting out the water, and vanishing the sky.
I have been in discussion with myself for some time on the topic of “work” and “jobs” and the difference between the two. They are sometimes the same thing and, as often, are not. How many artists have had to have day “jobs” to support their “work”? The very idea is so clichéd, we can hardly speak of it! How many artists can support their “work” on their “work” alone? And how much of one’s “work” is in fact just like a “job”?
As a writer, I know my main job is to show up for myself and do it. Natalie Goldberg has written elegantly on that subject in the past, “Writing Down the Bones” and has done so again in her most recent book, “The True Secret of Writing” (Atria, 2014). In a chapter called “Entry: The Opening Point,” she captures for me that moment when the job is transcended and the work emerges: “In writing, in sitting, in slow walking, a flash moment appears when we fall through and what we are fighting, running from, struggling with becomes open, luminous––or, even better, not a problem, just what is.”
This is part of the business of making visible, the invisible—the moment at which the job becomes the work. I have been wrestling with this issue for some time now—well, truthfully, all my working life. I have had some real “doozies” for jobs and I have also done some real work, stuff I am actually happy to have my name on or be known for. But the job question, particularly in the last six or seven years has been a most irksome one. When funding went out of arts and education like the air out of a popped balloon, I, and lots of other marginalized workers in those fields, had to wonder where the next “job” would actually come from.
It became such an issue, particularly after a “job” I put all my chips on, turned out to be a doozie, instead of a deal, I was left wondering if I would ever have a job again, or if I would be doomed to doozies from there on out.
Just for the record, I define a “doozie” as a job that seemed to be, but never really was a reality. I’ve had a lot of them like that in my lifetime and while they have not amounted to what could be called “a career path,” they have each and every one of them given me something to write about—which means they have been my career path—living a life that can be storied, living tales that need to be told. Because I have learned something from each and every “job,” that learning becomes part of the “work” in its articulation in words. The making visible of the invisible path of one’s true work, then, however helter-skelter it may seem, finally emerges as one’s “destiny.”
But I digress. The notion of job—some job, any job—became so troubling a topic after one doozie too many put me away in bed with a very bad cold, I took it to my nighttime dream life and, as sometimes happens, the dream I conjured became a revelation—an invisibly huge one.
In the dream, I am in a room which is like a black box theatre, small, intimate, minimally lit—sort of a no-place place. Before me is a man dressed in a somewhat tattered golf shirt—the kind with a tiny alligator embroidered on its front. It is of a faded pinkish color, stained, barely covering a beer belly hanging over his braided belt, which holds up a pair of madras pants—the kind golfers in places like Palm Beach or Palm Desert used to wear. He has kind of a horsy smile, with biggish, crooked teeth and his hair plastered in a comb-over. His name is Bob and, as he explains to me in a kindly, gravelly voice, he is my guardian angel.
As you might imagine, I was delighted to learn I had a guardian angel, never mind it was this kind of faded, slightly sweaty-looking old golf pro of a guy with funny teeth, a big belly and a bad comb-over––he was an angel and he was mine! Still, I kind of gasped out, questioning, as though I had misheard his words, “You’re my guardian angel?”
“Oh yes,” he said, with a kind of avuncular jocularity, “I’ve been watching over you for some time now! Is there anything you’d like to know?”
“As a matter of fact, there is!” I responded with enthusiasm and a kind of disbelieving relief. “I’ve been wanting to know what my job is—whatever it is, I’ll do it! I just want to know what it is! Please–– just tell me what my job is and I’ll do it!”
“What’s your job?” he asked, stifling a little guffaw of laughter, “Is that what you want to know? What’s your job?”
“Yes,” I answered, “I want to know what my job is, so I can do that and skip the rest of this stuff that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, ever!”
“Oh” he said, a little embarrassed for me but just as much amused, “That’s such an easy question. Are you sure you don’t want to ask a harder one?”
“No,” I insisted, “Just tell me what my job is! That’s all I want to know!”
I was clearly frustrated and wanted a straight-up answer, plain and simple.
“O.K.,” he said, “Here goes–– your job is to love and be loved.”
“What?” I was startled into a “think different” moment.
“Your job is to love and be loved,” he repeated patiently, sweetly, like he was talking to a small child.
My mind did a funny leap at that moment, like when you “get” a pun, or figure out the step clue in the NYT Sunday crossword and the job—the real job of this life, my life or anyone else’s––became clear, really clear, visibly invisibly clear.
So for this new year, as the sky begins its enlightening emergence from the still, dark heart of winter, made heavy with so much inky sadness from our collective mourning of murdered children, murdered teachers, murdered artists, I send you this one saving grace, this one question answered by Bob, my visibly invisible guardian angel: What is our job here? Answer: Our job is to love and be loved.
I guess if you or I or anyone can manage that, after witnessing the recent heart-breaking examples of humans at their worst, it certainly puts the word “job” into another category of understanding. It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it.
Here, on our magic island floating sometimes visibly between the sky and the reflection of the sky in the water, we are so fortunate to have whole community organizations dedicated to helping people love and be loved. There is Hearts and Hammers, for instance, the local non-profit dedicated to serving people who need home repairs but who are physically or financially unable to do the work alone. If ever there was a fleet of angels visibly stationed among us, it would be them—the H&H crowd. In fact, they are looking for homes to repair and people to help right now, so that the love they have to share won’t go unused. If you are such a person or know such a person who could use that helping of loving kindness, call (360) 221-6063 or visit www.heartsandhammers.com for more information.
Judith Walcutt is a writer striving to love and be loved on Whidbey Island, while making invisible worlds visible in words. She is an alum of Hedgebrook, a veteran of public radio, and a maker of unusual flavors of jam.
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